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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Women and Religion

I have to tell you, I don't know why I am writing this post...but I do have some questions about the relationship between religions and women.

For example, Christianity spends a lot of time detailing the God-Human relationship, and then goes on to detail how people should relate to each other, sometimes in direction contradiction to what the God-Human relationship details. So, in Christianity we understand that God has made us free; however, in our relationship to each other we are to be servants (slaves, if you want to use the Newer Testament as your metaphor--but that's always dicey, if for no other reason than those of us who do not have a direct genealogical connection to slavery in our history tend to be a bit cavalier about it.)

When it comes to women this gets even more complicated, and I admit makes me quite uncomfortable and confused. Why can women not be leaders in congregations in a religion in which freedom to live as you have been created and called is "the prime directive?" It makes absolutely no sense to me to segregate leadership based on mutable cultural and historical factors while all the while proclaiming a freedom to live in grace and unity. I have never been able to wrap my mind around that (and for me, at least, if I can't think it, it is impossible for me to believe it). Why women cannot lead--on the basis of their sex--completely baffles me. I know, I know, I live in a world where women are enticed to be equal (even if they are not in reality), but don't we all live in some part of that world these days? Just because someone wants to deny women the right to lead because "We've never done it that way before" doesn't mean women aren't leading in other places these days. One of my most interesting conversations over the past few years was with one of my students from Liberia. I asked him what he thought of the USA these days, and he remarked "Why is your country so afraid of having a woman as President? We're on our third one already." THAT was what he thought was strange about us? Wow. The world is passing the USA right by.

The confusion I have with my own tradition is bad enough, but tomorrow I will be in conversation with another tradition that has hajibs for its women. Although I have read a few women scholars of Islam, I'm not sure if I've ever even met a women cleric, or, if they even have any in any part of Islam? (This is one thing I hope to learn a lot about tomorrow.) I am sure Islam, as with all other religions, has both its formal and informal operating procedures, and if women are denied formal rights, they no doubt exercise informal ones. But are there formal rights for women to lead Islam? And, if there are, how are those rights related to traditions of social dress and polygamy? (I am not too concerned about the cultural, economic, or historical factors here, I just want to know what Allah commands.)

Because my over-riding metaphor of the God-Human relationship is love into freedom, to restrict freedom on the basis of anything other than love strikes me as odd. What I mean is this: let us say a woman wishes to love God by fulfilling certain cultural, historical, and traditional roles. That is fine because it arises from HER love of God, not somebody telling her and forcing to behave in certain ways. Conversely, a woman who breaks certain cultural, historical, and traditional roles because of HER love of God is also living out her freedom, albeit in presumably different ways. It's the love and the freedom that's important, not how they behave in either case.

As some of you know, my wife is a pastor...(and apologies to all my other pastor friends, but she is the best pastor I've ever come across--it's one of the reasons I married her.) And she leads a lot of people both formally and informally in our tradition. She doesn't do it because she has to, or someone forced her to, she does it because she loves God--and she's free enough to live out that love as a leader. As her husband over the past 25 years I've learned there's not a lot I can do about helping her in her love of God, but there's a lot I can do in helping her be free. How do you help free the people you love in your life?

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

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