The White House Summit on Women was held this week on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 and it was a great privilege to be among those invited to participate in this inaugural event. There was an incredible line up of speakers and so much was shared. It proved to be an overwhelming day – in a very good way. Topics addressed included violence against women, economic empowerment, and education. In addition to the main event, there were breakout sessions on a myriad of topics presented by the most preeminent authorities in their fields. I walked away from the day with a sense of urgency to find news ways to engage gender issues and social policy. However, I also wondered how to bring religion into the dialogue and give greater attention to its impact on women’s issues in the US.
With one of the most critical elections in the nation’s history ahead and gender social policy being a primary focus, it is more important than ever that we have a serious conversation on the ways that religion is impacting both the candidates’ positions and voting outcomes. Although we are a secular nation, time and again we hear candidates proclaim God as their guiding force in efforts to ban abortion, birth control, marriage equality, gender neutral bathrooms, and so on. Interestingly, in the same breath, religion is used to justify capital punishment, the denial of climate change, and the refusal to enact responsible gun control. Likewise, as voters plaster Facebook with political rants, religion is often cited as a main factor in their positions.
Christian ideology is foundational in our political system and women and men, regardless of religious affiliation, culture, race, economic status, sexuality, etc., are subjected to policies that do not represent their beliefs. Women and the LGBTQI community are particularly at risk and their human rights are continually denied.
Many have embraced the idea of complementarity between dominant males and submissive females supposedly dictated by Christianity and have used it to enforce norms and fuel social policy efforts. Anyone who does not fit that paradigm is viewed as “sinful” and marked with a metaphorical scarlet letter. This refuses “everyone else” the ability to live as free human beings, and it perpetuates a devastating hatred without rationale. The mass shooting in Orlando and tragic loss of innocent life is evidence of this.
As long as this view of religion influences our social policies, violence against women, reproductive justice, marriage equality, pay equality, poverty, parental leave, education, and so on, will continue to be subjected to the ideologies of a few — which often prove to be oppressive and problematic interpretations of tradition. And thus, until we address the role that religion plays in politics and its interconnection with gender, we will continue to live in a society that (among other things) values property over body and fears gender neutral bathrooms rather than assault rifles.
Gina Messina, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She writes for The Huffington Post, has authored multiple publications and is the co-editor of the highly acclaimed Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay. Messina is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the world. Messina is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @FemTheologian, Facebook, and her website ginamessinadysert.com.