Irrelevance now an increasing risk for the Church Reply

Attitudes to the Church are changing: a 1950s postcard promoting church-going as a family commitment is now a collector’s item. Picture: Frank DeFreitas

by Indre McGlinn

Adam, 30, has hair like Patrick Swayze with the same shapely, crest-like sweep across the top of his head. Adam’s wife Minnie, 27, says that she can’t stand romance movies. Minnie is perched on the arm of the lounge beside Adam, knees to her chest, musing about how the Church doesn’t like to talk about sex. But she has a lot to say about the institution of marriage in light of highly-publicised proposals made by Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen a few months ago. These include plans to change the language of marriage vows for women to say that they will ‘submit to’ their husbands instead of ‘obey’ them.

“I think a lot of people in modern society don’t like the idea of submission,” Minnie says. Adam adds, “Well, who does? It’s not a very nice word, is it?”

Minnie believes the Christian perspective of women are is quite stereotypical. “I have been to a women’s conference where there was a talk about women and sex and how to get satisfied in the bedroom which was really refreshing; they were actually talking about things that were relevant,” she says.

Adam, who is doing his PhD in masculinity studies, says that sometimes it is hard to negotiate understandings of gender and gender roles from the Church and from his other life experiences. “Gender, for me, can be expressed in many different ways, so I don’t think the Church does itself any favours by narrowing it down. I do struggle with it, but I feel like I’m in a unique position where I’ve spent a lot of time getting my head around theories about it.”

He says that as a Christian, the interpretation of the meaning of ‘to submit’ is understood differently. It is like submitting to God, but in a different kind of ‘union’. This is a perspective shared by his wife.

“The whole context of the Bible comes into play. It’s about respect for the wife, and when there’s a good marrying between the two ideas of submission and sacrifice, the two should pair up quite well,” Minnie says.

But language is powerful as the community reaction to Peter Jensen’s use of the term to ‘submit’ to indicated.

“It’s oppressive language, and language is so important in communication,” says Joanne Owen, 55. Joanne is a Christian who left the Anglican Church after years of attendance when she decided she could no longer continue to be part of an organisation with such views about women and the gay community.

“I don’t agree with the Church’s attitude to women and gay people. They spend so much time and energy on these issues when they should be spending on real issues like poverty, inequality, discrimination.”

She says that the Anglican Church, at least in Sydney, has put itself at risk of irrelevance to many people. “I think that with these really old-fashioned views, they’re marginalising themselves. Peoples’ perception of them is that they’re not shaping opinion, they’re reacting to it. So people won’t take them as seriously as I would like.”

Joanne expands on what specifically she finds offensive about the use of the word ‘submission’.

“I find the language of submission an anachronism. It implies that someone is of lesser value than another. You make your husband a cup of tea because you love him and he’s had a hard day, and that shouldn’t be an example of submission.” Joanne emphasises the need for sacrifice and, at a stretch, submission, “from both parties, not just the woman”.

Adam and Minnie are more comfortable with the language. “Obviously if I wasn’t a Christian and somebody read that to me and said, ‘Wives, you’ve got to submit to your husbands’, I would immediately get offended because I’m interested in gender equality,” Adam says, “but when you put those sorts of ideas in context with all the other ideas about God and submitting to Him, I see it as a positive thing.”

Adam and Minnie say they submit to each other in different ways, and that that’s how it should be, but that in general, the man’s leadership role is one of significance in marriage and the woman chooses to support him in this. No one talks about what happens if she chooses not to.

Joanne is puzzled. “If they anticipated that non-Christians wouldn’t understand it, why didn’t they use another word?

“I see the importance of a happy marriage. I don’t mean necessarily between a man and a woman. But I think a strong, happy marriage where each partner values each other is the best environment in which to live and bring up children.”

Adam reflects on the absurdity of marriage. “Marriage is a strange thing. I think whether you’re a Christian or you’re not a Christian, it’s a strange thing. You’re joining your life with another human being and It’s prone to be difficult. So it’s an interesting idea, socially-speaking, putting two people in a household to raise some children or have some pets, and do life together for an extended period of time!”

He says of his wedding to Minnie: “I’m sure some of our non-Christian friends were thinking, ‘Why are these guys getting married? They’ve only know each other for a couple of years, and it’s a huge step’. And I’ve thought about that myself. If I wasn’t Christian, would I have gotten married as early as I did? Probably not, I would say.”

Minnie is clear. “I just come from a place of love. You know, Christians probably haven’t been representing ourselves very well. It’s widening the gap, I think.”

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