Dean of St.Paul’s – ‘Divine Headship’?

Evangelical Male-Headship Meets Woman Bishop

by the Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral

David ison 2

I’ll be taking part later this week in the ceremony at which Bishop Sarah Mullally will become the first woman Bishop of London, 24 years on from the first ordinations of women as priests. Most of us in London are looking forward to working with her in living and sharing the Christian Gospel in this city.

And there’s an opportunity and a challenge here; how to hold together as a diocese in a Church which affirms that women can truly be bishops, and that its members can believe that they can’t.

Anglo-Catholics who don’t accept women as priests or bishops do this because much of the rest of the Church of God  (in particular the Roman Catholic Church) does not: if that church did, however, most of them would. But there’s a particular problem for conservative evangelicals: thus the organisation Reform believes in ‘The unique value of women’s ministry in the local congregation but also the divine order of male headship, which makes the headship of women as priests in charge, incumbents, dignitaries and bishops inappropriate.

I grew up as a Christian in a lively conservative evangelical church on the edge of London, whose vicar is a lovely fellow-member of General Synod for whom I have great respect, who is a long-term member of Reform, which was started in 1993 following the passing of legislation allowing women to be ordained priests. He’s written an article about Reform in this month’s edition of New Directions magazine, on the occasion of Reform’s 25thanniversary.

He and I would (I think) agree on the core message of the Christian gospel, and disagree on some of the ways in which that works out in practice. We would agree on the authority of Scripture, but not on all the ways in which Scripture is interpreted and used. Both of us would regard ourselves as working at being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ our Saviour, and have questions about how the other is doing that. And I want to pose a particular question which this raises, as we move to having a woman bishop in London as a practical reality rather than a theoretical possibility.

In the Reform statement above, it looks like the word inappropriate really means ‘just plain wrong, but we don’t want to make it a resigning matter’.  After all, most clergy can avoid working under the authority of women – until they become their archdeacons or bishops, of course, and in London this will now be a reality for all clergy in the diocese, whether they choose to admit it or not. How they will respond with integrity will be an important test of the Five Principles by which the Church of England has agreed to order its divided life on this issue.

But the phrase that really needs to be questioned here is the divine order of male headship. The use of that adjective divine seems as inappropriate as in the phrase ‘the divine right of kings’.  Referring to a divine order of male headship claims that God has ordained that men will hold authority, headship, over other men and all women, and that this is therefore not a human choice but a divine command.

Remember that people went to their deaths or left the Church of England over the biblically sanctioned doctrine of the Christian monarch being anointed by God as His representative on earth. The Book of Common Prayer still prays for the personal government of the king – or queen, which is curious if divine order requires male headship. But in an age of universal education, when autocratic force has been replaced by democratic government, who now believes in ‘the divine right of kings’? We have to be very cautious about appropriating God inappropriately, to give sanction to human rather than divine will.

Unlike ‘the divine right of kings’, parts of the Church uphold the assertion of the divine order of male headship, leading in some instances to inappropriate conduct in relation to women incumbents and other women clergy, and to the necessity for institutionalised discrimination against them in the name of safeguarding the conscience of others. Women still bear the cost of men insisting that only they should be in authority. And Bishop Sarah in London will have to work with those who will not accept her spiritual authority, on the grounds of divine order, simply because she is a woman.

Those who argue for male headship do so on the grounds of particular scriptures. But note the conclusion of Dr Ian Paul in his 2011 Grove Booklet Women in Authority: The Key Biblical Texts. After looking at the most commonly used verses, he concludes that they do not support the divine order of male headship, but rather that they emphasise the interdependence of men and women in church leadership. He says:  ‘On a personal note, engaging again with these texts has been a challenging and transforming experience for me…. I have been struck afresh by the radically egalitarian and counter-cultural nature of what Scripture says about gender, and the challenge to the church to be constantly reformed and reshaped by Scripture’s perspective, even if that means letting go of cherished traditions of interpretation.’

Reading one booklet doesn’t usually change people’s minds, when their view is supported by a whole tradition of church teaching and practice, though writing the booklet caused Dr Paul to change his. But to call male headship ‘divine order’ when Scripture is not clear that it is, and when we believe in God who is neither male nor female, is to overstate the case – and is itself inappropriate.   As is disassociating ourselves from our Christian sisters and brothers with whom we disagree.

Dr Paul clearly states that in scripture the issue of headship is different from that of same-sex relationships. But the issue remains of how with regard to that issue, as with headship and in other areas of Christian disagreement, Christians with different views are going to be open to welcome and challenge and transformation of ourselves and each other, unless we engage in depth with one another and refrain from referring to what we currently believe as divine.

There’s a spectrum even of evangelical thinking on these issues, not because some are ‘revisionists’ or ‘liberals’, but because like Dr Paul they have been challenged by Scripture and the Holy Spirit to be re-formed in their thinking, in all sincerity: and understanding that those with different views are still committed disciples of Jesus Christ will help us to listen more closely to what God is saying – to each of us.

All of this is part of the richness and diversity of the Church, where we need each other’s perspectives to be continually semper reformanda, as the New Directions article notes, always reforming, always being renewed by God; as we also need the Catholic emphasis on sacraments and depth of prayer, and the Anglican application of reason.

We need different perspectives because all of us have a view which we think is the right one: a view which is built, not only (and not necessarily) on encounter with God in Scripture and the Spirit, but which is also derived and maintained from a whole range of other sources; from what our parents and friends and teachers thought and think, to our life experience and our cultural context, including our own psychological make-up.

From metrosexual London to rural Africa, all of us need challenging by the understanding and experience of God which our fellow-Christians have to share, and to be enriched by it. But in order to have both challenge and growth, we need to listen to one another, and not live, as we tend, to in separate worlds where people with different views in a diocese or in General Synod don’t have dialogue in depth with each other about what we have in common and why we disagree.

Let’s see if in the Diocese of London it can be different.

______________________________________________________________

The Church of England has been challenged recently by the appointment of a FEMALE BISHOP OF LONDON ! (Sarah Mulcahy).

Following on the episcopate of The Rt.Reverend Richard Chartres, whose Anglo-Catholic leadership would not have easily lent itself to the thought of a Woman succeeding him as third-in-line of all bishops in the Church of England; this latest appointment will, no doubt, have sent shockwaves through those who place themselves on either the catholic or conservative evangelical end of the churchmanship (note the word churchMANship) scale of the traditional Church of England.

One of these – on the side of conservative Evangelicalism – is Ian Paul, theologian and writer of Psephizo blog, whose opinions are generally tending more towards the school of ‘Sola Scriptura’ than anything more liberal on the hermeneutic front of biblical scholarship. However, even he – as St.Paul’s Dean David Ison (himself, an ‘Open Evangelical’) points out here in his article – has to admit the need for change in our contemporary understanding of what Scripture says about ‘male headship’:

“On a personal note, engaging again with these texts has been a challenging and transforming experience for me…. I have been struck afresh by the radically egalitarian and counter-cultural nature of what Scripture says about gender, and the challenge to the church to be constantly reformed and reshaped by Scripture’s perspective, even if that means letting go of cherished traditions of interpretation.” – Dr. Ian Paul –

For a person so deeply entrenched in Scriptural interpretation as Ian Paul to have to admit to the need for openness to ‘change’ in our preconceived ideas about whether a woman could ever be entrusted with leadership – in conjunction with men – in the Church is, for me, a new revelation.

Male headship is at the very heart of the arguments of both extreme Anglo-Catholics and extreme Evangelicals in the Anglican Churches around the world against – not only the ordination of women, but also against any opposition to the understanding of the need for male dominance in a Christian Marriage. If men only have been given the charism of leadership in the Church and in the world, how, for instance,  does that authenticate the teaching of Saint Paul (the favourite author of those who have problems with women and gays in the Church) that: “In Christ, there is neither male nor female..etc.” ?

Ian Paul has suddenly gained credibility in my eyes as someone willing to grant that our understanding of the teaching of Christ in the scriptures is based on more than ‘Sola Scriptura’ (or ‘Nuda Scriptura’ as some would describe the ethos of moral discernment). What really is needed is the addition of a moral compass based on both Scripture and society as it has been intelligently discerned to co-exist with the order of Creation as evolutionary and not static.

The Church has had, during its 2 millennia of history, to adapt to the new revelation of its cosmic environment. The human conditions of slavery and male domination are only two of the situations that have had to be recognised by the evolving Church. Faced, now, with the issues of women’s ordination and same-sex marriage, the Church needs to show it is able to accommodate to these realities in modern life – or lose its relevance in and to the lives of ordinary people whom it is meant to serve.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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7 Responses to Dean of St.Paul’s – ‘Divine Headship’?

  1. Philip Almond says:

    “Seventhly it is claimed by some that Galatians 3:26-29 is the overarching statement which is, as it were, in a privileged position and to which all other statements about male and female must conform. We reply that the Galatians passage is about salvation, not about marriage nor ministry, and emphatically states that all, Jew, Greek, slave, freeman, male and female are ‘sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus’ are ‘one in Christ Jesus’ and have equal access to the Father through Christ in the Spirit. But as stated above this does not mean that all relationships between Christians, including husband-wife and man-woman are symmetrical in terms of authority”.
    See post Phil Almond August 28, 2014 at 3:42 pm #at:

    https://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/articles/pauls-concern-for-the-women-in-timothys-churches-notes-on-1-tim-2-8-15/

    for a case against the ordination of women (but for the ministry of women)

  2. kiwianglo says:

    Dear Philip,
    I am well acquainted with the theology of ‘Reform’ – on women’s ministry – and on its reservations about gender and sexuality in the conversations going on at present in the Church of England. However, from the point of view of the Scriptures – which I understand you are speaking from – the first Creation myth in Genesis 1:26-28 has this to say:

    ‘Then God said; “Let us make man (generic) in our own image, after our likeness..,……..So God created man (generic) in his own image, in the image of God he created him; MALE and FEMALE he created them. And God blessed THEM, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply”. This version of creation does at least imply that female and male were created at the same time. If this were indeed not the case, why would this version still be included in the canon?

    It is my understanding – together with that of many of today’s Christians – that women and men were created equal in the sight of God, as is implicated in this first chapter of Genesis.

  3. Philip Almond says:

    Dear Kiwianglo

    My conviction is that the whole of the Bible is trustworthy and true. This includes the conviction that Genesis 1, Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 are all true. It is clear from Genesis 2 that male and female were not ‘created at the same time’. This is confirmed by ‘For Adam first was formed then Eve’ (1 Timothy 2:14) and ‘For man is not of woman but woman of man, for indeed man was not created because of the woman but woman because of the man’ (1 Corinthians 11: 8-9). Your ‘This version of creation does at least imply that female and male were created at the same time’ is not warranted by the text of Genesis 1:26-28. The two accounts are in harmony if we take Genesis 1 as a summary and Genesis 2 as a more detailed expansion of that summary.
    I don’t know whether you have studied the whole of the case in my post which Fulcrum were gracious enough to allow to stand (although they disagree with it).
    In that case I argue, on the basis of Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 11 that ‘This means that the man has been kephale of the woman since God created man and woman and that the asymmetry of the relationship has been a ‘very good’ aspect of their relationship from the beginning. Of course, whether the early chapters of Genesis are literally true or figuratively true is another very controversial matter. But what is important for our discussion/disagreement is that they are true.’

    C.S Lewis’ essay ‘Priestesses in the Church?’ (1948) is written from an Anglo-Catholic point of view. I don’t agree with everything it says but I do agree with the closing observations, which contain a prophetic warning:
    “With the Church, we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us”.

    Phil Almond

    • Jonathan Lewis says:

      Phil, the creation accounts do not contain any form of hierarchy, so it is actually equality which is described as “very good”. The male/female relationship only becomes asymmetric after the fall, which is clearly not a good thing. And a lot of study has been done on kephale, with the conclusion that it doesn’t mean ruler or anything similar. And as you mention Ephesians 5, look at verse 21, which commands mutual submission. The only way to read all of scripture consistently is to regard equality as God’s design, and male headship (or whatever name you give it, patriarchy, complementarianism, etc) as cultural and resulting from the fall, but not God’s model for the His redeemed people.

      • Philip Almond says:

        Hi Jonathan
        If you read the case I posted on Fulcrum (see post above) you will see my arguments about Ephesians 5:21 ff. The analogy Christ-church/husband-wife is tightly coupled. As the church is subject to Christ because Christ is kephale of the church, so should the wife be subject to her husband because the man is kephale of the woman. As the Church nourishes, cherishes and died for the church so should the husband nourish, cherish and die for his wife. Both these relationships are asymmetric. The context determines the meaning of kephale. Arguments that in some sense Christ submits to the church are flawed.See also my response to Ian Paul under his gender thread on his website.
        Phil Almond

  4. kiwianglo says:

    Dear Philip,

    You are obviously over-confident in what many scholars see as Pauls’s defective understanding of the equality of male and female in the sight of God – as reflected by the ministry of Jesus, himself. Remember, Paul was still a child of the Old Testament, with a concomitant and deeply ingrained understanding of patriarchalism – which had not entirely been weaned into the New Covenant. This makes all the more important his own, later, reflection that: “In Christ, there is neither male nor female; Greek nor Jew….”. Judaism was such a patriarchal society that it took the Incarnate Jesus to bring about reform in the tradition. Perhaps the greatest evidence of this was the Risen Christ sending Mary Magdalene (apostello) to tell the male disciples of His Resurrection. Of course, being Jewish, male and patriarchal, they did not believe her and had to go and see for themselves..

    Also, Philip, what do you make of the female Rabbis in the Reformed Jewish Tradition?

    Blessings, Fr.Ron

  5. Philip Almond says:

    Sorry – correction to last post
    Hi Jonathan
    If you read the case I posted on Fulcrum (see post above) you will see my arguments about Ephesians 5:21 ff. The analogy Christ-church/husband-wife is tightly coupled. As the church is subject to Christ because Christ is kephale of the church, so should the wife be subject to her husband because the man is kephale of the woman. As Christ nourishes, cherishes and died for the church so should the husband nourish, cherish and die for his wife. Both these relationships are asymmetric. The context determines the meaning of kephale. Arguments that in some sense Christ submits to the church are flawed.See also my response to Ian Paul under his gender thread on his website.
    Phil Almond

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