Posted: November 30, 2012 by J in Church, Theology

No one will buy our theology of gender until we manage to articulate the theology of power which necessarily goes with it.

The Sydney Diocese is dominated by a theology of gender which is more biblical and common-sense realistic than the views which hold sway in most other church groups. And we employ more women ministers than anyone I’ve heard of.

And yet there is a widespread perception that our take on gender is unhealthy.

Why is that? Some will rush to blame the other guys for smearing us.

Here’s my view: our theology of gender is right. But where we fail is in articulating a theology of power. And that is an essential to a right and balanced take on gender. Without the running mate of a well-defined attitude to power in social settings, a theology of gender is a scary thing, and will never get elected.

It’s just too likely to be abused.

I think people sense that. Our view of gender is biblical, but they see our message as naive and dangerous.

It is.

I for one would not encourage any person to adopt and practice Christian views on gender distinctions unless they also adopt the distinctive and radical Christian approach to power. The one where it gets turned on its head, and becomes a suffering, serving, self-giving, self-denying force. Like Jesus.

Because the man or leader who gets gender distinctions without this is likely to become an abuser.

But that is the unbalanced approach we are inviting.

I went to Moore College. The subject of gender came up and was addressed from time to time. Featured in the third-year doctrine grilling we received as ordination candidates. That puts it on the ‘top ten hit list’ of issues we needed to have straight.

The issue of power in the family or church was very rarely and slightly addressed in my four years at college. There was certainly no attempt at forming an intentional, theologically grounded, pastorally worked through approach, with us. No questions about our view of power in the doctrine interview.

And we were the guys who were heading out to take up the reins of power across the diocese.

  1. Alan Wood says:

    I found a lot less emphasis on gender in College than I expected – given how it is sometimes treated as the defining feature of Sydney vis a vis Australian Anglicanism (by Anglicans and the media, and sometimes even ‘Sydney Anglicans’). It came up from time to time, and was addressed, but speaking as an independent student (I wasn’t a candidate) we didn’t have that much of an emphasis on it. I remember John Woodhouse challenging the men in chapel one day to not be lazy thinkers about it and to do our sisters the courtesy of coming to a position that we owned personally – because they had to, as women in ministry.
    I hear your concern about power – but it’s a little vague at that *abstract* level. It can be a nose of wax for different flavours of theology, ‘of course, *our* side *really* follow Jesus in his attack on the entrenched powers of his day, as represented nowadays by the other side of *this* argument we’re having over here…’ I’ve heard all your words about suffering, serving, self-giving, self-denying, at College: about husbands, and about St Paul, or some lauded bishop or ministry great. And I think there’s a lot of good Christian theology about power underneath there.
    I think what we’re missing is two things: first, a locus where all those threads come to be articulated together, brought out into the open so that we hear and then we are heard to say all of the set, {Christ’s words on how the disciples were to lead and the church’s expectations of a leader and our diocesan requirements on catechists and curates and Philippians 2 or 1 Corinthians 9 or 2 Corinthians 12:13 and …}. (Us hearing is your last 3 paragraphs, us being heard to say it is your first and fifth to seventh.)
    Second, we need an awareness of where *specifically*, *concretely* we are naive – how this bites, who suffers. I read this ( and was horrified at how my preaching might have left doors open that I should have shut. It’s the complementary problem to the one you outline – where the woman or led person “who gets gender distinctions without this” is at risk of being abused.
    I suspect (as a good theological college student) that you don’t get 2 without 1. But maybe 1 is just a matter of degree, and some proper thought about application in our sermon preparation would get us to 2 without it?

    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Alan.

      I found a lot less emphasis on gender in College than I expected

      Yes, not a preoccupation in the daily life of the place. Strange though how we have a public image that we are ingrossed in the issue. There’s a PR problem there, and we need to figure out how to control it. Could say the same about attitudes to homosexuality – ‘out there’ it seems like a defining feature of our church life, yet ‘in here’, only occasionally mentioned.

      And I think there’s a lot of good Christian theology about power underneath there.

      Yes, those issues were talked about at college, and there are certainly some ‘raw materials’ down there that could be mined and used to develop a well-rounded theology of power. But as long as it’s underneath, it’s not quite a theology.
      So I think you’re spot on that what’s needed is ‘a locus where all those threads come to be articulated together’. Articulated, made explicit, and together, with a structure and a shape and proportions. Proper theology.

      Perhaps we can figure out who is currently suffering, without needing theology. But I don’t think we can figure out what to do next, without it. Repentance and healing come through the gospel.

  2. Chris S says:

    this seems to me to have really hit something Jonno – I read on (where I can) with interest.

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