Sevenoaks Church Controversy Highlights Reform’s Views on Gender Roles

This is Kent reports from Sevenoaks, UK:

TENSIONS were running high at a Sevenoaks church in the second of a controversial two-part sermon on marriage.

Curate Mark Oden refused to back down after telling wives to be submissive, despite upsetting members of his congregation. Following a defiant service at St Nicholas Church in Rectory Lane on St Valentine’s Day, the Rev Oden claimed he had been “overwhelmed” by support from the congregation, despite admitting his views would be seen by some as “unpalatable”.He sought to redress the balance by saying men should be more considerate toward their wives – from helping around the house to activities in the bedroom…

Oden’s sermon last week created something of a media frenzy, also engulfing the church’s vicar, Angus MacLeay. The Daily Mail reported, quoting Oden:

‘We know marriage is not working. ‘We only need to look at figures – one in four children have divorced parents. Wives, submit to your own husbands.’

It is understood some women parishioners – and even their husbands – have vowed never to attend the church again.

Its vicar is Angus MacLeay, 50, a married father of two who is a leading member of the evangelical group Reform, which is opposed to the appointment of women clergy.

…The group has produced a leaflet, called ‘The role of women in the local church’, which uses Biblical quotes to urge them to ‘remain silent’ and telling them ‘wives are to submit to their husbands in everything’.Mr MacLeay, a Scotsman who sometimes wears a kilt to church, said: ‘There are times when the Bible challenges modern society. It recognises that women are fully equal to men, but it also recognises that in certain areas of life they may have different roles…’

However, on the church’s website, MacLeay claims he and his curate have been misrepresented – and that he does not wear a kilt to church:

…With regard to the two sermons preached on marriage from 1 Peter 3:1-7 by our Curate, Mark Oden, perhaps the best thing to do is to listen to them on our website and make your own assessment. You will find a preacher bending over backwards not to be misunderstood in order that our congregations could try to understand how the Bible encourages marriages to work, which is a message that we desperately need to hear. You will find careful and thoughtful application which recognises the full equality of men and women whilst also being aware from the scriptures of their differing roles and responsibilities. Again, we fully recognise that there will be a variety of legitimate interpretations of this passage but every preacher has to grapple with these texts or they are simply being unfaithful to their primary calling. On a different point another strand of headlines speak of the Rector telling women to be silent and of a leaflet written by him being distributed around the congregation in January. The reality is that I have written no leaflets, nothing has been distributed and no-one has ever told women to be silent… It would take too long to go into the many other factual inaccuracies. They range from the mildly amusing (apparently I wear my kilt to church services) to the downright hostile.

The Reform leaflet on women and the local church can be seen on the Reform website:

The Bible teaches that both men and women are made in the image of God and as a result are equal before Him in terms of their status, dignity and humanity (Gen 1:27)…

Jesus’ attitude to women was revolutionary for His day and clearly upheld the equality of men and women…

Women have a unique contribution to make to the life of the local church but it is not the same as the role of men.

It is this pattern of relationships that is to be modelled in family life and in church family life as God orders His creation to reflect the ordering of relationships within the Godhead itself (1 Cor 11:3). Because of the order and purpose of their creation, wives are to submit to their husbands in everything in recognition of the fact that husbands are head of the family as Christ is head of the church (Eph 5:22-24).

Similarly husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. This is the way God has ordered their relationships with each other and Christian marriage cannot function well without it. Yet this does not mean they are not equal – each of them needs the other to play their part if their marriage is to reflect the way the Lord Jesus Christ relates to His bride, the Church (Eph 5:25-33).

When it comes to roles within the church family, the same pattern of relationships applies. Because of the order and purpose of their creation, men are to have leadership responsibilities that women do not share. It is not appropriate for a woman to teach or have authority over men (1 Tim 2:11-13) although it is entirely appropriate for a woman to teach and train other women (Titus 2:3-5). In fact, there is a role here that is uniquely theirs, as while men can teach the Bible to women, they cannot always model it in practice…

The article ends with a short list of “further reading”; this contains texts produced by those involved with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), including Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, and Women, Creation and the Fall, by Mary Kassian .

Kathryn Joyce discusses these authors and the CBMW in her book Quiverfull, which be browsed on Google Books here (although I’d also recommend buying it). Kathryn, who is a friend of this blog, notes that the Council takes the view that feminism undermines the authority of the Bible. And in relation to  marriage (p.15):

Sensitive to the the appeal of feminism to people concerned about domestic violence and the abuse born out of male dominion of women, Piper and Grudem lay such abuses of power at the foot of feminism at well, arguing that “wife abuse (and husband abuse) have some deep roots in  the failure of parents to teach boys and girls about true masculinity and femininity. The confusion about sexual roles explodes in violent behaviors.” In this way, abusive men, passive men, and gay men could be linked together as sinners failing in their roles as men in a culture that has lost its way.

Kathryn also gives us a quote from Kassian (from a different book from that promoted by Reform), showing how feminism leads to the rejection of God:

Feminism began with a deconstruction of the Judeo-Christian view of womanhood (the right to name self); progressed to the deconstruction of manhood, gender relationships, family/societal structures, and a Judeo-Christian worldview (the right to name the world); and concluded with the concept of a metaphysical pluralism, self-deification, and the rejection of the Judeo-Christian deity (the right to name God).

Kathryn’s commentary on this:

In other words, by allowing women to delcare for themselves who and what they are, the definition of manhood, the meaning of which complementarians find principally in manhood’s differences from womanhood, comes under attack, as do hierarchical relationships within marriage. Eventually, God’s word and God Himself become an image considered in the eye of the beholder – whatever we want Him to be – and therefore no0 basis for hard and fast rules to live by.

She also highlights Piper’s objection to women having positions of authority in society, as he complains about

Roles [that] might stretch appropriate expressions of femininity beyond the breaking point are roles that strain the personhood of man and woman too far to be appropriate, productive, and healthy for the overall structure of home and society.

This boils down to the notion that women should not take on “masculine” leadership roles over male employees.

Still, it could be worse for the women parishoners of St Nicholas Parish Church; at least their vicar isn’t Mark Driscoll.