Church should submit to more women in ranks

The gong for the Most Bizarre News this week surely goes to the Anglican Church, whose men at the top have decided women need to be reminded of their position - one of submission. Positively kinky, quite hilarious and maybe just a touch offensive. Having seemed one of the most progressive of the larger church groups - after all, they have started ordaining women - it's a surprising twist for the Anglicans. They have had ''a rethink'', and the result is a distinct tilt at turning back the clock, a tad too late.

This is unlike say, the Greek Orthodox Church, whose clock has been well and truly fixed on Old Testament time but whose saving grace has been the sense of humour of its congregation. The various troglodytic declamations are simply regarded as droll, even by the faithful, though it must be said many marry in the church for cultural rather than religious reasons: the pageantry, the crowns, the walking in circles, the little asides from the priest who is also likely to be blessed with a sense of humour. Then there is that other highlight, the stepping on the foot. There are no vows in the Greek Orthodox ceremony. But the priest makes a pronouncement at some point in the proceedings from the Old Testament, that ''the wife shall fear the husband''. You have to listen out for it - a task which is non-trivial as it is all in medieval Greek - particularly if you are the bride, otherwise you will miss the opportunity to step on your new husband's foot in the traditional show of defiance. It never fails to elicit a rumble from the congregation and the tacit approval of the priest. Generations of women have shrugged off the anachronism with this show of feisty protest. An ill wind, however, is brewing in the wings: younger generations of women are simply failing to see what's funny about being instructed to fear their man. Hmm. Funny that.

But back to my disappointment with the Anglicans, who are maintaining that ''pledging to submit'' is ''not sexist''. Oh dear. At least ''obey'' implied a woman may have a view of her own though she is bound to put it aside. Submission is subjugation, a total relinquishing of selfhood. Given the response this week to this significantly backward step, the Anglican Church must be wishing they had stuck with plain old ''obey''. The trouble with making a change is that it attracts attention, and there is an expectation that the change will be progressive in some small way. But no, the Anglican Church is going for broke. Obviously all this equality between men and women has been the thin edge of the wedge. Gay marriage is at the floodgate.

So we must all have ''a rethink'' and return to the structure of the good old days when life was simpler and better, except that particular structure produced a very poor outcome for many women. Generations of women, some now in their 80s, did not fight long and hard for gains at work and at home for their granddaughters to be told their place in life is to submit.

This is precisely why the Taliban don't want women to have access to education; they become resistant to submission. Experience in India has shown that getting girls merely through primary education halves the birth rate, an ecclesiastical anathema as it puts a serious dent in flock numbers. The West has had to grant women education. The Catholic retaliation has been to deny them birth control. Western churches look with envy at the Muslim world: the massive and growing numbers of faithful and the collective submission to God's will - never mind that none of this reduces violence nor increases the protection of human rights.

The writing is on the wall for the church in the West; unless they get with the times, they'll become increasingly irrelevant. They need a different narrative for the 21st century. Some diversity in their senior ranks might help. Perhaps even at the very top. Lest you consider that blasphemous I, too, am really just hankering for the good old days, when women, too, were high priestesses, oracles and gods.

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