Julia Baird on the message of submission in the church

Julia Baird1

Have you seen Julia Baird’s article in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald? The article is aptly entitled “Submission is a fraught mixed message for the church”.  I recommend it.

Baird quotes a few church leaders in her article, including Glenn Davies, the Archbishop of Sydney Anglican diocese.  I am personally troubled by some of Davies’ words.

While he admits that “The statistics on domestic violence are ‘horrific’, he also says, “if a woman’s life is in danger she should leave, even though that would mean ‘disobeying her husband’.”

By adding the notion of disobedience Davies confuses the situation. If anyone – man, woman, or child – is in danger they should leave. Or better still, they should ask the police to remove the abuser.

The fact that Davies goes on to compare “male headship” with a knife, which he describes as a tool, is also troubling and insensitive, as a knife can also be used as a weapon.

At CBE-Sydney we are committed to promoting the equality and mutuality of men and women in Christian marriage. We are also involved in shining a spotlight on the incidence of domestic violence in marriages of church-members, and in providing resources to church leaders to better equip them to address this terrible issue.

Here is a link to Julia’s article.

Update 21.02.15: Claire Smith, an author and women’s Bible teacher, has written a response to Julia’s article here. Some of Claire’s points are valid; however, I personally know of several “Christian” marriages where the wife puts up with abuse because of an understanding that her husband is her “head”. Claire herself believes that “head” is to be understood as “leader” or “authority”. This, I believe, faulty interpretation of “head” in Ephesians 5:23, is still being taught in many churches.

Perhaps the majority of Christian leaders are not telling wives to stay with abusive husbands any more, but it seems that there is not enough education being done in churches which explains what domestic violence is and that it is completely unacceptable, while also giving useful advice and accessible support to the women who need it.

Update 27.02.15: Julia Baird has written a new article entitled, “Doctrine of headship a distortion of the gospel message of mutual love and respect” here.  (As Dr Chris Forbes said at one of our meetings in 2012, one or two Bible verses does not constitute a (valid) biblical doctrine.)

Update 02.03.15: And this: a personal story of a woman who was terrorised by her “Christian” husband.

Update 04.03.15: Still more here. Today’s installment in this ongoing discussion is an article entitled, For Christians who missed the memo: the Bible abhors all domestic abuse. This article was written by Sandy Grant who makes several excellent points. Canon Sandy Grant is the senior Minister of St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral, Wollongong.

Update: 6.03.15: In this latest article on the SMH website, Sarah Colyer (who upholds “male headship”) states “I am a Christian woman who has been married for eight years. I have never restrained myself in any way to subordinate myself to my husband.”
This statement confuses me because I am an egalitarian, but I have restrained myself and deferred to my husband at times. Perhaps the difference is that my husband has also restrained himself and deferred to me on occasion, and neither of us do it because we are subordinate.

Update: 09.03.15 Dr Johanna Harris Tyler (a lecturer in early modern English literature and religious politics at University of Exeter, and who grew up in Sydney attending Anglican churches) has written this piece about the dangers of wifely submission.

Update 12.03.15 Dr Natasha Moore and Dr John Dickson write, “Conservative evangelical institutions should urgently consider commissioning a study into both the prevalence of domestic violence in our churches and clergy responses to it” in this article entitled, The Church Must Confront Domestic Abuse.
Here is the video of Julia Baird’s interview with John Dickson on today’s episode of The Drum.

9 comments on “Julia Baird on the message of submission in the church”

  1. Lynne Elgood Reply

    I have been thinking this for the last 12 months and very grieved that the church who has the message of freedom is actually perpetrating the work of the enemy.

  2. Sarah Davis Reply

    Both Julia and Claire have something to say. Neither however reflected on the analogy of headship as a medal of honour used by Glenn Davies “A knife is a very useful tool – if used properly. In the wrong hands it is a weapon. But headship is not domination, it is God’s plan for our lives. Headship is a medal of honour, a medal of service and for a wife with a good husband it’s a privilege to serve him.”
    A medal is earned, given by society or a leader in recognition of outstanding achievement or behaviour. A medal is not given purely on the basis of gender, race or creed. I have no problem with considering i Is AB Davies really suggesting that God gives a medal of honour and service that is earnt through genetic disposition?
    The medal is given by his wife bestowed with service and in the shape of submission for meritous love. It is given by a wife, who earns hers of the same shape and colour from her husband through equally meritous behaviour. This would, of course, be an egalitarian understanding of medals.
    It would seem to be a worthless medal if it was given without merit, and could not be taken away if its standards compromised.
    Are there medals in God’s gracious Kingdom?

    And I haven’t commented on the insensitivity of using a “knife” as a metaphor in a discussion of abuse … was this Julia provocatively quoting out of context or Glenn wearing heavy boots?

    Perhaps Glenn Davies would like to clarify or change his analogy to one that really does work.

    • Tania Harris Reply

      Hi Sarah, I think your point about medals of honour is an important one. Leadership in the church is a gifting and a calling. When we see the fruit of it, we then recognise it and give it title, be it a lay title or through a process of ordination – it’s not the other way around. This is a core problem in a gender-based hierarchical model. So a man may be appointed the leader in charge over financial affairs of the household when his wife is an accountant and he can’t read a spreadsheet. The model makes ‘appointment’ of leadership completely arbitrary and ends up lacking in common sense.

      • Sarah Davis Reply

        I would like to confirm that I understand a Complimentarian application that has a husband “giving” authority to his accountant wife to manage the finances, and choosing to defer to her better knowledge. Of course, the principle that authority (is this related to authorship?) does not exist until given by a male head is the offence against Christ, who tore the curtain between me and God; removing all barriers to His will and purpose for me.

  3. RutIlana Reply

    My hostile 1st marriage was a nightmare. The “church” didn’t understand, a women’s bible study didn’t understand, my family, and even today, my grown children still suffer repercussions from it. Most of our well-meaning church leaders have been grossly indoctrinated to buy the horrible male hierarchy beliefs, including women. I enjoy my church as a place of worship as a whole. But in the Sunday school classes, ladies’ retreats and even some bible studies I’ve attended, it’s all I can do from leaping across the table! Thanks to blogs like these, I’m able to offer a challenge to those beliefs. In the meantime I’m driven to search the scriptures and trust few but proven resources.

    • Marg Mowczko Reply

      Hi Rutllana,

      Male hierarchy leaves a lot to be desired even when nice guys are in the top positions, but when an immature or deeply flawed man has authority, it can be hell.

      I’m so sorry for the pain you’ve gone through, but happy that blogs like these offer some resources, and hope.

      May I suggest that you take a look at newlife.id.au too as you continue to search the scriptures.


    • Susan Heming Reply

      God, by a number of miracles, brought me out of a terrible marriage that it took years (and years) to recover from. I told an Anglican minister in Sydney that God saved me and brought me out of my marriage and he said that God would not have broken his own laws by breaking up my marriage. So, I looked at him, and said “So you’re saying that Jesus died to free the prisoners from their prisons and the oppressed from oppression but not women from terrible situations. Is that what you are telling me?” He just stared at me and didn’t have an answer.

      • Marg Mowczko Reply

        That’s a great comeback to a stupid and insensitive remark.

        Ministers really should know better. It seems that too many are bogged down by Pharisaical rules that they fail to see the kingdom principles that Jesus taught.

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