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A Religion is Unbelievable When it Oppresses Women

I was alerted to this Nicolas Kristof column by one of Nashville's women's rights champions, Chris Clarke. He and his wife Maryanna run Tennessee Women's Theater Project, which provides a voice to women on stage. You may not realize it, but females are drastically underrepresented in the performing arts. (Updated: Chris informed me in the comments that he only supports TWTP. He also lifts heavy things.)

What Kristof highlights in his column many of us have known for years: the world's oldest and most popular religions oppress women by treating them as inferior to men, which often leads down a pathway towards violence. In an ironic twist of fate, Kristof suggests that the very religions that have oppressed women may be the only thing to right that wrong.

But can the patient heal itself?

I tend to stop certain behaviors when I find them damaging to others or myself. We all have our habits and addictions, but when I'm at my cognitive and moral best, I decide what's not working and move on to something that is. For me, church now fits into this category.

While Christianity has many strands that form a very ragged (and sometimes beautiful) tapestry, its threads of oppressive behavior and violent actions are repulsive. Whether it's racism, slavery, sexism, or legitimized hatred, an attitude of destruction stands out on this mosaic like a dark stain. We try our best to look away or chalk it up to someone else's careless spill, but by wearing this garment, we give unfortunate homage to an unwelcome past.

Many will do as Kristof suggests and work from the inside. I applaud those who do. The church needs you to help right its wrongs and move forward together, just as some have done in the wake of genocide. For me, I've chosen to work outside of the church, to no longer call it a familiar home, content in doing more for the intent of Christianity beyond its restrictive walls.

I aim to raise my daughter knowing that she is free to make her own decisions. If she chooses to become part of a church that tragically limits gender roles and requires male genitalia to ascend to the highest ranks of leadership, then I will be content knowing that she made a choice under her own free will. Or, if she chooses to disbelieve in an institution that places superficial parameters on its members and blame it on authors of old, then I will support that decision as well.

Perhaps she'll come to the conclusion that Elisa Doucette did, which she articulated in a comment on a recent post:

This is...a huge part of why I disassociated myself from organized religion. I find the gender roles and responsibilities to be very outdated and unfair (at best) and that is coming from a girl who truly does believe that a wife's primary role is to support and love her husband ([of] course I believe that the reciprocal is true at the same amount)...

Ultimately, I value progress. I understand the benefits of tradition, but have to break with it when it stands in the way of the highest values of equality, freedom, and justice. I myself cannot reform the church from the inside. I love all that it can be when it is at its best. In fact, I love that ideal so much that I cannot be a part of it while it decays into bigotry and sexism.

I wish those leaders mentioned in Kristof's column (known as The Elders) the best of luck. But, I resonate more with the person who once said, "I love the church so much that I must destroy it. Doing so is the only way to save it."