Do women have a place in religion?

Discrimination has provided reasons or excuses in secular states to deprive women of equal rights across the world for centuries.

Yme Woensdregt

In 2009, former President of the United States and lifelong Baptist Jimmy Carter severed his ties with the Southern Baptist Convention. As he explained in a public letter, it was a very difficult and painful decision for him to make.

“I have been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be ‘subservient’ to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.”

Carter’s decision was both courageous and principled. The sad truth is that most, if not all, of the world’s religions have had the view that women are somehow inferior to men. In many faiths, women are prevented from playing a full and equal role.

Tragically, it doesn’t stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. Discrimination like this has provided reasons or excuses in secular states to deprive women of equal rights across the world for centuries.

Before we denounce Muslims for forcing women to wear the hijab, we must also honestly acknowledge that the same practices happen in Western culture. In my own Anglican tradition, the Church of England is still debating whether women can be ordained as bishops. Moreover, it’s been less than 40 years since women could be ordained as priests in the Anglican Church of Canada. Other churches in Canada still do not allow women to be ordained as deacons, priests, ministers, or pastors simply because of their gender.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subject to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

Carter goes on to say that, “It is simply self–defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self–serving and outdated attitudes and practices — as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.”

Carter is a member of the Elders. I’ve written about this group of wise, global leaders who work together for peace and human rights before. Part of their work has been to draw attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights. They published a statement declaring that, “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

They call on all leaders to challenge and change these harmful teachings and practices, and to put an end to this kind of discrimination against women. “We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasize the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.”

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Rotary Park Auto Tourist Camp, circa 1923. Two years later, the camp was moved Pooley Avenue, and is now the Mount Baker RV Park. Courtesy Jim Cameron.
After 96 years, Cranbrook’s downtown RV park is facing its future

The “Cranbrook Auto Camp” — Mount Baker RV Park — has operated at that spot since 1925. That’s about to change

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
253 new COVID-19 cases, 4 more deaths in Interior Health over the weekend

More than 1,000 cases in the region remain active

Latest COVID-19 numbers in Cranbrook and surrounding regions.
Cranbrook sees five COVID-19 cases in first week of January

To date, there have been nearly 230 cases reported in the East Kootenay region

(Courtesy photo)
SD5 joins teachers in calling for end to FSAs

School District 5 has sent a letter to the Ministry of Education to replace FSAs with alternate testing

Cranbrook Search and Rescue safely and effectively rescued an injured snowmobiler on January 16. Pictured are six members took part in a Avalanche Skills Training Level 1 course, which also took place on the 16th. Members are required to have at minimum AST1 for winter responses. (Facebook/Cranbrook SAR file)
Cranbrook SAR rescues injured snowmobiler from Lumberton area

A helicopter crew assisted in safely and quickly located the injured person

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

Sunnybank
COVID-19 related deaths at Oliver, West Kelowna and Vernon senior care homes

Sunnybank, Heritage Retirement Residence and Noric House recorded deaths over the weekend

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Most Read