While faith is something inside you, religion is inextricably tied to others. Religion is the way we get together and decide to practice our faith, so it is also tied to our cultures. Often, I find that it is religion and not faith that keeps people from entering churches and perhaps other forms of religious spaces. Religion was created by those who were in power or most empowered by it at the time of it’s birth. Religion is made of services, rituals, ceremonies and more. It is made by people and it is flawed.
Our religious texts, however, are often attributed some authenticity by our deities. We are taught that they were somehow handed down by God and that all of our religion is based on them. Then religion grows and culture changes and rituals increase and rules increase. I have found religion and culture do not progress together. One almost always lags the other by a substantial margin. Now that women have become leaders and full participants in some societies, one might think that religion there would follow suit, but it hasn’t. Now that there are growing numbers of people who don’t openly identify as either man or woman, you’d think that religion in their communities would be the first to embrace a culture of not sexing or gendering individuals, but it hasn’t. You’d think that religions, especially those who consider themselves counter-culture, would embrace such positive changes in culture, but it hasn’t.
In fact, these changes are being argued all over religion with sects that are for it and sects that are against it. Some of these groups and people from them have been highlighted or acknowledged here already. When looking back at history, many of these religions started out as positively counter-culture. When cultures exceed their expectations, religion suddenly rebels against the changes now being imposed on it. Women’s participation in the Christian church is a great example of something that started at the roots of Christianity and has now been stalled by our peers. It’s frustrating, to say the least. It’s also interesting to see the way that culture can lag religion at times when religious leaders hold the power to keep congregants in the dark as to the actual words of their God. When a congregation has only the word of its leadership to go by, then the culture appropriates religion falsely and keeps everyone behind.
I feel compelled to point out that religion can be changed, though. Many of our Christian traditions are criticized as being pagan in origin, but only because culture was integrated to religion and not the other way around. We can throw out the old in the same fashion. The important thing to remember is that it must be in accordance with our religious texts and in the spirit of our religious texts. Many of the epistles in the Bible address issues in the culture of the area and how the congregants were adjusting to the Gospel. The epistles are not gospel, though. They are a guideline for assimilating people into the truth of the Gospel. The words of Christ were and should still be the driving force for social change. His treatment of women and the most marginalized of groups should be focused on when establishing our goals and progress, not the words of Paul to address specific groups in His aftermath. Paul was leading change in an extremely patriarchal culture toward a more egalitarian view. Why should we stop short of that end just because of hold-over traditions that he started during this endeavor?
We know that religious tradition and culture can be challenged because we have the Protestant denominations to begin with. Correcting ourselves on the path toward the Gospel is our responsibility as Christians. I know that there are women of other religions who feel the same way about theirs. I look at the religious text that I follow and I follow the words of the deity within it before following the teachers that came after Him, though they were great teachers. I follow their message of peace and equalizing participation for all congregants, since we are well passed their example of how to start on that path.
Let us challenge the assumptions we are given about our religion, our culture, and our traditions. Let us remember that when one lags, we must grab it by the hand and bring it along.
I do recognize that many groups in the world suffer from the negative effects of culture and wrongfully attributing cultural practices to religion such as those mentioned and addressed politically in both Devotion and Defiance: My Journey in Love, Faith and Politics and Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism’s Holy Site. However, this post is meant to specifically address the negative attitudes toward the way the Christian denominations in the US seem to be lagging behind the rest of Western society as far as women’s leadership.
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