When a Bible verse sets off a tweetstorm is the best response to hide till it blows over? What if it becomes the front page of your local daily? Hope someone else fronts up?
Hobart’s Anglican Dean Richard Humphrey doesn’t think so – and scored an opinion column in his state’s main newspaper, The Mercury.
It started with a local Catholic girls’ school, St Mary’s College, using the lectionary Bible reading for their graduation ceremony. The lectionary assigns daily readings on a three-year cycle and on graduation day it came upon with Ephesians 5: 21-33.
It begins (in the Catholic liturgy’s Bible translation) “Give way to one another in obedience to Christ. Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord, since as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife; and as the Church submits to Christ, so should wives to their husbands, in everything.”
The ABC reported that it began when Hobart woman Sarah Ferguson (not the ABC’s Sarah Ferguson) posted the reading on social
It made the front page of the local daily (pictured). The ABC pursued it hard.
The reading was scrapped. Apparently, a similar protest was aroused when the same reading also came up for the graduation – because the lectionary assigns Bible readings on a three-year cycle.
Churches that use the lectionary place a premium on sticking to it. That is generally true of Catholics, but in this case, Archbishop Porteous of Hobart came up with an alternative.
This storm in a teacup had Ephesians 5 all over the local media – with national coverage on ABC.
Porteous linked it to the Andrew Thorburn Affair in a sermon.: “because his church stood by scriptural teaching about abortion and the nature of marriage that he was considered unsuitable to be chair of a board of a football club”. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-10-24/archbishop-porteous-links-scripture-furore-to-thorburn-essendon/101569376
“All of this was by inference, as Andrew himself had not made any public statements on these moral issues.
“This tells us that our society is becoming increasingly hostile to Christian beliefs found in sacred scripture and actually to demand that people abandon their Christian faith if they wish to exercise public office.”
Those are reasonable points to make especially in a talk in a Sunday sermon in church. But they are essentially defensive, complaining of ill-treatment, making legitimate points. There’s definitely a place for that sort of response. But they often begin where Christians are at, not where the general public is at, which means they may scratch where the reader or listener is not itching.
But Anglican Dean Richard Humphrey decided to be positive. He went into bat for the Bible in the media, scoring a 800-word slot in his state’s main media venue. He scored runs. He went, as we’ve said for a positive message.
The headline in the online version reads “Bible message on women champions ‘equality’, not toxic masculinity: Dean” – intriguing and maybe not what Tasweigians might have expected.
He responded to the most severe criticism of the Bible passage, a Mercury article by UTas lecturer Danielle Wood which said Ephesians 5 teaches dangerous ideas that are indefensible in the face of domestic violence, and further breeds toxic masculinity and inequality.
He began by building common ground. “It is right that issues around intimate partner violence get prominent attention. It is a scourge on our society. The Anglican Diocese of Tasmania has and continues to a strong stance on such issues, recognising our own failures and seek address issues around Family Violence but does part of our own Scriptures undermine that position?”
And then he urges readers (and the media) to check their sources, the Bible.
“We need to read verse 22 in context: ‘Be subject to one another out of reverence to Christ.’ This idea of mutual submission is actually the start of the sentence which leads to what is said of wives, they should not be seperated as there is the closest grammatical connection between the verses.”
“Paul is saying to all who follow Christ, men and women, you should submit to each other as Jesus has in loving us. It starts with equality.”
Humphrey points to how liberating Paul’s words are in the context of the time, and points to the expectation of Christ-like behaviours from husbands, “not domineering but by cherishing,” a quotation from Eugene Petersen’s “The Message.”
Like Paul, Humphrey goes on to make demands of men, such as the end of toxic masculinity. “This passage is a possible antidote”
It’s worth noting that Humphrey did not say one thing to the media and another in church. The article is actually a slightly shortened version of his Cathedral sermon from last Sunday.
It would be good if more topical sermons, were topical enough to morph into opinion pieces in the press. One reason Dean Humphrey was able to make an effective response is that he was not new to the Mercury staffers. He’s written a few times for them using the credibility of his office as the minister in charge of Hobart’s St David’s Cathedral – the main Anglican Church in the capital. It is a good base for media commentary. His Sydney equivalent, Sandy Grant at St Andrews Cathedral is setting off down the same path.
Humphrey’s response to an attack on the Bible, was not to complain that Christians get a hard time, but to show how the Bible, read logically, and in context makes demands on us all. And those demands can be communicated in the media. At least some of the time.