Current Affairs · Religion · Spirituality · Women

Women in Churches

Imagine … pulpits without prophetic female voices.  Imagine … board rooms without a woman in sight, except one taking notes and making coffee.  Imagine singing hymns each Sunday that lacked inclusive language.  Imagine congregations actively ignoring woman’s spirituality.  Imagine your religious community silencing women or being indifferent to barriers to holy and whole involvement.

For many of us this requires imagination; others simply close their eyes and think back three decades.

And others don’t need to think back at all….

These excerpts are from an article by Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo, published in the June 2007 Unitarian Universalist Communicator.  I stumbled on it at a Unitarian Women’s gathering recently.  The article celebrates the 30-year anniversary of the Unitarian Universalist’s Women and Religion Resolution.  The resolution called for equal access, treatment, and representation of women in the Unitarian Church–and elsewhere, worldwide.

We’ve come a long way; and yet not so much.  Many women are content and happy to remain ‘daddy’s little girl’ — institutionally speaking and relationally speaking.  It’s easier at first.  Until ‘daddy’s little girl’ gets betrayed, or grows up, or dares to question or challenge ‘daddy’….

I’ve worked professionally in a law office, a church, and in corporate human resource work.  The only place sex discrimination was ‘legal’ was the church.  And in that church, discrimination based on gender is still an acceptable practice.  Which is why I don’t go there anymore.

In 1977 when this resolution was written I worked in a law office.  And there was a growing awareness of injustice every Sunday morning… and at the hands of an institution that is thought of and trusted by most as a safe, fair, and just place….except if you’re a woman.  (or if there’s a pedophile priest in your midst… and that’s a subject for another day.)

In 1977, the General Assembly delegates called upon all Unitarian Universalists “to examine carefuly their own religious beliefs and the extent to which these beliefs influence sex-role stereotypes within their own families;” … to make every effort to (a) put traditional assumptions and language in perspective, and (b) avoid sexist assumptions and language in the future;” to urge other denominations to do the same, … and to join with others … to “examine the relationship between religious and cultural attitudes toward women.”

What are your religious beliefs about women?

How do those affect sex-role stereotypes in your family?  Your business?

How gender-inclusive is the language you use? in  your church? in your business?  (Note the he, him, and men pronouns are not heard as inclusive if you are a woman.)

How do religious beliefs and denominational teachings affect cultural attitidues toward women?

Are women equally represented in positions of leadership in your church, your business, your associations, and your board rooms?  How about nationally?  And internationally?

Like most powerful public moments, the passage of this resolution reflects much more than the mood and tenor of gathered delegates.  The resolution was neither the starting nor ending point for Unitarian Universalist women.  It was the culmination of years of women and male allies working tirelessly with clear vision, a commitment to justice, and the tenacity to move past barriers regardless of size or location.  But in the moment when all those in favor said “Aye,” lives changed.  Women and girls in our communities, local and global, would feel the power of this resolution in the coming years.  Congregations would experience a dramatic impact in their ministries, both lay and ordained, and in the delivery of services from UUA staff.  Our collective religious voice would be heard in the world community, calling for women’s equality.  The UU Women’s Federation has remained the center of this work, transforming itself to meet the changing needs of women and girls…. 

I salute the work of those who have gone before me.  And the work and inner journey continues for each of us.  I know this for sure: when there’s disharmony between your church practices and what your soul knows is right and just, go with your soul.

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