Hello All and welcome! We are so grateful to our panelists for joining us to share their thoughts on such a critical topic - feminism and religion. And we are grateful to all who have chosen to participate in this critical discussion.
I’d like to begin by asking each of our panelists to respond and share a little bit about themselves and what they are hoping to achieve through our dialogue. Please respond to all.
If you have questions you would like to share, please submit using the form linked here. Looking forward to an important and engaging conversation!
My name is Ruth Balinsky Friedman and I serve as the Maharat, or female spiritual leader, of Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue in Washington, DC.
I am excited to be part of this important conversation about feminism and religion. These two entities are often portrayed as being in conflict, and it is incumbent on those of us who serve as leaders in our religion to merge feminism and religion in order to continue to keep our constituents engaged and our religion alive.
Thank you for your response, Ruth! Yes, the idea that religion and feminism are in conflict is highly problematic. I am very much looking forward to hearing from you and the rest of our panelists today about how we should understand the interconnection between feminism and religion.
As others respond and we receive additional questions, our dialogue will begin to unfold. The wisdom and insight shared these next few days will be enlightening, no doubt!
My name is Ani Zonneveld, founder and president of Muslims for Progressive Values. By default this puts me in a spiritual leadership role, an imam, where I conduct prayers, marriages and some counseling.
We, as an organization, support and encourage women to lead our coed-congregation in prayer which makes us "stand out" in the Muslim community.
I'm Kathy Khang, and I'm a writer and speaker. I also work with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA - a national evangelical parachurch organization.
The label of "evangelical" is a messy one, especially with recent U.S. politics. While I want to dismiss that craziness I can't and perhaps that is part of what I hope to add to the conversation today. Religion, even evangelicalism, isn't at odds with feminism but rather there are many of us within those religions who stay because we see and experience the connection.
My name is Chris Schenk I’m a Catholic sister of St. Joseph and have been helping organize for reform in the Catholic Church for over 25 years in my role as founding director of FutureChurch.
Many may remember that not long ago the Vatican severely criticized US Catholic sisters for possessing a “radical feminist spirit” as if Catholicism and feminism were opposed. Yet Jesus’ behavior with women was quite counter cultural for first century Palestine. He included women in his Galilean discipleship (Luke 8: 1-3) at a time when observant Jewish men rarely spoke to women outside their kinship circles in public, let alone travel around the countryside with them. This indicates Jesus was probably part of a more progressive strain of first century Judaism, though we don’t know a lot about that historically (Hoping to learn from my Jewish sisters on the panel!)
I have often said that my belief in Jesus helps me be a good feminist!
I look forward to learning about how feminist women in other patriarchal traditions are working to transform their communities.
My name is Kate Kelly & I founded a movement in the Mormon tradition for the equality of women called Ordain Women. I was excommunicated from the Church because of my advocacy. I am a human rights attorney and currently work for Planned Parenthood. My life's work is to bring women into parity with men, particularly in religious contexts.
I don't think that societal parity will be achieved until ALL major faith traditions full integrate women. Just look at Utah as a case study. It's a highly Mormon state. Somewhere around 90% of the legislators are Mormon. We fail in all indicators of women's equality. We have low college graduation rates for women. High sexual assault and domestic violence. Large wage gap between men and women... in fact female lawyers in Utah make 44 cents on the dollar (no that is not a typo) to their male counterparts.
Gender justice in religion is imperative, from a policy perspective.
Since Kathy brought up politics, this might be a great place to start. It seems that women's issues in the political arena today are closely tied to religious ideals.
How do you see that in relation to your own tradition and how do you respond to political leaders who insist on using Christian ideals to direct their stances on women's issues?
Me and my thumbs!
I respond by using my vote and by engaging other Christians so that we are challenging one another to better understand the difference between American Christian ideals and Jesus' kingdom ideals.
Too many times in the past US Catholic bishops have gone single issue on “life issues” chastising politicians for supporting the Affordable Care Act, for example, because it made family planning readily available.
This despite abundant statistics that the vast majority of Catholics disagree with them (see links below). It’s not like anyone was pouring lo ovral into the drinking water, after all. I am a nurse midwife by profession so I was appalled by the uninformed stance of my bishops.
In the face of such ignorance (not to say repression) the only thing to do is respond with the facts and the truth will eventually come out. Being quiet in the face of injustice is not the way to go. I have never been prouder to be a Catholic nun than when US sisters supported the ACA even though US bishops opposed it, and this at a time when they were being investigated by the Vatican. We’re here to serve people, not rigid rules— especially ones that no woman ever participated in creating.
Now that I have that off my chest, ;-) I want to say that, I”m very proud that US bishops have recently taken such a strong stand on the need to help refugees-- http://www.usccb.org/news/2015/15-157.cfm
98 percent of sexually experienced Catholic women of childbearing age had used contraception other than family planning at some point in their lives
Christine, you raise an interesting point - we have to ensure that our religious institutions speak to the needs of our communities.
Speaking from an Orthodox Jewish perspective, this of course does not mean that we can change halacha (Jewish law), but it does mean that we can and should make sure that we are sensitized to these issues, and that our attitudes reflect the confines of our religion, and not the accompanying social norms. So, for example, in Orthodoxy women do not participate in all of ritual life the same way that men do.
But, just because there is a difference between men and women does not mean that we should be part of social movements that maintain those distinctions. Some people think of Orthodox Judaism as being socially backwards, which is very troubling to me, and will also alienate many people.
Thank you so much for these very insightful responses. There is much to consider here and so I would like to follow up with additional questions based on your statements.
Kate, your point that policy is interconnected with gender justice in religion at every level is critical. Do you think that religious ideals are the foundation for the gendered structures that exist within society? And if so, how can we address this?
Hi Kathy, I think you make such an important point here about using our votes and also engaging with others. You specifically mention Christians here. Is there a way that we can reach outside of our own circles and engage others - and learn from their experiences, religious and otherwise?
Thanks so much for sharing your insight on women's issues and politics. You have offered some very important points that lead us to another question. What do you see as the greatest challenges you have faced as a religious woman leader? What is the greatest breakthrough you've made as one? Looking forward to your thoughts!
A big personal challenge for me has been figuring what a maharat is in a world of rabbinic leadership that previously had only been for men.
Is my role unique to a woman, or am I just a woman doing a job anyone can do? For example - is my presence valuable at services during the week? Do I need to make sure I am teaching a Talmud class because the rabbi is? Do I speak about women's issues, or should I specifically NOT speak about women's issues lest someone think I only serve the women in my community? Etc.
I love your question, Ruth since it is one all women face as we break into heretofore all male fields.
I have “the gift of years” (as my friend Joan Chittister would say) so I witnessed female OB-GYNS breaking into that pretty much all- male field back in the 70s when I worked as a nurse midwife at our county hospital. They were feeling their way along too but soon gained confidence in making their own choices which were often quite different from those of their male counterparts.
They learned a lot from midwives following normal pregnancies and delivering babies. The female residents watched in amazement as we helped women get through labor with a minimum of intervention and then worked hard with laboring moms so they could deliver their babies without needing a “routine” episiotomy. (performed by virtually all male doctors at the time— they never had to recover from one!). We were careful to mentor our female residents since we were very proud that women were becoming physicians (plus, it was good for our moms if they needed a doc). Soon the female residents were our biggest fans.
In the religious field, I think just being female in a sacred role is tremendously healing for women and transformative for men. Women are not used to seeing other women in sacred roles so most of us internalized at a very young age that we must not be quite as holy/valued in God’s eyes as our brothers. Never underestimate that you are making a difference simply by the fact that you bring a female lens to the beauties of your tradition. By virtue of that, you can’t help but highlight aspects of it that interest women— and by extension, you bring some perspectives to the table that men may never have thought of before.
More on this later since I’m blabbing along here.
But this is a great question!
Gina Messina-Dysert asked above: "Kate, your point that policy is interconnect with gender justice in religion at every level is critical. Do you think that religious ideals are the foundation for the gendered structures that exist within society? And if so, how can we address this?"
I think that often religious ideals are connected/ the foundation or root of gendered structures in society. I see that in my home state of Utah. The wage gap here is firmly rooted in the LDS (Mormon) doctrine that husbands are to be the sole providers of families. https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng
The best way to address this is for those WITHIN the faith tradition to openly & boldly pose questions about gender inequality. Get the conversation started, or in some cases... keep the conversation going for decades. Until things change.
For me, the greatest challenges I have faced as a religious woman leader is the fact that there are NO authority figures that are female in Mormonism. The structure and culture make it difficult for devout Mormon men to take women seriously in any sort of leadership capacity.
Yes, what I appreciate about this conversation is that it is an example of what that looks like - bringing our own life (religious, gender, racial) experiences, listening to others, seeing connections and lessons.
My non-religious friends are most often the ones who have challenged me to understand the connection of belief and action, especially but not exclusively in the political arena.
Your follow-up question is a great one as well, and Christine you are not babbling!
I suspect that for many of us simply existing in our spaces as religious woman leader is the biggest challenge and breakthrough. As a Korean American there is also the intersection of ethnicity that I cannot leave out of my identity as a religious woman leader and how my existence challenges the cultural norms within several spaces.
But like Christine wrote, that is a sacred space that affirms women of all races and ethnicities have a place in religious leadership, that we bring our whole selves into our religious communities and can, by virtue of cultural, racial, and ethnic differences also be a different bridge between different faith communities.
Picking up on the discussion about roles.
We decided to create a new paradigm at Muslims for Progressive Values. In other words, we are not playing your patriarchal game. Recently we have embarked on a new initiative called #ImamsForShe, borrowing from UN Women’s #HeForShe. Our #ImamsForShe are imams, scholars of Islam, lay leaders men and women who advocate for girls and women’s rights.
We currently have 31 imams, only 2 Americans, with more coming on board from Tunisia. In other words, we have decided: you want to be a cool and relevant #ImamsForShe? These are the values you need to advocate for.
Friends, Thank you for a wonderful dialogue today!
We are wrapping up for day one and will reconvene tomorrow at 9am EST. Our panelists have left us with some important points to consider and we will follow up on additional questions related to navigating women's leadership in religion. Look forward to "seeing" you then!
Welcome back to day 2 of our dialogue about women's leadership roles in religion! Our panelists shared some very important insights yesterday that should be highlighted:
1. Ruth Balinsky Friedman made the critical statement that "are often portrayed as being in conflict, and it is incumbent on those of us who serve as leaders in our religion to merge feminism and religion in order to continue to keep our constituents engaged and our religion alive." Feminism and religion - not an oxymoron, but rather, necessary to uproot the ongoing misogyny that exists within our traditions.
2. Kathy Khang added to Ruth's thoughts saying, "Religion, even evangelicalism, isn't at odds with feminism but rather there are many of us within those religions who stay because we see and experience the connection."
3. Sr. Christine Schenk commented that "We’re here to serve people, not rigid rules— especially ones that no woman ever participated in creating." We so often get caught up in responding to man made rules - rules that oppress - that we forget the foundational message of our traditions that call us to work for social justice for all.
4. Kate Kelly reminded us that "Gender justice in religion is imperative, from a policy perspective." In US politics todays, women's issues are directed by Christian ideals and focusing on social change related to gender in religion is critical in working for change in society.
5. Ani Zonneveld shared that within her community it was "decided to create a new paradigm at Muslims for Progressive Values." In doing so, they launched a campaign called #ImamsforShe calling for social justice for women and girls.
This leads me to steer the conversation towards a question asked by Ruth during yesterday's dialogue: "Is my role unique to a woman, or am I just a woman doing a job anyone can do? For example - is my presence valuable at services during the week? Do I need to make sure I am teaching a Talmud class because the rabbi is? Do I speak about women's issues, or should I specifically NOT speak about women's issues lest someone think I only serve the women in my community?"
These are critical questions, ones that are confronted continually by women who are leaders within their religious communities.
I would like to share my thoughts by saying that I agree with Christine Schenk's comment that we cannot be silent. We must address the issues at hand - to not do so continues the oppression of marginalized voices. This said, we must be strategic in how we approach dialogue so that our voices are heard.
So let me ask, how do you navigate the complexities of being a woman in leadership in religion and how are you strategic in creating dialogue around women's issues within your traditions?
Fortunately for us all we have to do is quote verses, historical texts and feminist scholars of Islam (both men and women) who have written on women's spiritual leadership roles and rights in Islam, which have been conveniently left out of our teachings at a young age. And instead its is the extreme misogynistic interpretations that have dominated as "truth". We create dialogue or rather the counter narrative at every opportunity we get, but importantly just by being, existing, and practicing and by being visible, we are already offering a "truth" that is better than misogyny and unjust, and frankly a thorn to the traditional institutions.
As women spiritual leaders we are often dismissed by our male counterparts in the traditional institutions as "she's not a scholar, without the proper training". But you don't have to be a scholar to read and apply your intellect. That's why we refuse to play their game. We've seen the shift in the Muslim community to accepting, or rather admitting that women were the first converts and teachers of Islam and they taught men. Ironically, menstruating women in mosques or in conservative environments in America are not even allowed to address mixed audiences because the female voice is supposedly "aurat", to be covered.
As women spiritual leaders and particularly as an organization Muslims for Progressive Values don't focus on women's issues only but on broader issues that affect our communities. We advocate for egalitarian values, which therefore includes men's rights as well. Men in our communities are not threatened and as a matter of fact support female spiritual leadership as Islamic because of that inclusive messaging. We are not here to replace matriarchy with patriarchy, and the tone from which we deliver our message is just as important, it is from love for everyone.
I actually don't have a particular strategy here. I speak about women's issues when it feels appropriate, and I don't when it is not.
For example, two Shabbats ago our congregation participated in a campaign being run by a Jewish organization that supports people struggling with infertility to raise awareness about this issue and have clergy speak about it at services. Our synagogue participated, and I spoke about the struggles that my husband and I faced. I received a lot of positive feedback, including many comments that "this is why we need female clergy!" That may be true, but that is a reflection of me just being myself, not me having a plan for how to make "women's issues" more prominent. It sounds cliche, but I really just try to be myself. I think that resonates most with people.
Ruth, I fall into that cliche, but perhaps that is what is so revolutionary about all of us being who we are doing what we do. We embody our different faith traditions in a different way that it has been through men. We can't help doing it any other way, and, as in the example you used about infertility struggles, our audiences also don't know what's different or needed that is different until it is right in front of them.
Ani, I really appreciated your comment about not wanting to replace patriarchy with matriarchy. What I do give some thought is to how my voice and message will invite men into a different understanding, a bigger and deeper understanding of faith, because of how I, as a woman, use and project my voice and story.
But, at least give us matriarchy for a couple of centuries! ;)
Gina asked: “So let me ask, how do you navigate the complexities of being a woman in leadership in religion and how are you strategic in creating dialogue around women's issues within your traditions?”
For my part, aside from being one visible voice, I work, (like Ani in the Muslim tradition), to set the record straight about women’s leadership in early Christianity.
One of the most successful programs we ever created at FutureChurch is inaugurating the annual celebration of the July 22nd Feast of St. Mary of Magdala. When I did my theology studies at our local seminary, I was appalled to learn that there is no biblical basis whatsoever for the common belief (at least in the western church) that she was a prostitute. But there is abundant biblical evidence in all four gospels that she led the group of women who first witnessed the empty tomb and was the first to encounter the Risen Jesus. - and most Catholics knew nothing about it.
FutureChurch has developed excellent resources for activist Catholics to educate about Mary of Magdala’s important leadership role -- all in the context of a prayer service that is led by a woman. For the past 20 years, from 200-400 of these celebrations have been held all over the world— in both Catholic and Protestant venues. They have been instrumental in changing perceptions.
Here is a link for interested folks. https://www.futurechurch.org/women-in-church-leadership/mary-of-magdala
In my experience both women and men are eager to learn about the gender balance at the heart of our Christian tradition. I love being part of helping make that happen.
Hello All, such critical observations here. Kate, I love that you said, "at least give us a matriarchy" - YES!
There is much discussion around the treatment of God language and the problem of using male language to address the divine. How do you use language to discuss God and how does this represent your feminist ideals?
Mormonism actually believes in Heavenly Parents. Explicit in the doctrine is a female conception of deity. However... she is deemed "too sacred" to talk about or pray to.
So, sadly, though the doctrinal feminist underpinnings are there, there is very little substance to the idea.
Hi Kate, I love the belief of Heavenly Mother in the Mormon tradition. But as you note, there is little substance and it is my understanding that to talk about Her is problematic. It makes me think of Margaret Toscano who was excommunicated from the Mormon Church for her commitment to discussing Heavenly Mother.
So, let me ask. As a religious leader in your faith, how do you navigate the refusal to acknowledge Her? Can she be a source of strength for women who find a male god problematic? And finally, is the refusal to speak about or pray to Her a way of continuing the patriarchal tradition within the Church?
It has been my experience that it is important to begin with gender neutral language before introducing pronouns for the feminine divine. For most people it is either/or rather than both/and. For them, to speak of God with feminine pronouns is to automatically exclude the masculine divine.
Faith communities need to be nurtured along into recognizing that God is MYSTERY and no descriptor ever encompasses that boundless, joyous reality. I have two resources that many have found helpful for bringing folks along.
—here is a link to a humorous true story about a five year old’s encounter with the unknowable and tenderly near God of all creation http://ncronline.org/blogs/simply-spirit/olives-vision-god
And here is an excerpt from Beth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God that I have used in prayer services
from Quest for the Living God (Elizabeth Johnson pp. 98-100) (select four readers and ask them to rehearse ahead of time if possible)
Reader I: “The symbol of God functions. It is never neutral in its effects, but expresses and molds a community’s bedrock convictions and actions. Women’s ground breaking work on this subject has made it piercingly clear that the practice of naming God exclusively in the image of powerful men...reduces the living God to an idol.”
Reader II: “Prophets and religious thinkers have long insisted on the need to turn away from false idols and escape out of their clasp toward the living God. In this context, seeking the female face of God has profound significance. By relativizing masculine imagery it lassoes the idol off its pedestal, breaking the stranglehold of patriarchal discourse and its deleterious effects. God is not literally a father or a king or a lord but something ever so much greater. Thus is the truth more greatly honored.“
Reader III: “This is not to say that male metaphors cannot be used to signify the divine ... images taken from their lives can function in as adequate or inadequate a way as do images taken from the lives of women. But naming toward God with female metaphors releases divine mystery from its age-old patriarchal cage so that God can be truly God –
Reader I incomprehensible source, sustaining power and goal of the world,
Reader II holy Wisdom, indwelling Spirit, the ground of being,
Reader III the beyond in our midst, the absolute future, being itself,
Reader IV mother, matrix, lover, friend, infinite love,
All Readers: the holy mystery that surrounds and supports the world.”
Reader IV: “Female representations of the abundance of God in creating, redeeming and calling the world to . . . peace functions with prophetic power, challenging everyone to conversion in a new community where justice reigns. . . If God is ‘she” as well as “he” -- and in fact neither -- a new possibility can be envisioned of a community that honors difference but allows women and men to share life in equal measure.”
It occurs to me that this dilemma of an only-male God is one that is common to all of our traditions. So fruitful to discuss.
Sr. Christine, Thank you for this lovely response. Elizabeth Johnson is such a critical resource for the ways that we image God. So much to consider here!
I'd like to pose another question to all of our panelists in relation to God language:
When considering God language, feminists often focus on gendered terms. But how can we also address the intersectional concerns about imaging God? What about the ways that race and culture also plays a critical role in creating power?
Hello friends, thank you for a wonderful conversation today. We will wrap up for the day and I look forward to reconnecting again tomorrow morning for the last day of our dialogue. We can pick up then to continue to discuss the ideas around women's leadership in religion and the way that we navigate those roles. Much gratitude to you all!
Sorry to be a titch late, but to Gina's earlier point: As a religious leader in your faith, how do you navigate the refusal to acknowledge Her? Can she be a source of strength for women who find a male god problematic? And finally, is the refusal to speak about or pray to Her a way of continuing the patriarchal tradition within the Church?
I chuckle every time I see my name connected with the words "religious leader" & my name since any orthodox Mormon would very much consider me an outsider... But, I think many Mormon women find solace in contemplating Heavenly Mother, even if it's in secret/ silently.
A refusal to speak about Her is definitely a way to silence women. In some ways, in Mormonism it seems like Heavenly Father is married, but is presented as a single parent! I think to many women her absence can feel like a deep sense of loss. We know She's there, but we can't communicate with Her. On the flip side, Her presence can also be a point of growth for many women. If there is a female God, surely there is much more in store for Her female children than perpetual child birth and rearing!
Breaking from our conversation on God language and imaging, I wanted to share this interesting piece from CNN about the first female Orthodox Rabbi. She offers critical commentary on some of the struggles she has faced in her journey and also discusses her hopes for change.
Something I think that she shares here that is very important to consider is her purposeful use of the title Rabbi so that there would be no confusion about her role.
How do you identify with her struggle and her hopes? How might you apply her experience to your own religious communities?
Title is a very difficult issue. In my personal experience, the question of title upset folks more than the work that we are actually doing. One of the reasons that "Maharat" is/was the title to refer to female leaders within Orthodoxy is that it did not have any relationship to the word "rabbi", and therefore felt like less of a change to people.
As we can see with Rabbi Lila, the perspective on this is changing quickly, and some female leaders and their communities want to use a title with the "rb" root (whether rabbi, or rabba) because we are doing rabbinic work, and therefore they feel that the title should be a reflective of this. We are witnessing changes in the making, and the dust definitely has not yet settled.
Hi Ruth, Thanks so much for your insight here. I think your response highlights some of your own ways of being strategic in working for positive change for women. Different cultures and spaces call for different types of action. This is something I realized quite clearly leaving Los Angeles and coming back to Cleveland. I had to approach dialogue in a new way so I really appreciate your responses here.
I wonder, do you think there is ever a time when you should push boundaries through language or other methods to highlight women's leadership roles and abilities?
This is a beautiful an encouraging story about Rabbi Lila Kagedan the first female orthodox Rabbi. I especially resonate with these quotes from her:
"Women need to see other women in these leadership positions to keep them motivated in their Judaism, to have leaders that they can relate to, that they can feel comfortable with in different ways that they might not feel comfortable with their male leadership."
"I hope to normalize women in leadership roles," she says. "When I look out at the community and I see ... young girls, I hope that they get a sense that anything is possible. That nothing is out of their reach”
For my part, I have noticed that both women and men benefit from being ministered to by both women and men. Sometimes a woman needs another woman to truly feel understood as she shares her spiritual travails and triumphs. At other times women benefit from a male lens for perspective. The same is true for men.
I pray for the day when our daughters and sons experience gender balanced leadership in our faith communities. Such leadership witnesses that both women and men image God and serve God in unique ways.
This won’t happen without people like Rabbi Lila taking her place within the rabbinical tradition that she loves so much.
Thanks for these insightful comments here. I also resonated with these particular statements from Rabbi Lila and agree that women AND men benefit from being ministered to by women. And also, our children having the opportunity to see women lead religious ritual and minister will change the patriarchal structures we encounter in daily life.
This brings me to my next questions:
Many are working hard for stronger representation of women in their religious communities. This said, many also argue to just add women and stir is not going to work. How can we integrate women more fully into religious communities so that a variety of perspectives are represented? Should we be working toward the ordination of women and equal roles for women in religious communities or a discipleship of equals?
I don’t see these categories (ordination/discipleship of equals) as mutually exclusive if one believes (as I do) in servant leadership. In Catholicism the clerical system seems somewhat fatally flawed so it is important to raise the issue about clericalism. But not all priests are enamored of the idea that their priesthood makes them categorically a step above ordinary Catholics. The best priests know they need the spiritual support of their faith communities just like everyone else.
In Catholicism we must change decision making structures so that all the people of God (not just priests of whatever gender) participate in decisions that affect all the people of God. If this is addressed, clericalism (of whatever gender) will be neutralized.
This seems a tall order but we must start somewhere. Pope Francis himself has severely criticized clericalism and took unprecedented steps to garner everyone’s perspectives for the Synod on the Family. There is reason to hope that these diverse perspectives did impact synod outcomes to some extent. We’ll find out tomorrow when the post-synod exhortation is released. There is hope!
In the Muslim world we've seen more and more scholars of Islam come out stating "nothing in the Quran denies women from becoming an imam". Since 2006, Morocco has been training female spiritual leaders-teachers, called "morchidat", but they do not lead prayers. In the U.S. we've been instigating a change within the mosque communities by asking parents attached to religious schools to insist that their daughters get equal opportunity as boys for classes on oral Quranic recitation, and instructions on how to lead prayers. And we give parents the tools, scholarly writings to back up this position in confronting school administrators. In Los Angeles recently, an exceptional woman was allowed to give the Friday sermon, albeit from the women's section, the audio piped into the men's section. This is what progress looks like in one traditional mosque in America.
Muslim women in America are highly qualified, and in the secular world excel, but as soon as they step into the mosque, a religious switch turns on which places them in a sub-class category, unraveling the ideals of the Quran.
What Ani Zonneveld said resonates with me & the same is true of Mormon women: as soon as they step into a chapel, a religious switch turns on and places them in a sub-class category! Mormon men even treat non-Mormon women better than they do Mormon women, because they don't have that inherent sense of "I have authority over you." It's quite twisted. Mitt Romney was criticized for this when he ran for President: http://religiondispatches.org/mitt-romneys-best-known-mormon-critic-tells-it-all-one-last-time/
This said, I completely agree that: add women and stir is not going to work! You can't reform an entrenched patriarchy by adding a smattering of women. The Mormon Church started ordaining black men only in 1978. But, there is still, to this day a HUGE dearth of people of color in leadership positions. NONE of the 12 apostles or first presidency is a person of color. This is a key question: once women are ordained (knock on wood), how will we help reform the institution to include more voices? I think we can start by making our movements more inclusive. Are only the voices of middle class, or white, or American women brought to the forefront? Are we as inclusive as we'd like the Church to be? We should ask ourselves tough questions.
Friends, There is something I would like to bring into this dialogue before we conclude - something that many question regarding women who continue to participate in patriarchal traditions:
Okay, here it is, the BIG question: Why do you stay? It is a question that comes up over and over for feminists who are also religious. Many often claim that to be feminist and religious is an oxymoron - that the two cannot co-exist. How do you respond to such a claim and why do you think it is critical that we use a feminist lens within our religious communities?
I stay because Islam is my "home" and I will not allow someone to take it over and throw me out. As a religion, at its roots, Islam is a feminist doctrine, women had the right to property, the last say on who they marry, divorce, a marriage contract (much like a pre-nup), the right to work. Prophet Muhammad was a feminist before the word feminist existed. The 21st century actual practice of Islam is far from these feminist values, and that's what we feminists, men and women are striving for, to take back our "home".
I stay in Christianity for the same reasons Ani stays in Islam. Faith in Jesus is home. Jesus is the one who called the bleeding woman "daughter" and announced in a crowd that it was her faith that healed her. I stay because I believe the politics of religion can only be healed and transformed when women and men stay in faith.
And, I like to stir up a little trouble now and then.
I didn't stay! I was forced out & excommunicated in 2014 and am no longer a practicing Mormon. However, I still consider gender justice in the Mormon tradition to be extremely important, because I have nieces growing up in the Church & I don't want them to internalize the same messages I did about (lack of) women's worth. Female ordination in our tradition would positively impact MILLIONS of women & girls worldwide, Mormon & non-Mormon alike.
To claim that religious women can't be feminists is so UNFEMINIST! We need to fight for the rights & choices of all women wherever they are & whatever God they believe in. In all of our faith traditions, there are beautiful teachings about the worth of women as daughters of God (in His or Her various iterations). Those teachings can propel us forward to fight for gender justice, just as much as they can perpetuate damaging patriarchies.
Kate, thank you for staying despite being forced out and excommunicated. (Does that make sense?)
And you bring up a great point. Why would being religious keep us from also being feminists?
Thanks for this important question, Gina. I get it a lot.
I stay because I love my faith tradition. It has made me the woman I am today. In high school various priests, nuns and lay leaders encouraged me to apply for a long-shot scholarship to a premier Jesuit university (Georgetown) that I would never have dared hope to receive, but DID. Then in college a beloved Jesuit mentor, William Kaifer met with me faithfully for four years as I worked through my “how can their be a God?” questions in the midst of assassinations, civil rights struggles and the Vietnam war. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be a believer today. So that’s the first reason.
The second reason is that I love journeying through space-time together with this motley crew of saints and sinners. I love our tradition of mysticism and mayhem, and believe we are, as Teilhard de Chardin and TS Eliot wrote, evolving our planet and ourselves into another dimension -- a deeper union and communion with the divine. My own work retrieving stories of women leaders in Christianity and opposing sexism and misogyny in Catholicism are important parts of that evolution.
The third reason is probably related to my German heritage. I’m just too damn stubborn to give up and abandon this faith community that I love to its own worst demons. I like to believe I’m another face of Catholicism. I won’t allow the Catholic “brand” to be owned only by narrow minded patriarchs.
All righty then— thanks for asking!
Thank you so much to our wonderful panelists for an amazing dialogue these last three days! So many critical points and insights shared here and much for us to take away. Our hope is that this conversation will encourage you to consider how can we each take steps in our daily lives to work toward equality in our religious communities. Please let me also say thank you to our sponsoring organizations. Please click the links to find out more about their missions:
Radical Grace, Sojourners, Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), Muslims for Progressive Values, Ordain Women, FutureChurch, and Faithfully Feminist.
If you'd like to start a conversation in your own community around building women's leadership, we encourage you to build an event around Radical Grace, a film about three fearless nuns who risk their place in the Church to follow their social justice calling. Radical Grace now has a new discussion guide to prompt interfaith conversations.
Learn more and sign up to host a screening at http://radicalgracefilm.com/screenings.
Thank you again, and be fearless!