In Sydney, brides may “submit” rather than “obey”

There’s good news and bad news: if you get married in an Anglican Church in the Diocese of Sydney, Australia, the bride no longer has to promise that she will “obey” her husband. Instead, she has the option of “submitting” to him.

Ecumenical News International reports:

An Australian Anglican diocese has been accused of sexism over proposed new marriage vows requiring a wife to “submit” to her husband. Introduced as an alternative to the traditional vows that use the word “obey,” the wording is expected to be considered at the Sydney diocese’s synod in October.

But some parishes are already using the vows within the conservative diocese, which also declines to ordain women.

Muriel Porter, a Melbourne academic and laywoman who writes on Anglican Church issues, said replacing the word “obey” with “submit” was derogatory. “I’m horrified,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald. ”It is a very dangerous concept, especially in terms of society’s propensity for domestic violence.”

Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen said the new vows emphasize a husband’s commitment and a wife’s responsibility. “Her ‘submission’ is her voluntary acceptance of living together, her glad recognition that this is what he intends to bring to the marriage and that it is for her good, his good and the good of children born to them.”

In responding to the controversy, Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney (and friend of ACNA and Gafcon) says that the woman’s submission is really all about preserving the man’s responsibility and fidelity.

Men have to accept the limitations imposed by a commitment to marry. Both husband and wife must exercise self-control and the acceptance of boundaries, although in ways which are somewhat distinctive. My greatest interest in the draft service the diocese has prepared is the high standard being proposed for men.

When a husband promises to love his wife as Christ loved the church and give himself up for her, he is declaring his intention to be a man of strength and self-control for her benefit and for the benefit of any children born to them. Such qualities, properly exercised in the spirit of self-sacrifice, enhance the feminine and personal qualities of his wife.

Each marriage and each era will work this out differently. It is in this context and this alone that the revised marriage service enables a woman to promise submission.

Her submission rises out of his submission to Christ.

So, submission to Christ equals obedience to the husband?

Julia Baird, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, says there is evidently no place for spirited womenin Anglican Diocese of Sydney.

Sydney Anglicans are very fond of the doctrine of headship: the belief that men are the natural heads of women. They have gained a well-deserved reputation for preaching it often, loudly, and in increasingly inventive ways. Instead of obsessing on, say, poverty, or climate change, clerical men in Sydney often appear most intent on controlling women.

Who are, after all, a rather insurrectionary lot.

A new tack was aired in Saturday’s Herald, with the news that Sydney Anglicans are introducing a new, supposedly more modern marriage vow, where women promise to “submit” to their husbands (instead of to obey, which, you will have noticed, means exactly the same thing). Several questions sprang to mind: why bother changing this now? What, exactly, are they trying to address? Are the women getting out of hand? Disobedient? Stroppy?

And does it matter, in a broader cultural context, that there is a deep strain of misogyny in Anglicanism, and women are still described as subordinates? Is it just a private matter of belief? Or just arcane, irrelevant and even risible?

The reason it does matter is because there has been a slow, intense creep of anti-women sentiment in Sydney since 1992, when the national church voted to allow dioceses to decide for themselves whether they would ordain women priests. Since then, Sydney’s refusal to has become the touchstone of orthodoxy, where retrograde views on women are not just taught, they are flaunted as a subject of pride. Women cannot lead and rarely preach (unless only to other women and children.)

And what has not been reported is that now they are being told that not only must they submit to husbands, and men in their churches, but also, alarmingly, men in their workplaces.

The problem with the doctrine of headship has long been this: how do they explain the fact that women can be leaders in the business or political world – or even as queens, the heads of the entire communion – and yet must only act as subordinates and helpmates in the church? What would Anglicans think, say, of a female prime minister or governor-general?

As noted, the Anglican Church in Australia allows each diocese to decide for themselves about the ordination of women and, evidently, establish certain liturgies such as the marriage rite. So Sydney does not represent the whole of Australia. Archbishop Jensen mentions in the article above that his diocese is drafting their own prayer book that is different than the one in use in the rest of Australia.

For the record, the vow to “obey” was removed from the American Book of Common Prayer with the 1928 revision.

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