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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Asking women to 'submit' in marriage is asking for trouble

It should be laughable. The debate on how to react to the Sydney Anglican diocese changing the words used for marriage vows started out with a healthy dose of mocking laughter. The religious fundamentalists of Sydney want to have women say they will "submit" to their husbands, and right-thinking progressives sit back, open mouthed, to contemplate the implications of this nice case, one that tries to chip away at the egalitarianism it has taken them, and their parents, decades to nurture. And then, of course, they laugh at it. As they should.

When I first heard of the push by the Sydney fundamentalists to change the vows for women I thought, "They're looking for the Muslim marriage." There has been plenty of talk in the UK about the Anglican Church mapping out ways to accommodate sharia in their practices, after all. But then I understood pretty quickly that the Sydney diocese, run by Bible fundamentalists, is merely trying to roll back progress made in society since the 1960s, and which it believes are signs of a "destructive individualism and libertarianism". Which is a dirty bit of special pleading that attempts to cut out the right-thinking progressives and address directly the greater mass of middle-of-the-road Australians, the 92 percent of us who do not go to church regularly but whose grandparents - many of whom might still be alive - did.

The words were used in a piece published this morning by Peter Jensen, the archbishop of Sydney. In his piece, Jensen attempts to explain the reasoning behind the decision of the Anglican diocese to change "obey" to "submit". "Obey" is the vow that has traditionally been used in the Anglican marriage rite in Australia. The Bible fundamentalists say that "submit" is the more accurate translation, using a nice piece of argument that harkens back to the Renaissance when accuracy of translation of the Bible was actually an important issue in society. For those who don't know much about history, the official Bible translation that benefited from the new scholarship of the Renaissance was published in 1611, about the time Shakespeare died. It's called the King James Bible because it was published in the time of James I. His predecessor, Elizabeth I, who actually reigned during the most tumultuous disagreements arising from the Reformation, died in 1603.

This is all by the way of background. Jensen's piece in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning also contains a good deal of reasoned background. It's the supporting documentation, if you like, and it seems to me to be essential reading for any woman (and man) planning to take the new marriage vow of the Anglican Church. There's a lot of clever, Jesuitical reasoning in Jensen's piece surrounding the nature of the role of the man in a marriage, essential, Jensen believes, to make people also understand the nature of the role of a woman in marriage.

Perhaps the good archbishop should set up a training course so that young couples planning to avail themselves of a nice sandstone backdrop for their marriage ceremony - the photos will look much nicer, after all - can brush up on their theological knowledge before entering into a pact that might not otherwise truly reflect what they believe or expect.

I think the Anglican Church could make a nice little earner out of running the course. They could call it CERT IV - Marriage Roles and Responsibilities. A one-week course, $495 all-up. This would be a good way to avoid the likely outcome of the new vow, which is an increase in domestic violence, the traditional resort of that brand of male who believes that, because he is physically stronger than his wife, has the right to bring her round to his way of thinking with a few select punches to the face.

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