Women and Religion
An interfaith discussion
Dr. Billie Mayo: In Baha’i, the prophet Baha’ullah recognizes both men and women as spiritual beings. Our connection with God is supreme in our lives. We focus on prayer and meditation and living the life. We talk about who we are as spiritual beings, and we model as best we can who is that spiritual being, no matter the gender. It’s one relationship with God, knowing that we are here on this planet for a particular reason. We’re each unique, and we all have a gift that we can offer to one another. Baha’is believe that based on the writings: that we are one soul in many bodies.
Jerri Livingston: We are very fortunate to have a very strong female voice in the Jewish faith. Women are believed to be closer to God. One of
the names for God is Shekhinah, that’s the feminine presence of God, or the more "touchy-feely" presence of God. I would think it’s probably easier for women to experience that because women are more open to their feelings and express them more easily.
Sr. Carla Mae Streeter: There is a way spirituality can be distinctly feminine. I’m saying feminine, not feminist. Women have more of a tendency to talk about emotions and feelings. The danger of that for women is that with an empathetic identity they lose a sense of themselves, and therefore become manipulated or abused. In spiritual direction or guidance, these are the things that women need to work on. One can’t go through life on just one foot. That means the two genders are meant to be integrated even within an individual personality or spirituality. They need to be in partnership.
BH: What do you think is the biggest threat to the status of women within your religion?
Dr. Ghazala Hayat: For Islamic women, there are two things: education and economics. Suffering exists because of that. The oppression of women starts within the family structure, and then it becomes perpetual. Women have to get education and go from there. They have to stick together and talk to each other. If somebody feels isolated, they should talk to another Muslim girl. Christians, talk to other Christian girls. Once we overcome inequalities in education and economics, we’ll begin to see change.
Sr. Carla Mae Streeter: Within the women’s ordination movement, you’re going to hear very aware Catholic women, young and old, saying the fact that women can’t serve is a terrible threat, a structural evidence of what they feel is still a sexist bias within the Church. This is public knowledge and this is clear. The Church’s response to this is that it shouldn’t be discussed, that women will not be priests, that it’s not open for discussion, that it’s the will of God. I find this unhealthy. I find it false and dishonest. I find it an effort to try and say that the Holy Spirit can’t possibly move here and we can’t allow any questioning. I think one of the soundest things the church can do is to have an honest discussion with people on both sides instead of shutting them down.
There needs to be challenge rather than silencing and fear that there’s going to be a deviation—that’s my opinion as a theologian. I think the silencing of either women’s or men’s voices is one of the greatest threats. It’s not just whether women should be ordained, but I think avoiding the entire discussion is one of the greatest threats we have today. We appear to the world as a closed community that is not open to truth-seeking, which is really our identity in the world.
Pastor Penny Holste: Women still have a hard time rising to positions of leadership. We have a few bishops who are women. But, if it were a completely equal world and church body, that wouldn’t be the case. There are definitely some struggles, but the most important thing is that women realize the love of God and believe it for themselves and believe in their value as women in the eyes of God. That struggle remains just as it does for women who are not involved in a faith, to believe in themselves and to believe they have equal value to men. I think that’s the universal struggle across the board.
Nancy Remmert: I’m not certain I see it as a threat, but as women become more vocal and more acceptable as leaders, we may lose some of our feminist bent, I’m thinking in terms of the early feminist movement where women sort of felt they had to become like men to be able to compete. I don’t want that to happen to women who are active in the church to become less able to share their faith or less able to confront the status quo. I would hope that we aren’t just becoming involved at such a level that we could no longer be on the cutting edge.