Archbishop Peter Jensen and sexismPosted: August 29, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Tags: Christianity, Feminism, gender roles, Religion, 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.