Does inequality necessarily involve subjection? Hugh Baker responds to Bishop David Gillett’s article and identifies the characteristics of a good hierarchy

I read Bishop David Gillett’s defence of female episcopacy with more sympathy than other parallel contributions in New Directions in recent months. ‘Here is someone coming at the question from where I’m coming at it.’ Rather than arguing from an uncritical acceptance of’ progress’, he did at least try and come to the present ab initio.

There is, however, an assumption in society now which tells itself’equality – good: inequality – bad’ and I think it is here that Bishop David, unconsciously, sees Scripture through modern lenses. Writing about Genesis 1.27, he says it embodies ‘equality and complementarity, not inequality and subjection.’ Genesis 1.27 simply states they were made male and female: it makes no statement, one way or the other, about equality of any kind, and I do not think we should read anything on that matter into it.

Nature of the hierarchy

Now, here we see the assumption: that inequality automatically produces subjection. In the world, this is always the case, and the subjection is not only from superior’ to ‘inferior’: over the Christmas period, I have met two Head Teachers who want to resign because of how they are treated by their staff. They’d have been a lot happier had they worked for Gaffer Mills. The Gaffer ran a foundry, filthy and untidy even by Black Country standards.

There was no set wage structure: at the end of each week, he gave his men what he could afford, or what he felt they deserved. An old-fashioned Methodist, the Gaffer truly loved his workers and their families, and they in turn adored him: yet he remained, till his dying day, the Gaffer. This, surely, is the relationship that pertains between Christ and his Church: even it though it involves the handing out of discipline on his part, we are not ‘in subjection. We are deeply and tenderly loved: he is the Gaffer nonetheless, and it is this relationship, held together by bonds of love but based on hierarchy, which holds between us and Christ, and Adam and Eve.

It is not until the wheels come off in Genesis chapter 3 that we see the hierarchy Adam and Eve lived under. Firstly, there is the hierarchy that holds between God and Man. Man is meant to obey God; hence, when he disobeys, he is guilty, and in trouble. Secondly, Eve eats the apple; Adam is held accountable. One view of Genesis 3 holds that, when Eve ate of the apple, she lost her glory: the ‘shine’ of innocence and sinlessness went off her. Adam, seeing her without it, eats of the apple even so, and loses his glory too. True or not, it is he who has to account to God for the state of the Garden – because he is in spiritual charge of it, ‘head of the wife as Christ is head of the church’ [Eph.4.22,NIV].


This position of spiritual accountability is held by anyone who holds any office in the Church. They cannot just shrug their shoulders and say “That’s just how they are’. God calls them to intercede for their ‘spiritual offspring’ in the same way that Christ, now, ‘always lives to intercede for them’ [Heb. 7.25, NIV]. One function, I believe, of small groups in a church is to train those groups’ leaders to pray sacrificially for those they lead: thus, we raise up a people who are deeply interceded for, able to live holy lives. If we want our church to make inroads into our ungodly land, perhaps we should note that the last time it happened, Methodist Class Leaders were held accountable for the moral condition of their Class.

If things go wrong in my church they may not, directly, be my fault. I am, however, responsible for doing something about it, and so accountable to my bishop and my Lord. Adam should, at the very least, have been praying for Eve and keeping her spiritually safe. That what happened between her and the serpent was outside his sight or earshot did not excuse his spiritual neglect. It was, I suggest, the Scandinavian sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies who most clearly mapped the decline of Christendom, and its replacement by Secular Europe, when he traced our continent’s move from Community (Gemeinschaft) to Association (Gesellschaft). Gemeinschaft was held together by tradition, loyalty, and common beliefs, a minimum of paperwork implementing these ties: Gesellschaft puts no value on these unseen bonds, and an ever-increasing structure of legislation is built to hold people together. Hosea chapter 10 begins with a picture of Israel turning away from God; by verse 4, decline has reached a point where ‘lawsuits spring up like poisonous weeds in a ploughed field’ [Hos. 10.4, NIV].

Gesellschaft may have rafts of laws about ‘equality’, and accordingly pride itself on the progress it has made compared to its ‘unequal’ predecessors, but its bonds are the cold metal of law, and love is no longer an arbiter of how men live together; love is side-lined, a hobby for domestic enjoyment, full of all the exploitation and manipulation that now poisons office politics and calls forth even more legislation, to impose even more heartless ‘equality’.

The role of love

It is through this mirror that we now see God’s Kingdom, and it seems to me that Bishop David is using this focus when he states “The rule of man over woman…is an element of disorder that disturbs the original peace.’ That men sinfully exploit women across the world is beyond doubt, and is, as he says, a symptom of ‘a world vitiated by sin and alienation. The Bible, though, speaks of two Kingdoms, not of a Kingdom of This World and a Republic of God. That our world is full of bad, exploitative hierarchies is not an argument against hierarchy: it is an argument against badness.

The earliest known credal formulation of the Church is not the statement ‘Jesus is Chairman nor even ‘Jesus is President’: to declare such would be to say that he rules, ultimately, by our consent, and we may replace him if we so wish. The Church begins by saying ‘Jesus is Lord’. This does not make him tyrannical or exploitative; but he remains the Gaffer, and it is the Church’s privilege to display the love and tenderness of his Lordship to this world. How can we do that if cannot display a hierarchy ultimately built, not on legislation, but on love and trust?