Several thousand Australian women flocked to an evangelical Christian conference in Sydney, devoted to what it means to be a godly woman.
And at one point, the topic veered onto hair.
During a talk about the meaning of Bible verses on male headship — where men are leaders in the home and the church — an image of newly-shorn actress Kristen Stewart flashed onto an overhead screen.
Was this platinum blonde buzz cut, appropriate for a woman? Was it feminine and submissive, or instead flagging independence and rebellion? asked the speaker, Carmelina Read.
Ms Read, the Dean of Women at the Presbyterian Christ College in Sydney is said to have stated that:
“It might be more in line with God’s good design to have long hair because it was a visible sign of the difference between men and women in which God delighted.”
It is said that the crowd became restless at this point, with some leaving before the talk had ended.
But what disturbed some attendees more — roughly 3,000 Anglican, Presbyterian and Baptist women were there, with an estimated 1,600 watching by livestream — was that another thread had emerged at the Sydney Convention Centre: that women should also consider themselves “helpers” of men in the workplace.
While it is generally accepted amongst conservative Christians that “headship” means women should submit to men at home and in the church, extending the idea to the world beyond is considered controversial, a form of mission creep.
This discussion — of hair length and female behaviour in the secular world — has suddenly exposed a deep rift among Christians in Australia about the role and status of women.
Since then, hundreds have raged, defended and rebutted these ideas online, while others plead for decorum.
Psychologist Kylie Maddox Pidgeon, who attended the conference, wrote:
“What if you lost your hair to cancer, asked some, as others defended Ms Read, arguing a majority of the audience agreed with her.
“When you said that nature reveals the reality of headship, whereby ‘there’s a natural sense that men have short hair and women have long hair’ across times and cultures, I saw and heard the audience begin to squirm.
“And, unintentionally I’m sure, but nonetheless, you’ve cast doubt or guilt over cancer patients, Shave for a Cure champions, the girl with hair so darn frizzy that she has to shave it to get the nits out, women suffering hair loss from pregnancy or illness, not to mention mothers who chop it all off just to make the day manageable. Oh, and half of Africa.”
Theologian Margaret Mowczko also wrote a critique of the cultural context in Corinth when Roman women had long hair and were forced to cut it short as a sign of disgrace. Customs and laws made hair significant, she argued, not Paul.
But one commenter, Jen Wright, stated that Ms Read’s remarks had been taken out of context:
“She did not say that short hair is wrong, but used it as an example of some ways some people choose to feel empowered by feeling more masculine. It is not about an act, but an attitude.
“Ms Read was on about celebrating us as women. All the speakers and presenters humbly and thoroughly worked through difficult issues and passages to present the conference on Saturday and I thank God for their preparation, humility and wisdom.”
Carmelina Read did not respond to ABC News’s request for an interview.