Religion, Women, and Politics
By Barbara Fields
A multi-faith network of religious women in this country, if mobilized, could be a vital force to elevate awareness, and pressure elections with regard to the Supreme Court's recent decision on abortion rights -- a 'sneak preview' of what's to come in American politics.
I'm worried. Theocracy is not too strong a word here.
Exactly WHOSE religious rights and belief system are determining secular policy? This question is singularly relevant among the arguments that shape our understanding of these issues.
As religious-women-citizens we have civic influence among leadership and at the grassroots level. Do we know how Christian American women variously stand on this issue? And how American women of other faiths would respond?
Maybe it's time for us to co-create a facilitated forum that encourages just such a dialogue.
Organizations such as the Parliament of the World's Religions, the Interfaith Alliance, Women's Interfaith Network, Interfaith America and many others now have a pressing opportunity, if not a mandate, to plant a flag of justice and sanity in Sacred Ground where Women, Religion, and Politics intersect.
The New Thought movement, heralded by William James as a "uniquely American religion," is a revolutionary phenomenon in world religious history: a faith tradition founded in large part by strong religious women, and one that ordains predominantly female clergy to this day. The major denominations of New Thought are rich with teachings by its women founders, demonstrating the influence of matriarchal values in creating ministries rooted in peace, justice, love and radical inclusivity. From historic Emma Curtis Hopkins, Mary Baker Eddy, Myrtle Fillmore, and Johnnie Coleman to contemporary Louise Hay and Unity minister, Marianne Williamson, the archives of Unity, Religious Science, Divine Science, and Universal Foundation for Better Living reveal our New Thought foundations for Divine Feminine Activism today.
This is not to say that all religious women are spiritual, or that all spiritual women were historically or are now politically liberal, or even political thinkers at all. But the distinctions between religion and spirituality turn on an inclusive commitment to the welfare and prosperity of all members of the community, nonviolence, and a reverence for life. Insofar as the individual person is an expression of the Divine and the Community is Beloved, compassion and fairness are the reigning values of spiritual women everywhere; if this does not comprise a body of Social Commentary and a Global Ethic, I am hard-pressed to understand what does. The appropriate role of governance is to determine and support the higher values of its citizenry, and political systems should never be granted license to become more than a means to that end.
THE MORE COMPLEX THE PROBLEM, THE GREATER THE NEED FOR BALANCE AND DISCERNMENT
The questions of Right to Life and Right to Choose are as soul-wrenching and complex as they come. A reverence for life applies to that of the helpless unborn organism and the pregnant woman or girl, alike. Isn't it true that every pregnancy is unique unto itself and must be considered with utmost care with regard to circumstances, risks, intentions, health factors, economic challenges, support systems, criminality, age, family and so much more? The nuances of those circumstances determine the quality of life that is the unborn's future, and will forever impact the living female. Are we willing for that Judge and Jury to be American Christian (predominantly white) Males? With an agenda? (keep reading..)
THE MYTH OF ABORTION AS A REAL EVANGELICAL CONVICTION
In 1968, Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, organized a conference with the Christian Medical Society to discuss the morality of abortion. The gathering attracted 26 heavyweight theologians from throughout the evangelical world, who debated the matter over several days and then issued a statement acknowledging the ambiguities surrounding the issue, which, they said, allowed for many different approaches.
“Whether the performance of an induced abortion is sinful we are not agreed,” the statement read, “but about the necessity of it and permissibility for it under certain circumstances we are in accord.”
Two successive editors of Christianity Today took equivocal stands on abortion. Carl F. H. Henry, the magazine’s founder, affirmed that “a woman’s body is not the domain and property of others,” and his successor, Harold Lindsell, allowed that, “if there are compelling psychiatric reasons from a Christian point of view, mercy and prudence may favor a therapeutic abortion.”
According to Paul Weyrich, a conservative activist and architect of the Religious Right, that movement started in the 1970s in response to attempts on the part of the Internal Revenue Service to rescind the tax-exempt status of whites-only segregation academies (many of them church sponsored) because of their segregationist policies. Among those affected was Jerry Falwell, who referred to the civil rights movement as “civil wrongs” and who had opened his own segregation academy in 1967. The IRS actions against racially segregated institutions, not abortion, is what mobilized evangelical activists in the 1970s, and they directed their ire against a fellow evangelical, Jimmy Carter, in the run-up to the 1980 presidential election.
Falwell and other leaders of the Religious Right conjured, entirely through political trickery, a “respectable” issue: opposition to abortion, one that would energize white evangelicals and, not by accident, divert attention from the real origins of their movement. Opposition to abortion was a godsend for leaders of the Religious Right because it allowed them to distract attention from the real genesis of their movement: defense of racial segregation in evangelical institutions. With a cunning "bait and switch," they were able to incite righteous fury against legalized abortion and thereby lend a veneer of respectability to their political activism.
In August of 1980, to a crowd of 10,000 Evangelicals, Ronald Reagan hammered “Jimmy Carter’s Internal Revenue Service” for challenging the tax exemption of racially segregated evangelical institutions. On that occasion, however, Reagan said nothing whatsoever about abortion. Abortion was always a Catholic issue and did not take hold among evangelicals until the eve of the 1980 presidential election when taxation status that directly challenged civil rights was at stake.
~ Information: Thanks to Politico Magazine
"THE ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE" SEPARATING CHURCH FROM STATE
In key cases over the decades, the Supreme Court has cited Thomas Jefferson’s letter explaining the first clause in First Amendment of our Bill of Rights: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” The calls for a separation between church and state intensified in the 1800s as Americans feared the dominance of the Catholic Church over government issues.
Both ironic and fascinating to me is that, 200 years later, a predominantly Catholic Supreme Court (7-2), has upheld the Dobbs decision canceling Roe v. Wade and ignoring the wishes of 67% of the American public. Intoxicated by the open spigot of (politically manufactured) fuel and fury gushing out of the political religious right, SCOTUS wholly and conveniently obscures the religion variable in this equation. What should be loudly acknowledged everywhere is not even remotely transparent in the official narrative.
The elephant in the "womb?" The Emperor's New Clothes? When it comes to this abject failure to separate church and state, how do we call: "FOUL?"
That crazy person, Lauren Boebert (Republican representative to Colorado's 3rd congressional district), really said this at a religious service in June: "I'm tired of this separation of church and state junk." She went on...“The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church. That is not how our Founding Fathers intended it.”
I don't know where to go with the sheer dumbness of those remarks... But what should matter to all of us is that news media and official political sources are deviously careful to sweep the obvious and illegal NON-separation of these two under the rug. I challenge our religious, spiritual and interfaith organizations to rally and mobilize women of faith and power whose religious values are disregarded and actively disrespected by a decision that should have no religious basis in the first place.
But of course, like Trump's intention to incite an insurrection (evidence hard to produce in the concrete), it's hard to "make the case" that religious beliefs apparently now determine Constitutional law.
AT THE CROSSROADS: RELIGION, SPIRITUALITY AND POWER POLITICS
If not the Spiritual Matriarchy of America, who will oppose the Religious Patriarchy?
As we have learned, the religious aspect of patriarchy is a "red herring" for political, i.e economic gain by a dominating faction. If the position entails any religious sentiment at all, it is of the lowest, meanest, most superstitious order. Spiritual values don't exist here in any form. Religious women and men of integrity should be outraged at this usurpation of a sacred institution -- nothing less than a coup d'erat by greedy power-seekers over the immutable laws of nature and God-in-all-forms.
Matriarchy transcends the biological female and embodies, for lack of a better term, "feminine" qualities and values that reside in all human beings. Qualities of the Divine Feminine are often described as:
Because these norms are time- and culturally-based, we would all agree that propensities at one time attributed to men are clearly now shared by the feminine. To name a few:
Critical strategic thinking
Call it anything you feel comfortable with, but a culture of Spiritual Matriarchy implies the synergy of ALL these highest common denominators of the human character such that the instincts of the Divine Feminine wisely reflect on matters of Social Good, then set them into motion (and policy) through the outward mechanisms of assertive, inclusive, strategic leadership. These are not religious precepts; they are the universaL foundations of civilized society if we were only capable of getting it right!
OPINIONS ARE NOT SOLUTIONS
How might we assemble an actively collaborative network of Women's Rights initiatives that already exist in interfaith and multi-religious organizations in America? The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions has a powerful Women's Task Force. It is worthwhile to explore its work (click links on titles below):
An initiative by New Thought women and men could reach out to the CPWR and other organizations to explore the possibility of dialogue focused on the intersection of Religion, Women and Politics. Eventually, non-partisan women's political organizations could be evaluated, and invited to the dialogue for their understanding and openness to shared spiritual values and the important contribution by our multi-religious nation to the human rights of women in America.
Much of this work already exists and is ongoing. There is no "reinventing of the wheel" here. The proposition is to learn, focus and redouble our commitment to the immanent needs at hand between now and the mid-term elections.
Anybody want to weigh in?