GO AND SIN NO MORE – gender and power issues are with us still

GO AND SIN NO MORE – gender and power issues are with us still

Jennifer Turner

I was given Helen Garner’s book about male privilege, The First Stone: Some questions about sex and power, as a Mother’s Day present. Sweet irony! So I took it to Melbourne that July. Somehow it seemed very appropriate to read this story about exploitation right there in the shadow of Ormond Col­lege.

I found Garner’s story of her personal pilgrim­age through the minefield of 1990s male-female relations profoundly moving and pondered long and hard over its effect on me. It is not so much that I am in Garner’s age group and see the world in her colours. The characterisation of her book as older feminists versus younger feminists is overdrawn. In any case, I do not have her history as an active feminist of the 60s and 70s nor can I identify with her point of view on many issues. Rather, what moved me was that an Australian had the courage to say in a local context that life is not so simple and that the subtleties of relations between the genders cannot easily be drawn in straight lines or pink and blue. Our sexual identity is at the core of our being and affects everything we do. And just as the rigidity of Victorian-era rules ossified human relationships, so the new rules that define gender warfare do not do justice to the possibilities nor the intricacies of human relationships.

There is value in having rules, of course. The incest taboo, like a railing on a high balcony, makes won­derful sibling and intergenerational relationships possible. And wisdom about full intimacy being only for marriage enhances that relationship as well as setting limits on all others. But rules define bound­ary conditions. They do not of themselves generate creative interactions.

It is not easy to overcome the gulf between two people in any friendship. The partnership of lovers holds both extra promise and extra tension. In the imagery of Genesis 2 and 3, the intimacy pictured as ‘naked and not ashamed’ degenerates into mutual hiding and blaming when ultimate personal autonomy is sought. Demographics such as the number of people who live alone or the average length of marriage partnerships, high­light clearly that we live in an age of individualism. When having only yourself to please has become a habit, it is even harder to bridge the gap to another person and their funny ways. As one of my friends once observed, we think it the height of generous child-rearing to give each child his or her own bedroom. However, when they marry, we expect them not only to share a room but a bed! How I wish we Christians with our good news about reconciliation were the ones blazing the path to celebrate both the intricacy and the potential of restored relationships.

In recent years when dinner party guests who have come to our table courtesy of my husband’s profession have asked what I used to do for a living, the mention of the church immediately produces a discussion of women’s rights, rigid rules, and a condemnation of ecclesiastical institutions. It gives me great pain to see the disrespect our society has for the church and how our lack of internal reconciliation has brought shame to Christ’s body, however much we may make the distinction between a fallible human institution and the organism of which Christ is the head. Leon Morris, way back in 1976, pointed out that subjuga­tion of women in the church is likely to be the very thing which today brings the word of God into disrepute. (A Woman’s Place, p 27)

But women’s leadership is a red herring, however much its withholding from women is a matter of warm debate and cause of much pain. The real issue is the ongoing relationships between men and women, how we work them out in today’s world, and the implications for abuse of power. Under a biblical mandate, we want to affirm the differences between men and women without saying that all women fall into certain roles or personality categories, and all men into other, mutually exclusive ones. Variety, complementarity, and the need for cooperation across roles and personalities are part of the great richness that God has given us – part of what it means for us to live together in the image of a Trinitarian, relationship God.

But it is not sufficient to affirm that there are gender differences and ‘Vive la Difference!’ I experienced firsthand black-white turmoil in the US in the 60s and 70s when the same argument was used for ‘separate but equal’ segregated housing and schools. However much ethnic or colour diversity was ex­tolled and the uniformity of a total integration policy eschewed, it was naive then in that debate and it is today in the gender and power one, to say that being different makes no difference to how you are regarded or treated. When power is unevenly distributed there cannot be equality between two separate groups. One group is systematically, if unwittingly, excluded from the seats of economic and institutional influ­ence. Only members of the more powerful class will deny it. The less powerful, having experienced the disability of their class, know otherwise. They see both the structural and the subconscious barriers.

I still sometimes hear men ask, “What is the problem?” saying: we affirm women as made in the image of God, we acknowledge complementarity, we enjoy their company. But sometimes even among friends it must be, to use Roberta Hestenes’ words ‘my brother, my enemy’ – women speaking out until the more powerful understand, however distantly, what it means to be systematically disempowered, to have male preferences and practices taken as normative and to be devalued in arenas of life where it should not be relevant whether a person is male or female. One benefit of white Anglo Saxon males being denied jobs or scholarships by affirmative action maybe some understanding of what it feels like to be excluded from something in which you should rightfully be able to participate, even as you qualify on all grounds except gender or class.

Garner’s book and the discussion it produced should have been signs that in 1995 that we were moving into more mature wrestling with the implications of gen­der relations. But however much the balance of opportunities and rights be­tween parents has changed in recent years, the fact remains that a family with children has three jobs — ­his, hers and the care of the children. Unless outside help is used, something has to give in those early years.  The responsibility to wrestle with these problems is not just hers, but theirs.

Power relations is a useful way of analysing prob­lems and explaining the pain as well as the dilemmas in society, but merely to adjust the power balance is not an adequate Christian response. We are called to serve like Jesus. Lines drawn in the sand and invective across barri­cades belong, if at all, to an early stage of any revolution. It should be a sign of growing maturity, not just of the commentators but of the struggle itself, that the subtleties of this issue are being faced in secular society. In the Kingdom of God, we must acknowledge these subtleties as well but go further, much further, in living Kingdom values.

The challenge to Christians is to demonstrate that the reconciliation with God carries over into our everyday gender relationships. The early church had to discover the implications of the cross for breaking down the ethnic divide. In later centuries Christians led the way in abolishing slavery. Today the issue is men and women. This will take work on both sides. Gamer herself drew atten­tion in extreme form in her later lecture to one issue that requires mutual consideration. Who is respon­sible for the harassment of a scantily clad woman in a bar at 2 am in the morning? Is she? Is he? Women are precluded from church circles for fear they will tempt males. Jesus said, [men] if your eye offends you pluck it out. And [women] you are not to offend another or, as Paul calls it, ‘put a stumbling block’. Both responsible!

But the deepest issue is fear – fear of each other, fear of the very difference, fear of even naming the issue, fear of losing whatever power we have by birth or from the struggle we have endured. In letting love cast out fear, our model must be Jesus whose relation­ships with women demonstrated love, acceptance, appreciation of abilities as well as personhood, and a willingness to disregard convention when it stood in the way of healthy friendships and ministry. As individuals, we need Spirit-given wisdom to love creatively like this. So does Jesus’ church.

It would be nice to conclude with a set of solutions. Human relations are not that simple. The first step is for us to affirm both difference and rapproche­ment, serving love and real pain, and to speak of these things without fear of being painted into a comer. God empowers when we acknowledge our need for divine change, when we make it the subject of our prayer. We must find ways to model gender recon­ciliation. We need all the support we can get as we struggle with these issues in everyday life. And we cannot leave it to others to lead the way when we are the ones with the good news of reconciling grace.


Adapter from an article first published in Zadok Perspectives 51, Summer 1996, 10-11.

Part Four – Liz on working together in ministry

Part Four – Liz on working together in ministry

Trevor and Liz Sykes tell their story of working together in marriage and in the church (in four parts).

Sometimes a woman is accepted in her church because she isthe woman we know”. This is the story of how Liz came to be accepted as a pastor alongside her husband after many years serving in their church.

Part Four – Liz on working together in ministry

When we began our life together, I was already experienced in church life and leadership so marrying someone who had different expectations could have been difficult, but as with all things, we figured that if God had drawn us together, it would work out.

In the six months before going to theological college in Qld, we lived in NSW near the navy base where Trevor was stationed and enjoyed setting up home and learning to trust one another with our hearts and lives. This proved to be a good decision as the first half of our college time was spent living with other couples and their children. This could have been disastrous had we not worked out our own family values and ways of working together beforehand.

Since I had several years of leadership in my local church before marriage, I thought it wise to let Trevor grow in his life with God and Bible knowledge while I stayed home to support him. Three of our four sons were born in this period.  Even though I had always thought of going to Bible college at some stage, marriage changed my perspective and being a full-time wife and mother gave me a great sense of purpose. The program at the college was rigorous and meant I was often on my own from early morning until after the boys had gone to bed. On Trevor’s return at night, there were times he would stay up even later doing assignments but I was able to be a support and encouragement in what was a hectic schedule. We learnt together as I rehearsed him in preparation for exams, and we had the satisfaction of seeing him matriculate in four subjects, including in logic and Hebrew as well as in his college subjects.

We returned to WA for Trevor to take up ministry in a church plant from my local church, a place where I had taught Sunday school and played the organ. His being a full-time worker plus a pastor made for a busy life and I also contributed by preparing the weekly newsletter and playing the piano. We were young and energetic and thought nothing of having boarders while raising three young children.

Within the first year of ministry at this church, there was a church crisis and Trevor resigned. This was a huge shock and not something we had envisaged, and we soon learnt about church politics and that not all church people are kind or truthful. However, it was a time for us to pull together and rely on God for what this would mean for us in the future.

Before long, a good friend told Trevor to ‘get back on the horse’ and continue in ministry. He mentioned that the church he attended needed someone to stand in for their minister who was unwell. Trevor still had to work full-time and I continued with my music and took on Sunday school teaching again. This appointment lasted several months.

At this time we were invited to represent Christian Mission to the Communist World (now Voice of the Martyrs) and I busied myself arranging itineraries for Trevor to travel the state showing films and speaking of the persecuted church. Again, I stayed home with the family but was always involved with handling the finances for the home and ministry and working in the local church. Trevor also had times away with Aerial Missions flying to isolated towns to preach and share with missionaries in those places. So I continued to be at home, being a prayer and emotional support for my husband.

Eventually, this church called Trevor to be the pastor and we were there for over 35 years, experiencing all the highs and lows of church life and seeing hundreds of people come and go as they were introduced to God and a new way of living. I continued with music, Sunday school teaching, preparing the newsletter and leading Bible studies during the day while the kids were at school.

As the boys got older it became possible for me to be more involved and eventually our accountant advised us to share our salary because I was doing 50% of the work. So I was voted in as ‘associate pastor’, a role strongly needed as the church was involved with counselling many troubled people from difficult backgrounds.

Our church was traditionally ‘conservative’ and there was no thought of my being able to preach or teach Bible studies to groups of women and men together. But over time, with gentle instruction and demonstration of our ‘togetherness’ in ministry, people recognised that we both were gifted in teaching and more opportunities came for me to lead those study groups and eventually to preach. This was pure delight as I had always responded to a Bible passage by thinking through how I would preach it. I loved expository preaching.

There was some opposition to my being involved to this extent, but we continued to love those who had different ways of interpreting the Bible and saw many change their mind over the years (sometimes without realising it). We were always careful to not ‘tread on the conscience’ of those who had different views but relished the time God gave us to work together and be respected as both being senior pastors.

Interestingly, even though the church endorsed our ministry, there was never a 100% vote for us to both be named ‘senior pastor’ as some were more comfortable with having one person at the top and the other being an associate. So, towards the end of our time in that fellowship, we chose to be voted in as ‘elders’ with no person in the senior pastor role. Everyone was happy with that, and we continued in that way until retirement.

Liz Sykes calls herself a much-loved child of God; disciple of Jesus, wife, mother, grandma, mentor, Bible teacher, musician, and retiree (76) who loves being away in the bush with her best friend, husband Trevor.

Part Three – Trevor’s journey into shared Christian ministry. 

Part Three – Trevor’s journey into shared Christian ministry. 

Liz and Trevor Sykes tell their story of working together in marriage and in the church (in four parts).

Part Three – Trevor’s journey into shared Christian ministry. 

After 3 years at Kenmore Christian College, we were found ourselves struggling financially and in consideration of Liz’s mother’s fragile health, we decided to suspend theological studies for the time being and return to WA to re-evaluate our journey from there. I was given an opportunity to be pastorally involved in a small Perth suburban church as a full-time worker Pastor.

After 9 months in that ministry, we experienced irreconcilable differences within the leadership and I felt pressured to resign. I continued my workday employment at Wesley College in South Perth. After a time of wrestling together with where to go from there, I took a clerical position in Belmont which necessitated our looking for a rental property nearby. Before long I was promoted to be the executive position of manager of the costing department of a local hardware supplier.

At the same time, I was invited to do a short-term, stand in ministry, at Belmont Mission Church because the Pastor was experiencing ill health. That opportunity allowed me to continue to exercise my pastoral gifting and calling. Around that time, I was also approached by Christian Mission to the Communist World to be the WA representative. I took up that position after resigning from my executive staff role in the office.

This was where our shared ministry opportunities began to flourish. Liz was an excellent organiser, arranging my itinerary for Mission presentations in suburban and country churches. This sometimes involved me being away for weeks at a time. I also took on mission trips with Aerial Missions to outback regions of WA, again being absent for extended periods which really put pressure on Liz in managing our young family.

For some considerable time, this was how it was – Liz managing all that was required in running the home and family solo. So our mutuality in family life and ministry opportunities grew out of necessity and practicality, rather than theologically. After a couple of years, I felt that I should be more engaged with the family and as I was a teaching elder in our home church, Belmont Mission, I offered to take up a full-time pastoral role. This was accepted and so began our 35 plus years at that church which was re-named Belmont Christian Fellowship (BCF).

Belmont at that time was a very low socio-economic area and we were mainly reaching people who came from that location. It often meant we were dealing with drug-affected individuals and families, people with mental illnesses and other social ills. We were challenged by people being demon-oppressed, and sometimes even demon-possessed, which demanded a full arsenal of spiritual weaponry. While Liz didn’t have an official role in the church, we shared everything, because it seemed the most natural thing to do under the circumstances.

In the Navy I had been living in a male-dominated world, sometimes sharing small spaces with multiple men so when I married, Liz was my closest companion and confidante. That wasn’t about to be changed for us in the ministry setting. Also, I soon recognised the depth of her own spirituality and spiritual giftedness, which included pastoral care and biblical exposition. Our church at that time was very conservative theologically which required us to accept that what worked for us at home was not readily accepted in our church community or leadership group.

Our church was also part of a fellowship of churches that adhered to a very conservative theological position, so while Liz and I modelled mutuality we did not feel comfortable pushing it on people in our congregation or leadership. Besides, we had not yet explored a Biblical legitimacy for what we were experiencing. That came later when we came across the organisation, Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE). We read whatever we could get hold of on the subject but it was not until many years later, perhaps in the last 10 years of our ministry at Belmont, that I began to confidently but gently articulate what we so passionately believed.

This bold step was not without some personal cost because some of my ministry colleagues, both within our church and the fellowship of churches to which we belonged, began to distance themselves from us. While difficult, we respected that these brethren were opposing something that appeared to them to be a violation of their conscientiously held position. We continue to respect that to this day, as many feel strongly that they are protecting the biblical mandate for the definitive roles of men and women.

In 2002 we sold our family home and moved to Warnbro on the south coast. This enabled us to take a round-the-world trip including attending a conference of CBE in Miami, Florida. We came away from that conference invigorated and committed to the ongoing work of this mutuality mission. Years later we attended another conference, this time in St. Louis, and were seconded to manage their newly formed blogsite, the ‘Scroll’. We facilitated that worldwide audience until it progressed into Facebook and Twitter some years after.

In the latter years of our ministry time at Belmont we were able to gently persuade our people that Biblical Equality was an authentic biblical position and that it was also a more desirable and God honouring choice. That led to changing Church Constitution to read that ministry was spiritual-gift based, and not gender-based. By this time Liz and other gifted women, were finally able to share in pulpit ministry and lead mixed-gender Bible studies. We also appointed three female Elders to manage the ongoing ministry of the church beyond our retirement.

In our retirement, we continue to be available for encouragement and counselling for previous members of Belmont Christian Fellowship and other contacts in WA and beyond.

Trevor Sykes had 35 years ministry together with Liz at the Belmont Christian Fellowship, leading significant change towards mutuality in ministry. They also represented Christians for Biblical Equality in WA during the later part of those 35 years. In retirement Trevor enjoys swimming and snorkelling in summer and bushwalking in winter.

Read the conclusion to Liz’s and Trevor’s story in Liz’s final The Together Project blog coming soon.

Part Two – Liz’s journey to mutuality in marriage

Part Two – Liz’s journey to mutuality in marriage

Liz and Trevor Sykes tell their story of working together in marriage and in the church (in four parts).

Part Two – Liz’s journey to mutuality in marriage

Like Trevor I am delighted to contribute these posts about our life together, firstly as a couple and then in our joint ministry life. In contrast to Trevor, I grew up in a Bible-believing home but with older parents and no siblings. This may have helped to make me the serious child I was, although my mother said I could be quite naughty! She was often unwell and I was never sure if she would survive some of her strokes and heart turns. My father was a caring person who had no thought of acting as the ‘head of the home’ and I watched him care for my mother and do much of the housework at times as well as holding down full-time work.

In later years I too had much responsibility in the home but still found time to be active in the local church when I left school and worked in a bank. In all my responsibilities at the church I was not aware of being treated differently because of my gender. I thought of myself as a Christian person who had many opportunities to serve God and share my faith.  The only time I realised there could be limitations for me as a woman, was after marriage, but that is another story.

I had the idea of training as a nurse so I could go overseas as a missionary, but Trevor came into my life and my life went in a different direction. By the time I met him I had seriously committed my life to God and was prepared to remain single if that was what God had in mind. However, one Sunday this remarkable young man turned up at church to hear our minister speak. Trevor had heard this guy speak at a youth camp in South Australia some years before and was impressed, so although he was stationed in Fremantle in the Navy, he found his way to South Perth that day.

We only had a few conversations before Trevor was off on another trip and I bought some Christian books to occupy him while at sea as there was no Christian fellowship on the ship. On his return to WA, Trevor was transferred to NSW and since I was the youth group leader, he wrote to me when he arrived at the new base and we continued writing for several months – long letters – sometimes 20 or more pages – just sharing what we were doing and getting to know one another.

All this while, we were not seriously considering a future together, but after a time we realised that God had brought us together to share our lives and couldn’t imagine not continuing the friendship. Finally Trevor had a few days leave so came across to WA where we spent time together and confirmed that this friendship was something special from God. This was the beginning of our adventure which has now spanned 55 years.

So, after 2 months, more letters and an engagement ring arranged by mail, I boarded the train to NSW where I stayed with folks from the church Trevor was attending. While in NSW, Trevor applied for an early discharge from the Navy in order to go to Theological College in Qld and was granted the release from his commitment, 4 years earlier than his original contract. Because Trevor left the Navy early, he could not take leave, so we married earlier than expected in order to have some time together as a couple before travelling to Qld where we had arranged to share a house with another couple from WA.

When we began our married life, we determined to allow God to shape our relationship rather than copying our parents’ experiences or reading books on how to have a Christian marriage. Having believed that God had orchestrated our union, we trusted him to show us how to live together as a couple and later as parents. With the Bible as our guidebook, we learnt the ‘one anothers’ of Scripture and found we could trust the Holy Spirit’s work in each other to convict us of wrong or hurtful attitudes toward each other. Perhaps because we were living in another state far from our families, we were able to forge new paths and ways of doing life together with God.

We learn to ‘speak the truth in love’ and to pray together when decisions had to be made, not moving ahead until we had consensus. We figured that if God could not direct two people to come to agreement, how hard it would be to encourage our church community to decide issues. Because we had many years with little income, we also learnt to rely on God for our weekly, rent, food petrol and household expenses. Living like this meant that when money, arrived we knew how it was to be spent because there would always be an immediate need which God had supplied.

Since we were each other’s best friends, we were able to stand by each other when troubles and trials came and not blame the other person but pray together to see how God would show us the way forward. This was helpful when we opened our home to four young men who needed somewhere to stay. They remain firm friends. Our own four boys learned to have compassion for those not as fortunate as ourselves and we are thrilled to watch as through the years they in turn have cared for others and shared their lives with people from all walks of life. For 12 years we were able to have my mother live with us after my father died and thanks to a generous interest-free loan from friends, we built a full granny flat to accommodate our grandma. Again, we supported each other in this endeavour and our boys learnt more life lessons.

From time to time, people would ask how we managed our marriage with respect to ‘who was in charge’ or ‘who had the final say when decisions had to be made’. We could always reply that God was in charge and that we didn’t have to have a ‘boss’ in our home or either of us being solely responsible for the spiritual life of our family.  We have always considered our life a merger of two individuals becoming one, without losing our distinct personalities, gifts and abilities. Our key verse which we often share with others approaching marriage, comes from Colossians: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven you.”

Now in our later years, we are so grateful to God for our love and companionship as we face old age with the confidence that God will continue to direct our way and continue to provide all we need.

Liz Sykes calls herself a much-loved child of God; disciple of Jesus, wife, mother, grandma, mentor, Bible teacher, musician, and retiree (76) who loves being away in the bush with her best friend, husband Trevor.

Read Liz’s story and Trevor’s sequels in future The Together Project blogs.

Part One – Trevor’s journey to faith

Part One – Trevor’s journey to faith

Liz and Trevor Sykes tell their story of working together in marriage and in the church (in four parts).

Trevor explains how his early attitudes to marriage and women were formed in his disrupted family life and years in the navy.

My parents separated when I was 2 and divorced when I was 4. I was the only child of the original marriage and my parents each remarried and began new families. My grandparents were the most stable influence in my life at that time and my mother, her new husband and I lived with them for a number of years. My mother sent me to a Methodist Sunday School, and that was my first contact with the Christian faith. I wasn’t aware of absorbing much of the teaching but it initiated in me a God-consciousness.

I hadn’t seen my father since I was 4 but when I was 10, a neighbour told me where he was working, not far from my grandparents. I could ride my bike there and meet up with him. Naturally, he was pleased to see me and made a fuss of me, so much so, that I couldn’t stop talking about him – very upsetting to my mother and stepfather. Mum gave me an ultimatum, if I kept behaving this way I would go and live with my father.

Well, I didn’t stop behaving that way and was packed off to my father and his new family. He, his wife and a small child lived in a large, rented house with my stepmother’s widowed father, another uncle and aunt with their young family, plus two single adults related to my stepmother. Quite a household! I found myself in a life very different from what I had imagined.

From that moment I realised I was alone, living as a misfit between two families which soon produced half-brothers and sisters, and I didn’t fully fit into either one. Both my father and stepfather were WW2 ex-army men and the domestic culture at that time was very male-centred. The men were always deferred to and waited on. You would never see a man doing anything domestic inside the home.

So that was naturally what I absorbed as a young person and had no reason to question it.

During my high school years, I was befriended by a boy and invited me to his church and youth group where I first heard and responded to the Christian gospel message. This was anathema to my father who opposed me going to church and being baptised. Strangely, rebellion in this case was to go to church was rebellion – not the usual pattern. There I began to mix with ordinary families but was ashamed to bring church friends home to meet mine. I became even more of a stranger at home. Then at 18, I joined the Australian Navy and moved completely away from both my natural families and sadly, from my Christian family.

While I began with good intentions to live Christianly in this new environment, I soon got caught up in the normal life expectations and behaviours of a sailor. My first deployments were overseas in war zones and that kept me away from Australia for the best part of a year. For the 5 years I was in the navy I was in a totally male environment in which using and abusing women was the expected normal behaviour.

In the economy of God, a former friend contacted me while I was stationed on a ship operating out of Sydney, took me to church and introduced me to the minister. Even after my friend left I would go back to that church when I had shore leave and from that time I attempted to change my ways. This inward battle went on for another couple of years but relying on my own strength and willpower, I never fully overcame my navy acquired vices or ways of thinking about women.

Again, in God’s timing, I was drafted to a ship serving out of Fremantle, Western Australia and near the end of that 2-year deployment, I went along, as a last-ditch effort to reform, to the South Perth Church of Christ. A very enthusiastic young man, thinking that I was younger than my 21 years, introduced me to members of a teenage Christian Endeavour group, led by Elizabeth Lee. The young guys in particular in that group were so on fire for God that I found myself wanting what they had. When I went overseas again, Liz as the group leader, got them to pray for and correspond with me. This became the real turning point for lasting change.

I was drafted to a couple of different land bases in New South Wales and continued to correspond with leader Liz. In time this developed into more than a casual correspondence as we both realised we were becoming emotionally invested and God was drawing us together. So began a long-distance courtship by mail with lengthy letters expressing to each other the deepest things in our hearts. We developed a profound respect for each other.

I made a short trip to Perth to formalise our relationship. Liz joined me in NSW a few months later and we were married in Penrith Church of Christ. Liz was a Navy wife for about 6 months before I was honourably discharged to attend Kenmore Christian College in Queensland because I felt the call of God to Christian ministry but with limited education and even less Bible knowledge, and certainly no experience of church life. I struggled to cope with the changes away from Navy life, being newly married, and a college environment of mostly churched young men and women who were familiar with Biblical terminology and had already an established overview of Scripture.

Our finances were limited too, so I worked two ten-hour days at a pig farm to finance our little family. Along with theological studies I had to matriculate, so my College routine involved early morning travel and returning home late at night. By contrast, Liz was stuck at home, without transport and expecting our first, second and then third child. She would have loved to have been alongside me studying. Instead, she had to endure my nightly frustration at the demands of college life, which to her, with her church experience, would have been a breeze.

From this beginning of married life, there is no way that I would have pictured myself demanding to be the commanding head of the home and its sole spiritual leader. As Liz graciously put aside her own needs, so began our life of mutual marriage and parenting. She believed in and supported me out of her deeper understanding of the ways of God. She allowed me to develop my spiritual walk and patiently waited for me to catch up. I couldn’t have survived without her willingness to sacrifice.

Once I did catch up, there was no way that I wanted to lord it over her in some supposed right as a husband and father. In financial matters, Liz had 5 years’ experience as a Commonwealth Bank employee, so she managed our finances. We did decision-making together under God. If either of us was unhappy about a proposed purchase or direction we waited for God’s guidance until either we were both convinced it was right for us or laid the proposal aside.

That was how we happily lived our marriage and family life. It wasn’t until many years later that we discovered a Biblical framework that confirmed this was a godly way to live. But more of that next time… 

Trevor Sykes was later employed for 2 years as an itinerant WA representative of Voice of the Martyrs, followed by 35 years of ministry together with Liz at the Belmont Christian Fellowship. In retirement, he enjoys swimming and snorkelling in summer and bushwalking in winter.

Read Liz’s story and Trevor’s sequels in future The Together Project blogs.

So would I change my name if I was marrying now? asks Jennifer Turner

So would I change my name if I was marrying now? asks Jennifer Turner

I took my husband’s surname when we married many years ago. So much has changed in our social world and someone asked me this International Women’s Day if I would do that now. It has made me think some more about the issue of personal identity and how it is connected to our name.

When I married in America, I kept my ‘maiden’ name in the middle. It was quite common there. If you pick up a book and see the author has a name with two family names after their given name, the odds are it is an American writer. By keeping the Gibson, I embraced the link to my family of origin while at the same time celebrating the formation of our new family under my husband’s name. For quite a number of years, I wrote professionally as a town planner under the three-name style.

But when I returned to Australia in the 70s, official protocol would not accept my name in that format. On my next passport, they insisted that I attach neé Gibson instead. I don’t know when the change happened, but certainly now as names go, you can choose your own style.

So would I change my name if I was marrying now? At the end of a day pondering it, the answer is ‘perhaps not’. But I would want my husband and me (and our children) to have a name in common. It could come from my family of origin, or his. To not have a shared name feels to me like keeping the door open to go your separate ways again sooner or later. I know that is not how everyone sees it, and there are many other factors in the choice women make. There are life events that derail us from our best aspirations too.

But I would want in my choice to affirm the biblical ideal of marriage as a commitment for life. When we were recently celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary, people asked our secret of a long and happy marriage. It was hard to answer because there is no formula. But I found it helpful to think of marriage as a collaborative work of art. That is, it is a creative and valued endeavour that you are doing together. You don’t know what the work of art will become, but you are committed to making it work together under God’s loving hand. It does not come fully formed when you say, “I do”. You work at it over the years.

Love, agape self-giving love, is of course the primary glue that binds a couple together and enables them separately and together to flourish. But sometimes agape love seems rather nebulous. So in our marriage, we have come to think of kindness as the virtue that best expresses what is needed day in, day out, in the ups and downs of life.

We have just celebrated another wedding anniversary and my husband styled the envelope for the card: Mrs Neil Turner. I smiled and got the joke. That was what I was called on our wedding day, but not now. I have my own name back, as well as his.

Jennifer Turner




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