Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Archbishop Herft on women and the Bible

The Most Rev Roger Herft, Anglican Archbishop of Perth, made headlines in Australia a few weeks ago for likening the dominant view in the Sydney Diocese of women's ordination (i.e. against) with some widely reported controversial comments from Sheikh Taj El-Deen El-Hilali, Mufti of Australia. If you were disappointed with the Archbishop's actions a few weeks ago, it is worth reading his clarification and apology. Whether or not you agree with his comments about biblical interpretation, his initiatives towards reconciliation and ongoing dialogue with Sydney despite differences are commendable.


michael jensen said...

Well, sort of. I mean, what he said in the first place was so outrageous - something like: 'Sydney's view on women, like Hilaly's, encourages rape'.

Let's not get all dewey eyed about his apology either. I think it is sincere, but he really uses the opportunity to put the slipper in again. Although, since he attacked a hermeneutic I don't hold, I shouldn't feel so sensitive!

michael jensen said...

Yes, I am not sure whether I would call this an effort at 'reconciliation and ongoing dialogue' really. It is an apology.

However, he raises an issue worth discussing.

byron smith said...

Do you have the original quote from him in context?

michael jensen said...

No, that was my paraphrase of his first article's logic: which I don't think is in dispute.

Well I could rephrase it: 'Hilaly encourages rape. You know, Sydney's view is kind of similar logic to his.'

Anonymous said...

I was unable to traverse the link to the other site. Does the Bishop actually ask for forgiveness? That is usually required for genuine reconciliation.

byron smith said...

Here is the key paragraph:

The moment I was made aware that my unhelpful link in the article to the current problem
with the Chief Mufti had caused offence to the Diocese of Sydney and many others, I spoke
with Archbishop Jensen and expressed my regret. He graciously admonished and accepted
my apology at what had been taken as an objectionable inference. I have the highest regard
for the integrity and the leadership in the Diocese of Sydney and would in no way see
Anglicans in Sydney as countenancing the views expressed by the Chief Mufti. I know that
the Diocese of Sydney has a high regard for women and the role they play in ministry in
Church and society. I regret the pain caused by me to those who in a faithful understanding
of the Scriptures do not accept the leadership of women in the ordained ministry. I was
deeply saddened to hear the decision to close debate on this matter in one of the most
significant diocese in the Anglican Communion. The impact that this has on many women in
ordained ministry who feel further diminished disturbed me greatly.

byron smith said...

Michael - what I was wondering was whether you read his original article or just what came out in the SMH? I only ever saw SMH and wondered how accurately he was being represented. I posted this link because I doubted the media would bother to mention this less exciting second chapter.

Christopher said...

I missed the SMH article, but I was glad to be able to read the link you provided.

When our "foes" are misrepresented in the media we too readily accept the distortion, but when it happens to our "friends" we cry foul.

Anonymous said...

As an American who hasn't heard of Archbishop Herft before and wasn't party to the original remark or the apology I'm really not in a position to speak, but I am curious...

Is anyone taking seriously the underlying point of the man's remark or are they dismissing the debate entirely on the basis of his inflammatory rhetoric?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you know this but here is the original article by Herft (The Age, 3 November).

It seems the original was printed in The Age the same day the piece by Linda Morris and Anna Patty discussing his comments was printed in the SMH.

And the plot thickens: there was another article in The Age that day commenting on Herft's comments, entitled "Sydney Anglicans 'as bad' as Hilali"...

(It may be that equivalent articles were printed in Sydney/Melbourne, the above division of Age/SMH articles is speculation based on what Google coughed up.)

michael jensen said...

Yes I read the original article carefully.

There is an interesting issue about hermeneutics that Herft raises and I think it is unfortunate that his silly rhetoric got in the way. I think he is right to see that the fundamental difference is a hermeneuctical one. And the Sydney group needs to have a convincing and thought hermeneutic. However, in the apology, I don't recognise my own hermeneutic, I have to say.

byron smith said...

Charlie - thanks for those links. It was good to be able to see the original article.

Michael - I'm not sure that his article supports the reading you initially suggested: (Sydney's view on women, like Hilaly's, encourages rape). I take your point about not recognising yourself in his criticisms. Do you recognise any of our friends?

Aric - what do you see as his underlying point? (PS I hadn't heard of him either before the articles in the main Sydney paper (SMH) a month or so ago)

Chris - good point about our extra-sensitivity to how our friends are represented.

michael jensen said...

'The thought forms that treat women as second-class human beings have foundational elements that are similar in many repressive religious traditions.' ie, Islam, and Sydney.
OK, I exaggerate on the rape word. But not much... it was a pretty hostile piece.

Anonymous said...


Again, only as I read it - he seems to be saying something along the lines of - the grounds for extreme mysogyny in certain branches of Islam is not that different from the grounds for the present stance on women in the diocese of Sydney.

In other words, do even "mildly patriarchal" societies have the same sinful root as blatantly obvious ones.

byron smith said...

Aric - yes, that was how I read it too.

Michael - I agree that it's a hostile piece and that he offers a caricature of the passages and of Sydney. But do you think that he's right about the three basic similarities? ("the ultimate authority of the sacred text, the selective use of texts and the belief that those outside were destined for hell")

Anonymous said...

"I spoke
with Archbishop Jensen and expressed my regret..."
Sounds quite Howard-esque to me.
Does this mean that the PM's regret is actually an apology?

byron smith said...

Marty - in the next sentence he calls it an apology and says that PFJ accepted it. Of course neither his initial statement nor his apology are perfect. Yet I wanted to make two points in posting this. First, that the media wouldn't bother printing or reporting this. Second, that many Sydney Anglicans offended by the story a few weeks ago overread his initial point (however inappropriate it may have been) in the light of some sloppy reporting and that reading this apology is therefore important to gain a little perspective and avoid writing off a brother, even if many will still disagree with his criticism.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Byron - very useful points to make.

michael jensen said...

"overread his initial point ..."

Man you are SOOO keen to let him off the hook Byron! What did you think about the point he was trying to make?

BTW, I have defended him from ridiculous personal attack on the Sydney Anglican forums. But there's no need to get all weepy eyed about Roger, really!

byron smith said...

Michael - After overreading Herft, I'm afraid you're now overreading me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Byron. It's always important to read what people are actually saying, not just what the media report.

As for what he is saying, I see at least one positive in that Herft attacks (certain interpretations of) some passages for reasoning that women are inferior and so should not have particular roles. Discussing this seems much better than the common argument that not being able to take on a certain role automatically makes someone a second-class Christian. I think that sort of idea is a more worrying mistake than any view on what roles women should have in the church.

However, he does attack by using caricatures, so it is hard to see exactly what he is attacking. It appears from the quotes in the other Age article that he said more than appears in his article, but in what I read, he mentions "more humble interpretations" without giving any idea what this means, let alone what his own understanding is, leaving the overall impression that he is being at least as selective in his use of texts.

As for the ultimate authority of the sacred text, the clarification makes interesting reading, but seems to assume that the relationship between God, the scriptures and Jesus must be seen as a linear sequence.

The similarity mentioned by Herft is the belief that those outside are destined for hell. Once again, that could mean several things, but doesn't really seem to be relevant to anything else being discussed, other than being an opportunity to say "this is similar to Hilali". The article as a whole (and to a lesser extent the clarification) seems quite lacking in meaningful criticism and alternative views, relying on the implications that his opponents are similar in some way to Hilali and therefore wrong.