Equal opportunity biblical headship. Apply now.

So the Smart-Alec Pastor (SAP) didn’t earn the SA part of his nickname for his willingness to act like a wallflower, hanging out at home and doing all the cooking, cleaning, ironing and sewing. Not that he couldn’t. This is a chai-sipping, pastoring epitome of 21st century equality church, after all. Anything Mrs SAP can do, the SAP can do also. But wait..sewing

Recently the Archbishop of the Sydney Anglican diocese found himself under media and student fire. Before delivering a speech to year 12 prefects during the Annual Service for Anglican School Leaders, Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies faced a series of robust questions from male and female students about the place of women.

My PR heart feels for the bloke. It really does. In today’s life of equal opportunities, women can have it ALL. On our terms. When he replied scripturally regarding the message of ‘headship’ – that God intended men to be the ‘heads’ of women – many present thought he was saying women should not aspire to the same career heights as men.

It was a media skirmish waiting to happen. Let me remind you of one of the key elements of the news agenda: conflict. In our ‘chicks rule’ landscape, any hint of a parochial, “oh no you can’t dear,” is going to make headlines.

And headline it did. Chatting to the ABC producer who was involved in breaking the story, students and teachers were on the phones to media outlets and onto Facebook etc. within minutes.

I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Glenn Davies, but from various reliable sources I’m told one of the reasons the ‘old guard’ of Sydney Anglicanism struggle with him is because he has a softer line on women in ministry. So it doesn’t follow that he’d come over all ‘maler than thou’ to school leavers.

Yet, as reported by the ABC, a prefect at one of Sydney’s most prestigious girls’ schools, said she and her friends were “angry” and “confused” that the Church was telling them the opposite message about gender equality to that told to them by their parents, educators and society in general. Another said: “We’re trying as much as we can, and to be told that in the end we’re not going to get there because of our gender? … It was disrespectful to us, as girls.”

Ever played Chinese whispers? What Archbish. Davies actually said probably translated differently when replayed through the brain filters of 18 year old girls. I’ll get onto that later. But firstly I want to address the whole notion of headship being disrespectful to women.

What headship is not

If the 18 year olds in that audience found the headship message disrespectful, try being me, coming to Christianity in my 40s, having built a couple of businesses, won a few scholarships and awards, and a resume that includes working with BRW fast growth entrepreneurs. Now that’s when figuring out the headship message gets fun.

A few Christians (and Big T) have called me ‘scary’ for my skills. I’ve met lovely people who find it easier dealing with job categories of stay-at-home mum, secretary or teacher. Nice, safe, Jane Eyre type roles. So how do I place my own education and achievements in the scriptural framework of headship?

First, you have to stop looking at headship via a narrow, secular, ‘ooh, media conflict’ lens.

Glenn Davies did not mean, nor did God say or The Bible record that headship is about having the upper hand. Headship is not meant to mean that a woman has no rights or is a second-class citizen. That she cannot ‘do as well’ as a male.

On the contrary, God tells the husband some very serious commands. Headship isn’t about giving women fewer rights or lesser standing. It’s about giving women more.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless,” (Eph. 5:25-27).

Women, wives, girlfriends: when was the last time your man nailed himself to a cross for you? Paid you so much attention that you were noticed, validated and glorified? Made you blameless? Gave himself up for you? Revered you above all else? All else. Above popping along to the pub for a beer with his mates. Above the latest cricket game or footy show. XBox. Close your eyes and imagine what your relationship would look like if that took place. I imagine it’d look and feel pretty good. I think I’d be buying up big at every lingerie store I wandered past…

Second, understand that headship is an issue of order. Not about who is better or more important. Or who makes up all the rules. But scripturally the husband is described as the head of the whole family, and therefore he has the responsibility of guiding his family to a closer relationship with the Lord. And God will require the husband to give an account of that guidance.

It does not mean that whatever my husband Big T says goes. But as a woman with Christian faith, if I believe that my husband will be judged by God for how he guides our family towards a closer relationship with G&J, then of course I want to support him in getting it as close to right as possible. Back to my first point about headship encouraging men to give more to their women… if I was being revered like that – man, Big T would be so supported he’d probably tell me to ease up on the lingerie shopping!

I may also want to dance a saucy ‘getting away with it’ jig…so does headship mean I get to hide behind Big T’s broad, husbandly shoulders when God asks me about some of my off-piste blogs? Abdicate my thinking brain and mind to my husband?

Of course not! I’m just as responsible as Big T is on this journey. But – if it comes to a tie-break – the Bible does tell me that Big T gets the final say.

Big T is now running victory laps around the kitchen, hands clasped above his head. “You’ve just told thousands of readers that I get to win every argument,” he hoots. Ah, no. Settle down, big fella.

Third, headship has nothing to do with the husband having ‘higher status’ or ‘power’. It ought never reach a tie-break because Big T and I grow and work together toward God.

Headship can only be understood when Big T and I both understand that neither of us are ‘in charge’. God is. So as we grow together towards Him, we grow towards each other.

In a world that talks in language of conflict, of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ that’s a counter-cultural approach. But it is frankly far more fulfilling and relaxing than thinking in terms of ‘who is right?’ all the time. It doesn’t mean our egos don’t rile up, but that’s part of the faith journey. Quietening the ego and growing with grace.

(Yes, I do understand and get riled by inequality of pay, poor female representation on boards, chauvinism, misogyny, unconscious gender bias, domestic violence.. the list goes on. But, for now, I’m simply attempting to unpack what headship does and does not mean.)

In the Bible – and what Glenn Davies would have laboured to get across, but it was doubtless lost in the conflict lens of media agendas and teenage translation – is that women and men are different. Praise God. If Big T and I were the same, our relationship would not work. And I’m not referring to plumbing. But rather how we complement each other from our strengths and weaknesses. Physically, spiritually and mentally.

It’s really OK for Big T to be better suited to a job than me – it’s not that I can’t do the job, but if that job is easier for him to do – and visa-versa – then by all means, he is welcome to do it. Big T is significantly broader and stronger than I. I’m more than capable of starting the mower and whizzing it around the lawn…but for basic efficiency why would I when he gets it done faster and quicker? It doesn’t make me feel ‘less’ at all. My sense of self is firmly intact.

These are all relationship lessons that come through wisdom, patience and age. The key issue with the media fallout from Glenn Davies’ school leavers’ Q&A is that the school leavers are possibly not yet mature enough to understand it. How can you understand the give and take required in a Christian relationship between a wife and her husband when you are just 18 years old?

At 18, if you’ve not grown up in a Christian household that models true headship (husbands revering their wives as Christ did the church)  you are not going to be equipped to hear the real freedom of what it means. It simply won’t compute. Lost in translation.

Of course there’s more. Including:

  • Challenging 18 year olds – in fact everyone – to view headship as God’s scriptural framework. Not a competition between genders.
  • If you are a student who struggles with the bible’s teachings and headship, why attend a Christian school?
  • If you attend a Christian school and you don’t understand it and find headship offensive, I’d wonder how well you have really been taught about it in a scriptural context and suggest you take it up with your teaching faculty.
  • Recommending the Archbish not go near headship with a barge pole with 18-year-old students unless the students hold theology degrees.

Now, if Archbishop Davies does come across this blog, I’d urge him, respectfully, to have a serious chat to his media manager. You are never off the record. Ever. It’s a pain, but it’s true.

Instead, find a media manager who will drill you on every possible nuance of every possible media message and allow yourself to master the bridging technique. Try this role-play scenario:

18 yo Anglican school leaver: “Archbishop Davies, how can you explain the gender inequality taught in the Bible in light of what society teaches us about what we, as young women, can achieve?”

Archbish: “Now that’s an excellent question. However I don’t think the issue here is gender inequality, but rather the excellent role models the bible offers you as examples of what you can achieve in a 21st century world after being constantly deluged with messages about pornography, cheap sexuality and music videos that exploit women. For example, there’s Miriam, Deborah or Huldah. These women more than smashed through the ‘glass ceilings’ of the Old Testament times. They re-mapped it. Trail-blazers.

“And it’s not just the female role models. Plenty of young women have told me how frustrated they get by young men who don’t step up and invite them out on dates. So I’d suggest the young men check out Nehemiah – an excellent leader who rocked up to another powerful leader and asked him to help rebuild his home city. That took some cojones. And faith in the successful outcome. Great role model next time you need to learn how to ask someone out. Way better than using an SMS.”

See? Easy. I’d offer my services but I’ve got to go lingerie shopping.

(P.S: That’s me, the writer, going lingerie shopping. Just in case).



9 thoughts on “Equal opportunity biblical headship. Apply now.

  • Phil – well said, although Russell Powell, Glenn’s Media Manager has probably given him the same advice. Sometimes it seems, they just can’t help their feet getting in the way of their mouth.

  • Thanks for your great piece. 🙂 I don’t think it’s just about changing the ‘spin’ of the church, although Lord knows we don’t want to be reading media reports like that one. If Archbishop Glenn Davies does believe what you’ve outlined here, then that’s a good step forward. If he doesn’t, that’s another issue, and I think this gets to my point.

    “Headship” is a potent symbol that can be used in various ways. Which is why it has been so misused. This misuse is not in line with the other teachings of the church – but that’s the point you also made here too, you almost need a theology degree to be able to get it right.

    And rather than recognize that the symbol is misused in the ordinary world, the girls are characterized by some as troublemakers. It’s important not to think less of them than they deserve. Internet porn and anti-women’s forums have ritually accelerated what has been always in society, misogynism. This should form the basis of any change in wording. A recognition that the world has changed, and our job as Christians is to keep pace with that in order to be salt and light.

    • Thanks Tanya, really appreciate your comments and insights. I agree with being salt and light in a changing world. One of the reasons I began blogging after becoming a Christian 2y ago was all that I saw that was sooo relevant and helpful in our changing world, yet was lost in stereotypes and translation.

  • Hi Phil,
    Hearing your take on headship actually comes close to mirroring a talk I heard Glenn give many years ago while he was the rector at Miranda.
    I know his heart hasn’t changed on this and can only presume that the 18yo filters were working overtime.

  • Brilliant as always. It’s good to hear that the Archbishop has a slightly softer stance on women than the arch conservatists, I didn’t know that, I do feel for him given what he’s up against if that’s the case.

  • What I will say is at the recent Deacon ordination ceremony (two of my friends – women as it happens – were being ordained, I was there as part of the cheer squad), Glenn Davies did speak, he spoke well however he did reference how hard it was on families when “Daddy” was off studying, thus implying that women with children wouldn’t be pursuing such a course. He’s probably not even aware of the fact he’s doing it (that’s why it’s called “unconscious” bias), I did wonder what impact it had on the 4 women out of 27 people being ordained and any lady in the audience (esp if she’s a mother) thinking about whether to go down this path.

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