A Letter to the Sydney Anglican Diocese

I left one of your Anglican churches in 2018, and it is undoubtedly the best decision I have ever made.

TW: Domestic violence, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, religious trauma.  

To the Sydney Anglican Diocese,

I left one of your Anglican churches in 2018, and it is undoubtedly the best decision I have ever made. 

Before this is construed as a takedown of Christianity itself, I want to make clear that my issues lie specifically with the Sydney Anglican Diocese. Whilst I myself no longer have a faith, I do believe that faith and institutions can be separated. However, it is the way that your institution weaponises emotions and existential fear in order to propagate a deeply misogynistic and homophobic agenda that I cannot stand by.

At twelve I fell in love with going to church and I quickly allowed it to become my world. I attended every event I could — youth group, Bible study, night church, youth camps. What I did not realise at the time, was how much of the teachings centred on the role of women, sexuality, and sex itself. I could not foresee how much of an impact this church would have on me due to its obsession with gender, and obsession with sex. 

I’m ashamed to say that I did not question when I was told that women should not preach in church, that in fact, they should not MC services, or lead Bible studies. Not only did I believe this, I began to shape my future around how I would eventually serve as a woman in the church — in creche or women’s ministry (teaching only to women, children and pre-teen boys). And that was it really. You taught me that as a woman I would be ‘saved through childbearing’, that I was a ‘helper to man’, and intended to ‘submit to my husband’. 

The below are scans of notes I took in a ‘girl’s seminar’ — as boys and girls were often separated — on how I, as a young girl, should dress so as to not lead my brothers in Christ to ‘stumble’.

The following is a helpful diagram provided by the church that clearly shows what women are and aren’t allowed to do within the church. 

You seemed surprised when research showed increased levels of domestic violence within the Anglican church compared to the general public. The church I attended seemed to believe that a brochure and a five-minute segment saying that this had nothing to do with their teachings was enough to address this issue. I was thirteen when I wrote down what is pictured below, desperately trying to capture the words verbatim. It is unforgivable that that church taught that a wife should submit to a husband who doesn’t love her. I believe these teachings blatantly perpetuate abuse by preaching the dangerous rhetoric of submission and complementarianism. 

But it doesn’t stop with women. As a diocese you donated $1 million to the No campaign during the same sex marriage plebiscite in 2017. Whilst I was too young to vote, I sat through numerous services amongst hundreds of kids, hearing the preacher explain why people who are ‘experiencing same sex attraction’ were simply giving in to sin, in the same way that others are inclined to lie, cheat or murder. The church would refuse to use the term ‘gay’ as this would imply not only ‘a happy and accepting community’, but a ‘full acceptance of one’s sexuality’. 

They brought in a preacher who was ‘experiencing same-sex attraction’ who had his wife and kids join him, saying that as long as he didn’t act upon his same-sex desires, he would still be accepted into the kingdom of God. As a young girl figuring out her bisexuality, hearing these sermons and being handed resources like, ‘An Open Letter to Those Debilitated by Their Sexual Sin’ (pictured below), made it impossible not to internalise and reckon with a deep shame for years. 

The below are excerpts from a brochure which you sent to all Sydney Anglican churches, encouraging parishioners to vote No in the same-sex marriage vote. I would not have been the only queer person to read and receive this brochure, and my heart goes out to all of those who were isolated by your church’s stance. 

Not only did this church erase the broad spectrum of sexuality in their sermons, they addressed transgender identity in a way that essentially erased them. It is shameful that this church would release a draft pamphlet to the entire congregation on gender roles and reduce trans identity to a literal footnote. 

This church taught me to reject critical thinking. Whilst it would host ‘Big Question’ nights that would tackle sexuality, gender and evolution, the answers were always ‘God is good’ and ‘trust His word’. I now realise how easily these thought-terminating cliches were weaponised. If we began to question these teachings we were told that we weren’t faithful Christians — and only faithful Christians are saved. By manipulating existential fears and fostering guilt, the church is able to spread dangerous and insidious messages, exempting itself from criticisms because of their biassed interpretation of  ‘God’s word’. 

The intense guilt and near paranoia that your churches have the power to cultivate, not only make it incredibly difficult to leave, it leaves congregations with a drained sense of self worth — and bank account. I watched as people in first year uni donate thousands of dollars from their casual jobs, on top of their weekly church donations to fund the building of a new church. The church would constantly question the legitimacy of your faith if it was not reflected in your giving, and the result of this was millions of dollars in donations being put towards building a brutalist white box with no windows — but a fantastic sound system! 

When I first left the church, I felt determined to do something, to change how you operated. But what is so heartbreaking, is that you will not change. This letter will be disregarded purely for the fact that it is written by a woman. And it would be received in the same way that every other question I ever asked was received — with a false performance of listening and open mindedness, but with an ultimate disregard. As I was in the process of leaving, I was called a ‘cherry-picking’ Christian who simply chose what I liked and didn’t like within the Bible, and ultimately failed to understand God’s word. 

You will continue to appoint men into positions of power who affirm your beliefs. You will argue that these beliefs are unchangeable, even as you watch other Anglican Diocese become more inclusive and appoint female archbishops. I wish that you would listen to women like Julia Baird and Kay Goldsworthy who have consistently advocated for change within your churches. Yet, you refuse to give up the chokehold you have, and it has resulted in a cycle that keeps women in creche and men at the lectern. 

I have found freedom in leaving your church. And all I can hope is that others can do the same.  


Eloise Aiken

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