March 20, 2019 under Faith Based Work
This month, we pause to honor women around the world and across faith traditions who we affectionately and respectfully call Rabbi, Teacher, Guru, Leader, Priestess, Sister, Goddess, Imam, Preacher, and Pastor. Today, we celebrate the women who hold the privilege of being spiritual leaders in our communities. And for these women, we are eternally grateful. But why— among this month’s celebration of women in corporate, government, athletic, and social leadership— is a celebration of female faith leaders significant? In a time when religion is under severe scrutiny for being exclusivist and problematic, why involve female faith leaders in the symbolic parade for admirable women in our society?
Historically, spiritual leadership was exclusively associated with men. Modeling societal expectations of who belonged in positions of power, titles like CEO, Owner, President, VP, and Pastor were disconnected from women. Women were seen as fragile, indecisive, emotional, and uncapable of holding the responsibility of leadership. For centuries, women were relegated to the margins and designated to be the brains behind the operations of powerful men— carrying the load of the work, yet never receiving any of the recognition or compensation for their efforts. For centuries, women have filled churches, temples, mosques, yet rarely saw themselves on the pulpit, administering the sacraments, or leading prayers. And though we’ve come so far, as women in faith, we continue to struggle with the complex past of being positioned to be followers, volunteers, and supporters of the men who lead the charge of our spiritual enlightenment.
It is important to remember that much of our understanding of what is acceptable social behavior in America is historically rooted in what the western world has believed about God. We have imagined God as Male, White, and cis-gendered. God, in many ways, has operated as the collective human imagination of what it means to live impeccably in the world. So, it naturally followed that we privilege those who most reflect what we think God is like. Our belief that God favors some over others has given society at large, men and women, divine permission slips to favor some and relegate the others to the margins of society. This divine permission silently cosigns our acts of injustice, discrimination, sexism, and the perpetuation of poverty in our city and in the world. Feminist and womanist theologians across traditions have spent the past several decades intentionally deconstructing our rich, male, western God. It is their intellectual and spiritual contributions that have flung the doors wide open for a different expression of being in the world— a divinely female expression.
Sprinkled throughout history we find women who knew at their core that God does not discriminate on the basis of sex. In each of our spiritual traditions there were women who decided to misbehave, to challenge what most believed about God, and reconstruct a vision of God that valued the presence and power of women in all parts of society. It is because of them and their allies that all women and girls can see a path, however bumpy it may be, to affect large scale change to the spiritual and intellectual landscape of the world. These women boldly decided to call themselves spiritual leaders before any council or ordaining body was wiling to give them a title. We celebrate these women, not simply because they hold a position, but because they dared to believe that God calls women to lead people, that God calls women to shape what the world sees as good, and that God is found in female bodies.
At FPWA, we thank and celebrate the women faith leaders within our community, membership, and extended network who continue to pave the way for the intellectual and spiritual contributions that are shaping our world.