On Monday I fasted. I fasted for the first time in years. It was completely different than I remember. I remember fasting being about food, about missing food, wanting food and taking a long Sunday nap until I could eat food again. Occasionally, we would fast for something: an illness, fire, job or tragedy. During these times I really did want to comfort the people in need. I thought about them while I fasted….for about 3 minutes before I broke my fast. This Monday’s fast was very different. It was a fast on National Equality Day for the purpose of religious gender equality around the world in collaboration with thousands of women and men of all faiths.
All day I thought about this issue. When my stomach growled in the morning I thought about all of those people around the world that go hungry and thought, “Maybe if women were in charge of religions that number would decrease.” Around noon, on my way to teaching my class, I was thirsty. I saw a water fountain and wanted a drink so badly. This made me think about how few people in the world have access to clean water. I reflected on how many millions of lives are lost because of this one simple issue. I realized that if women were in charge of all of the money, human capital and decision making power of religions around the world, would we solve the world’s largest problems: water, sanitation, education, war, poverty and inequality? By the time I broke my fast in the evening this was not just something I had thought about for a few minutes, it was something that overwhelmed my life. To me, religious gender equality is so much more than having female religious leaders or ordination for women. To me, it is a fundamental path to equality, peace and hope throughout the world.
These were the thoughts I had running through my mind as I entered the pews at the BuddhistTemple in Salt Lake City, Monday, August 26th, along with fifty other comrades. The meeting was conducted brilliantly by Margaret Toscano and we began with the song “Freedom’s Daughter,” sung to the tune of “Hope of Israel”—a song written by Lula Greene Richards during the late 18th Century when the LDS church stood for Women’s Suffrage! The first speaker was Debra Jensen, an LDS woman who shared her story of why she stood for religious gender equality. She started with the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Then she gave us her own answer. When she took fear out of the equation she realized she would absolutely stand for equality. Then she asked, “What are we missing out on because of fear?” Jensen concluded her talk by relating the hunger we all felt after fasting to the hunger women all over the world feel for equality and by urging us to recognize and utilize the privilege we have to stand up for our rights.
The next speaker was Pastor Monica Hall. In a rousing and inspiring display of humor, joy and enthusiasm, Pastor Hall described the journey that her own Presbyterian religion had to go through in order to obtain ordination for women. She, an ordained minister, asked if she was more qualified for her role than her LDS female counterparts? She asked if LDS male members were more qualified than LDS females? She argued that neither was the case. In fact, she argued via beautifully told stories from the scriptures, women were the first to see the resurrected Lord, women were the first appointed apostles, and, finally, women are not neglected by Jesus today either! Pastor Hall then quoted fellow Presbyterian feminist, activist and anthropologist Margaret Mead as saying “Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”