Considering how they've been treated, why do so many women stick with religion?
Some days I am amazed that women who believe in God bother with religion at all.
For centuries they have been told by men to shut up, cover up and put up with countless rules and regulations governing how, where, when and why they may—or may not—participate in religious roles or rituals of one sort or another.
I honestly don’t know how so many of them managed to keep their faith. If the shoe were on the other foot—if men faced the same limitations and restrictions based on out-of-context interpretations of selected verses from ancient texts—most of us would be out of there in a minute.
But somehow, and for some reason, many religious women have hung in there. All I can feel is awe.
What got me thinking about how women have been treated by religious groups was the hashtag #thingsonly Christianwomenhear, which was popular on Twitter in April.
The conversation about the sexist and toxic things Christian women hear was started by popular Canadian Christian author and blogger Sarah Bessey.
According to Bessey, who is author of the book Jesus Feminist, it was just something she wanted to talk to her Twitter followers about.
But it quickly went viral, amassing hundreds of responses from women sharing things they had heard in churches or from church leaders.
Examples included: "You are an amazing leader! You'd make an excellent pastor's wife someday!"
“Women are too emotional to be leaders and pastors. It would never work."
"OK, you can teach this, but there has to be a male leader in the room when you do. We'll send someone." “
“Your clothes can cause boys to sin.”
“You have tremendous leadership gifts . . . it's too bad you weren't born male.” “
Wrote Bessey on her Facebook page: “This hashtag is pulling back the curtain on the everyday lived experiences of women within the church.”
She added that the responses were “illuminating, sad, infuriating, ridiculous, funny . . . we still need to speak about freedom and expose the lies and amplify the voices of women who have too often been silenced.”
In an interview she went on to say that “I love the church but I also know that we can’t fix what we refuse to acknowledge . . .I look forward to the day when women with leadership and insight, gifts and talents, callings and prophetic leanings are called out and celebrated.”
In a subsequent tweet, she stated: “Nobody is attacking the church. We're attacking the patriarchal spirit that has a death-grip on the throat of the beautiful bride of Christ."
There was pushback. Author and speaker Rebekah Lyons urged women this week to avoid making the hashtag a "megaphone for bitterness."
That prompted Christianity Today editor Katelyn Beaty to respond: “I don't know . . . it seems to me when men name structural problems it's prophetic. When women name structural problems it's bitterness?”
Of course, this isn’t true for every Christian denomination; many church groups are welcoming of women as leaders. But I bet some of those women also have experienced sexism while trying to follow God’s call in their lives.
And it’s not just a religious issue—women hear similar things in many parts of society. Another Twitter hashtag started about the same time was titled #thingsonlywomenwritershear. And women in Canada only make 87 cents for each dollar made by men.
About the same time this hashtag was getting traction, A Handmaids Tale was beginning its run on TV.
In the series, based on the book by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, men in the future theocratic country of Gilead use religion as a basis to subjugate women.
Just fiction, right? In fact, Atwood based her book, which was published in 1985, on real-life events throughout history such as the 17th century Puritans, the experience of women in some Muslim-majority countries, and the rise of the religious right in the U.S.
One can only hope that we have moved on from those experiences, that the imaginary country of Gilead will remain, in fact, a fantasy.
But as the comments some religious women hear today show, we still have a ways to go.
From the June 3 Winnipeg Free Press.