20 TRINITY TODAY WOMEN IN THE CHURCH BY EMILY McAULIFFE Trinity College has much to be proud of when it comes to producing female leaders in theology, not least the first woman in the world to hold the title of archbishop in the Anglican Communion – Kay Goldsworthy AO. Bishop Kay is a shining example of a strong female leader who has fought hard and inspired many, yet she made clear in her speech that the church still has a way to go to achieving gender balance. Of course, the issue of gender equality in leadership isn’t confined to ministry in the church, with the Australian polity, for example, very publicly entrenched in the debate. However, as an institution steeped in tradition, the church can be challenged at times by its own ‘stained- glass ceiling’, the result of a complex intertwining of biblical interpretation, ego and even stagnant thinking, all within a broader society fumbling its way towards parity. A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE Arguably, one of the most prominent sticking points when it comes to the role of female leaders in the church is the message of the Bible. As the guiding scripture for Christians, it makes sense to scrutinise the Bible’s pages for answers but, as the Reverend Canon Dr Dorothy Lee is uncovering, those answers are subject to interpretation. Dorothy is the former Dean of the Theological School and remains at Trinity College as the Frank Woods Research Professor in New Testament. Having turned her attention to research, Lee’s latest book project explores contemporary women’s ministry and the New Testament. ‘I’m arguing that the logic for female leaders is grounded in the New Testament, which is really open to the equality of women – and, therefore, the leadership of women – in the church and in any other sphere of life,’ she says. ‘We always talk of the 12 apostles as the intimate group around Jesus, but we ignore the intimate group of women. We know clearly there was a large group of women who left behind their homes and families to follow Jesus, and bankrolled the whole thing. They were the financial support.’ The Reverend Melissa Clark, who was one of Lee’s students during her Trinity deanship, and is a former student president of the Theological School, agrees candidly that women were always part of the Bible’s story. ‘Jesus was all in favour of women,’ she says. ‘And, I think, if you’re going to follow someone in the Bible, he’s the guy to follow.’ Dorothy gives further weight to that argument, suggesting that Mary Magdalene’s surname might well have been a nickname entrusted to her by Jesus and means ‘a strong tower’. ‘It’s just like Peter, whose real name is actually Simon, nicknamed as such by Jesus because Peter means rock,’ she explains. ‘Magdalene is thought to be Jesus’ nickname for Mary because she was such a prominent figure.’ Dorothy acknowledges some parts of the New Testament seem to oppose female leadership, but feels context is key. ‘Patriarchy made sense in the ancient world when a husband was 30 and his wife was between 13 to 16-years-old with no adult life experience; but today, that’s no longer the case,’ she says. Melissa shares the same view, citing the era in which the Bible was written as a time when women were ‘traded like goats and cows’. How times have changed. ‘I think the notion of educated, experienced women having to obey men begins to look like a form of spiritual abuse,’ states Dorothy. ‘Just like we no longer support slavery, we need to understand new contexts because things are different. It’s not that the Bible is irrelevant – it has a lot to offer; but let’s read it anew, let’s read it with new eyes.’ A FRAMEWORK FOR CHANGE Interpretation (or re-interpretation as it may be) of the Bible is important, but is only one piece of the puzzle. How does one go about changing an embedded, Taking the lead We look at the issue of gender and leadership within the Anglican Church of Australia following this year’s Barry Marshall lecture, in which Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy suggested that numbers were not the only barometer for assessing how women’s leadership was being embraced by the church. ‘It’s not that the Bible is irrelevant – it has a lot to offer, but let’s read it anew, let’s read it with new eyes.’