Women and spiritual leadership

Knitting-and-Books1Things come up to upset me lately and I have moments when I need to speak against them. I am usually a little coward and prefer to sit in the back, in the dark, in the shadows. Unless I am really outraged and the world starts to look like a gloomy, nightmarish place if I don’t light my little candle and hold it up high. Who knows, maybe there will be another lost soul who sees it flickering and feels new hope for a new day.

We live in a deeply religious world. I applaud that. I think spirituality can save humanity. I do. The way we choose to interpret our spirituality and practice it, however, has proven to be so potentially damaging! It makes me cry. As a woman, I have to cry even harder.

Women have been recognized the right to vote only a few short years ago — not even one hundred years in US. The great world religions of course are thousands of years old. After about one hundred years since women have been legally given the right to be part of political leadership and law making, still no such equality has been achieved inside the multiple religious systems of our world. Most religions only accept men as spiritual leaders. Most (if not all) the women who observe these religions are obviously fine with it. Because their faith is so deeply based on these rules, that doubting the rules looks like lack of faith. Many times, all we have is faith. Faith is the only thing that keeps us alive and we cannot afford to doubt our faith — for many of us it would feel like a death sentence. I know that.

Religion, the way I view it, is a system that is built around a faith. Faith is essential and beautiful in all its forms. Religions, however, are organizations with laws and politics, meant to govern the faithful. Without this distinction between religion and faith, this discussion cannot go further.

Democracy, widely accepted as the best, most enlightened form of government, is based on the idea that all groups need to be represented at the higher hierarchical level of the governing structure. There cannot be fairness without representation. How can one side know of the struggles of the other? Now, please don’t say that women and men are not that different, that men can easily represent women’s interests. If we weren’t that different, then there wouldn’t be a need for rules that keep women away from religious leadership, in the first place. Clearly that rule identifies us as different — the ones who cannot lead, because … there would probably be many possible answers here, but the bottom line is that we are viewed as incapable.

But this should not be the end. We can have our faith and still leave space for discussion of the rules. Women should be able to participate in the discussion. All religions should embrace the possibility for women to become priests (gurus, rabbis, imams, pandits, and so on). Maybe many women won’t go that route. That’s fine. But if they want to, in a non-discriminatory system, they should be able to do it. They should be able to have access to the closed room where religion is being interpreted and turned into rules for the community to practice.

I was raised into a discriminatory religious system, in the Christian Orthodox church, and I will always carry much of that with me, although I have long since taken my spiritual life into my own hands, and into the company of people who believe in tolerance and inclusiveness for all. I am a spiritual being but above that, I am a woman. I say above that, because I cannot change being a woman, while I can any day convert to another religion.

This is from woman to woman. A few years ago many women argued that they were perfectly comfortable with not having the right to vote. Only the crazies, the suffragettes, the dreaded feminists were of a different opinion. And without them, we’d be in the dark ages still. Please keep an open mind. This is not an attack to your faith, your God or your soul.

Can you ask yourselves how would your religion be changed if women were allowed to be spiritual leaders? Would that maybe hold a tiny bit of value for you? Seeing someone who looks like you delivering the word of God from the pulpit? Would a woman interpreting your scriptures bring you maybe a tiny sense of pride? Would it make you feel more valuable to your community? More recognized? Visible? Will it make you feel like maybe after all you’re worth something? Will it maybe make your daughter feel like she can really go anywhere, do anything, like you’ve been telling her? Will your daughter feel like she truly is in this world as precious as you think she is? Like she has a fair chance? One you didn’t have? Because unless we are exposed to this sort of equanimity from childhood, from the moment we start being aware of the world, later we are unable to see the injustice. I think that may be one of the reasons why we are not bothered by it. We’ve never seen any different. We’ve known our roles as future princesses and future mothers from the age of three. We’ve known our place to be at the back of the bus from the beginning. Let’s hope our daughters will someday have the choice to glimpse at the world’s lights through the front windows.

“Women ride in back on sex-segregated Brooklyn bus line”
“UPDATE: Sex segregaton policy on Brooklyn bus line to end, operator pledges”