Equal in faith: fasting for gender justice


Yom Kippur Reading:  Isaiah 58:4-9

Surely this is the fast I choose: To break open the shackles of wickedness, to undo the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free and annul all perversion… Then your light will burst out like the dawn and your healing will speedily sprout… Then you will call and G!d will respond.  You will cry out and G!d will answer ‘Hineni, I am here!”

Holy troublemakers disturbed the peaceful setting inside the Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation in Northwest Washington, DC on Monday, August 26, when dozens of men and women concluded their fasting for gender equality in faith with a closing interfaith hour-long service. Hundreds of others joined the live online streaming event from across the country.

Here is the link to the live streaming: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/37855947?utm_campaign=t.co&utm_source=37855947&utm_medium=social


I represented the Washington Friends of Women of the Wall (WOW). This organization’s central mission it is to achieve social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear tallit and tefillin, worship and read from the Torah collectively and aloud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

For my Catholic sisters, it means Women’s Ordination Worldwide, also WOW!

In the Lutheran Church, Ordain Women Now works to promote open discussion within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod about the ordination of women.

And for the Mormons, Ordain Women, advocates for the ordination of women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Over lunch salads, Kate Conmy, the assistant director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, Lorie Winder and a group of Mormon feminists, cooked up Women’s Equality Day, a nation-wide fasting for gender justice and the equitable inclusion of women in all religious traditions.

The five all-women speakers sat together in the front pew.

I sat next to Rabia Chaudry, a Muslim woman and local attorney, who spoke cogently about women in the Islamic tradition.

“What is painful to me as someone who loves Muhammad, that today, the treatment of women in Muslim lands and by Muslim men is known to be unforgiving, constricting and sometimes brutal.  Whereas centuries ago faith liberated the Muslim woman, today it is used to oppress her.  The misogyny found in Muslim communities is nothing but a defamation of the life and message of the Prophet Muhammad.”

Carol Schmidt’s voice pleaded for a thoughtful discussion on the possibility of the ordination of women by the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, an auxiliary of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

“Our greatest challenge in gathering people to join in this call for discussion is the heavy handed threat that the Missouri Synod holds over its workers and their families… To openly advocate for the ordination of women can bring charges of heresy, excommunication and job loss…we are moving backward…”

Erin Saiz Hanna, executive director of the women’s ordination conference, spoke on behalf of “the millions of Catholics worldwide who stand firm in the knowledge that God created women and men equally.”  Unfortunately, she stated, the new pope, St. Francis, reiterated what the papacy has repeatedly professed. “Women are special but not equal.” The injustices continue.

Lorie Winder, an organizer of Ordain Women from California, stated that the fight for women’s equality in the Mormon Church has only just begun.

“Why do we women remain in religious institutions that marginalize us?  There are many reasons—belief, conviction, the desire to serve, cultural identity, family ties, political and societal influences, to name a few.  The point is if we care about a just society and recognize that religions significantly impact the broader culture, we all have a stake in this… we have a choice.  We can either perpetuate inequality through silence and inaction, or we can faithfully agitate and make holy trouble.”

Listening to the women from other faith traditions, I realized that what we do as a Jewish group for equitable rights for women in Israel or around the world, affects all women of all faiths who struggle to find a way to serve God in equal measure.

Rabia Chaudry gave voice to this message. “Whether your struggle is ordination or raising your voices at a sacred wall, know that your Muslim sisters are with you as we find our way to God.”

Many of my female contemporaries have witnessed significant progress in all our religious traditions. However, the tide can turn away from the privileges and the responsibilities we as women have obtained not just for ourselves, but also for future generations of daughters and granddaughters.  Speaking up and speaking out can agitate for advancement and inclusivity in our religious establishments.

Our sacred unorthodox service ended with a song and a clarion call for sisterhood as we each added our names and our ribbons to the wreath symbolizing gender justice.

“Sister, Carry On. Sister, carry on.  It may be rocky and it may be rough, but Sister carry on.” (Written by Carolyn McDade)


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