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Archbishop Peter Jensen and sexism


The Anglican Church introduced new wedding vows this week, that included the bride promising to “submit” to her husband. Here I was thinking we lived in the 21st Century, and not the 17th – silly me.

Archbishop Jensen, who was part of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (a group who is publicly against the ordination of queer individuals into the Anglican ministry), is well known for his conservatism, and “literal” (read those bits he agrees with personally, not those pesky bits about mixed fibres, slaves, shellfish, and the treatment of rape victims – well maybe that last bit) following of the bible.

Today he wrote some vile crap in The Age (not going to link to it) about the difference between men and women and why it is important that women submit to their husbands as the church submits to Jesus.  New Matilda has a really great discussion on the Anglican’s changes to wedding vows and the very dodgy science behind recent claims that men and women are truly different and therefore women should be subordinate.

The science that so many of these authors quote is based on mapping the ways that men’s and women’s brains function differently. The scientific studies are accompanied by lots of pretty maps of the brain showing that certain parts of a man’s brain go red when looking at maps, a response not seen in women.

It is all solved right? Wrong!

In their excellent book, The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children, researchers By Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers describe this as the emergence of “a new determinism”.

That is, they argue that, loaded with “bad science”, these books confirm that the future choices of boys and girls are pre-determined: men should lead, build things, and get paid more for their leadership jobs. In contrast, women should care, follow, watch lovingly as their spouses and male children conquer the world, avoid reading maps and stay in the background (oh, and get paid less for that pleasure).

What is fundamental is that all the studies that supposedly confirm the inability of women to succeed in the technical arena fail to take into account the elasticity of the brain. The circuits of our brains change in direct response to our experiences and sensory stimulation.

The Anglican Church, while painting women as vastly different to men, and therefore needing the protection and guidance of men (I don’t know what happens to single women, or widows in this part of the Anglican faith), buys into centuries of sexism.  I haven’t been keeping up with the Anglican’s views of contraception and abortion, and other health decisions women make for themselves, but if women are “submitting” to their husbands in the ideal marriage, then their husbands can easily override any health decision that that a woman may wish to make about her own body – if we take this to it’s logical conclusion.  If a woman is submitting to her husband, then he determines whether she works, plays, has money, has friends, is isolated, etc.  Of course the Anglican Church is going to argue that husbands should love and care for their wives.  The appropriate response is (from Love Joy Feminism):

First, here are the go-to verses:

Ephesians 5: 22-30

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body.

First there’s the obvious fact that just because each is required to do something does not mean that the two things they are required to do are in any way equal in difficulty or result.

In other words, there’s a huge difference between commanding wives to obey their husbands and suggesting that husbands should be considerate to their wives. Command v. suggestion. But wait! The verses I’m talking about are both commands. Well yes. Yes, they are.

But it’s a hell of a lot easier to tell if a wife is not submitting to her husband than it is to tell if a husband isn’t loving his wife. The one is an action, the other is an emotion. If a man is being dictatorial to his wife and, say, ordering her to do this or that a certain way or believe this or that as he commands, well, he can say that he is acting out of love for her because his orders are all for her own good. He’s protecting her, keeping her safe, making sure she stays on the straight and narrow. Isn’t that what a loving person does? If a wife refuses to obey her husband, in contrast, it’s obvious. And there’s no escape gate.

A wife can’t say “I really am submitting to you even if it doesn’t look like it” the way the husband can say “I really do love you even if you don’t feel like I do right now.” (emphasis in original)

What Archbishop Jensen appears to be interested in is Christian Patriarchy, and the idea that men and women (for we cannot allow the queers to marry), are ““Different but Complementary” and “Separate but Equal”“.  Libby Anne also has a great piece on how comparisons of any married couple to the relationship Jesus has with his church (which one I’m not quite sure – clearly Jesus is poly), is steeped in a massive pile of wrong:

But I also remember hearing another constant meme – that marriage is a reflection of the relationship between Jesus and the church. This is why the church is frequently referred to as “the bride of Christ.” In other words, the marriage relationship is an illustration of the relationship between Jesus (husband) and the church (bride). I heard this a lot. I only realized recently how ludicrous it is to make this illustration and then insist that the husband and the wife are equal.

The illustration was generally used to emphasize the importance of the husband loving his wife and being willing to die for her. Christ loves the church, Christ sacrificed for the church, etc. I remember the passage being brought up usually in an effort to urge husbands to “love their wives as Christ loves the church.” Maybe this is why this comparison never used to bother me. I mean, of course I wanted my future husband to strive to be like Jesus! I just never really thought about the converse, I guess.

The church, you see, has to obey Christ. Christ is all knowing, all good, all loving, and the church just has to trust and obey whatever he says, without question. And when you compare the relationship between Christ and the church with the marriage relationship, you infer that that is the orientation the wife is to have to her husband – absolute obedience, unquestioning trust, and complete reverence.

Archbishop Jensen’s views are consistent with the history of Christianity and their views as to the appropriate role of women both in the church and in marriage.  None of what he says comes as a complete shock, but I will be interested to see how more progressive Anglicans react to this evidence that their church is becoming more conservative after leading the way previously with the ordination of women and GLBTIQ ministers.

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The Discussion

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  • Cha August 29th, 2012 at 11:27 pm #1

    There’s a part of the bible I’d like to see forgotten.

    A friend of mine’s an Anglican minister, and when she was studying she had to give a sermon on that whole wives, submit to your husbands part. Which was super stressful — it’s probably impossible to pitch it in a way that isn’t repugnant. The best she could do was talk about the expectations placed on men, not just women. But, as you say, it’s far from equal.

    The vibe from that particular theological college seemed to be that no-one was ever seriously going to give a sermon on that topic any more, because it’s just too difficult to translate to modern life. It was explored there as a challenge only. It saddens me to see it dragged up like this.

    But my friend does believe in the difference between men and women in a way I certainly cannot. Don’t even get me started on where this kind of thinking leaves non-binary gendered people like me.

  • will September 6th, 2012 at 9:21 pm #2

    The Bible passage quoted above (Ephesians 5) ends in verse 33 with “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

    I think the church would be better off going with “love” and “respect” in regards to wedding vows.

    The flooding quote is taken from http://loveandrespect.com/blog/men-women-need-both-love-respect-equally/

    Because Ephesians 5:33 reveals that a husband must love his wife and a wife must respect her husband, we see a distinction that is full of significance. Maybe we can answer this way: though we all need love and respect equally, like we all need water and food equally, a wife has a felt need for love and a husband has a felt need for respect. Said another way, she feels hunger pains for her husband’s love more often in the marriage and a husband feels more thirsty for his wife’s respect.

  • Rebecca September 6th, 2012 at 9:27 pm #3

    I don’t agree with the idea that men and women are vastly different that they must expect different things in a relationship. Both partners should expect love and respect, and in equal measures – for I am a big believer in equality in relationships.

  • will September 6th, 2012 at 10:20 pm #4

    i am also a big believer in equality. i don’t want a girlfriend or wife who always says “whatever u want to do” or similar. that is boring. someone said the brain is the primary sexual organ and i couldn’t agree more. i highly value intelligence and humour and a coherent argument/discussion. that is far more interesting than a woman willing to fulfil every request/desire, be a doormat or whatever. apart from being boring there are some unfortunate psychological issues there.

    the point i am trying to make is that men and women esteem some things differently. i think if you read more on the link i posted it might flesh out that discussion better. then again it may infuriate you if you are someone who holds a fixed position on some things and are unwilling to think/discuss new ideas, comments or even research but rather are just going to doggedly holding firm to your position no matter what.

    here is a great example i came across when looking into relationships between men and women. generally speaking we have different communication thresholds. women average about 8,000 spoken words a day and men only 6,000. i came across that some years ago so can’t readily quote the source but presume it would be easy enough to find. some men may speak a lot more and some women a lot less.

    nevertheless this is a real difference. i think instinctively most people would agree with this research. it has some real implications for relationships between men and women. men would do well to realise they need to work at listening more, its important in helping them loving their gf’s/wives. and women would do well to note that men simply have a lower communication threshold and similarly make an adjustment also.

    finally, getting back to marriage vows the Ephesians passage i quoted and that was originally quoted by another poster is a passage that was addressed to Christians (in the town of Ephesus). so it is Gods words to Christian couples. there are plenty of healthy happy well adjusted functional Christian wives who understand this passage correctly. likewise many Christians who understand the passage and their responsibilities. it is God giving wise advise to each member of the marriage based on their differences. this might make sense better if you read the link, it is explained much better and more clearly than i can do. and while the passage is for christian couples i think people who don’t know God can also benefit from the real wisdom of love and respect and why God addresses husbands and wives differently in this regard.

  • Rebecca September 6th, 2012 at 10:45 pm #5

    I do find it interesting that a passage that was written (by a man) to a group of Christians in Ephesus, is taken as a truth for all Christians, for all time. Not all of the bible (even for most fundamentalist Christians) is taken as truth for all Christians for all times.

    I think that Paul wrote some beautiful passages, I also think he wrote some that are incredibly misogynistic and homophobic. If you believe in the Christian god, then believing that Paul’s words were inspired by said god is something you can do, but I think it’s important to consider that then some really horrid views were expressed by god (which holds for the entire bible). Or we can say that a man wrote a letter to a group of Christians about behaviour that was valid at that time, or that he thought was valid at that time, and that that man (Paul) thought he was writing what was appropriate at that time.

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