The first view, from Johanna Harris Tyler: Potential abuse.
The proponents of male headship have a tough job to convince the watching world that the hierarchy at the centre of their vision for marriage and church order is not more prone to abusive activity than the egalitarian alternative.
Baird is right to call out male headship for the ways in which its gendered role-playing in marriage may foster abuses of power. She does not suggest that all such marriages are on the path to domestic abuse. But ideas have consequences, and one of these, in any hierarchical relationship (especially one configured on a fixed difference like gender), is an abuse of power.
Sydney Anglicans must honestly and urgently revisit the legitimacy of male headship as a biblical concept rather than explain away the incidences as an incontrovertible teaching wrongly applied. While male headship may not necessarily trip the switch of abuse, it can provide the wiring.
Dr Johanna Harris Tyler is lecturer in early modern English literature at University of Exeter, UK. She grew up in Sydney, attending Anglican churches.
The second view, from Sarah Coyler: Potential flourishing.
So what about women submitting to men? Never in the Bible is a man given a duty or a right to subordinate a woman. The man is told to love his wife as Christ loved, and the woman to submit to her husband. At another part, it says “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.
Many evangelical Christian women are not at all bothered by these verses, in fact, many see goodness in them that they want preserved. This is perhaps for three reasons.
First, they do not connect submission with personal worth, because they already know that they are infinitely precious to God and, in good marriages, to their believing husbands. Instead, they see submission – where one person trusts another to lead them, and honours them for exercising that responsibility selflessly – helps two people to grow closer together, and enables them both to flourish as individuals.
Second, the contentment and fulfilment that come from knowing Christ and the sense that all who are saved by Him are now “one body”, means they no longer compare themselves to everyone else the way they once did. Instead of seeing men as competitors, or looking at what men have that women don’t, these women see men as partners in Christ – saved sinners, just like them.
Thirdly, many Christian women are married to men who also feel very secure and content before God, and so have no desire to dominate their wives – only to love them above themselves as God commands.