I felt the spirit of hope and solidary at St. Stephen’s chapel in Washington DC last Monday night (August 26 / Equality Day) when I joined dozens of men and women across five faiths (including 35 LDS participants) to pray, speak, and break our fast. We were joined in spirit by hundreds of others (including 300 LDS participants outside the area) as we fasted for gender justice in religion.
We opened our time together with the rousing song “Woman, Arise!” from the Utah Suffrage Song Book (1871) sung to the tune of “Hope of Israel” – and I had a burning in my Mormon bosom. My heart filled as we sang together the words in the chorus: “Seize the scepter, hold the van; equal with thy brother, man.”
The filling of my heart spilled into the rest of me as the program continued. God the Mother, God the Father blessed us as we shared our stories and our struggles.
Rabbi Tamara Miller shared her story and the story of the Jewish women in Jerusalem who seek each month to be a more integral part of their faith and are turned away at the Wall. Together we sang their song: “Ozi v’Zimrat Yah Vayahi li lishuah” (My Strength with the Song of God will be my Salvation). We listened to the struggle of the women in the Lutheran tradition and their call for an open discussion as told by Carol Schmidt. Erin Saiz Hanna shared her work with the Women’s Ordination Conference in the Roman Catholic tradition: her love for her Catholic faith and her sorrow over her exclusion. We were all moved when Rabia Chaudry told the powerful story of the strong woman, Khadija, who stood by her husband, the prophet Muhammad, with strength, faith, and wisdom and led the early Muslims. And mourned with her as we heard of the injustices that are currently faced by Islamic women.
Lorie Winder represented the Mormon tradition in her remarks. She quoted Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” And followed by saying, “we are asking, we are seeking, we are knocking, and we are agitating. I have faith in the ability of religion to liberate rather than subjugate. We at Ordain Women assert that the fundamental tenets of LDS faith support gender equality, including ordination.” We know from Article of Faith #9 that the Lord “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” I believe that the Lord will open the way for women’s ordination and teach us how it is to be structured. Lorie continued, “It’s time – past time, really – that we gather as a community state, unequivocally, equality shouldn’t stop at the doors of our churches.” And concluded with these questions, “Why is it so difficult to envision a Mormonism in which women join men in blessing their babies, baptizing their children, counseling troubled church members, giving blessings of healing and comfort, and lending voices and experience to Church decision-making councils?” And I echo the question presented by other Exponent bloggers, “Why are we so committed to mother and father in our earthly, but content to only know our Father in Heaven?”
After the sharing of stories and experiences, we created a wreath that held ribbons and the names of participants. The wreath will travel to other cities where other ribbons and other names will be added.
We concluded with a naming ritual that was powerful for me. I love the ritual of speaking names aloud, of claiming heritage, and remembering the strong women who went before us. We remembered, among others, Eve and Esther, the prophetesses Deborah and Miriam, and Mary Magdalene. We named Emma, Eliza, Emmeline and others as our own LDS Presidents, writers, and suffragettes. May they move us forward.