Some years ago I went to church with the family of my boyfriend at the time. It was Mother’s Day, and his mother wanted to be the one at church with the most children in attendance. During the sermon, though, the pastor complained about women working outside the home. When we got back to the house, I was shaking with anger. How dare he? Why did he have to use a woman’s special day to offer a Neanderthal opinion of what women should be doing? How come no one else in the family was as incensed as I was?
The answer was simple and shocking. No one else heard it. Over the years they had just tuned the guy out. They dressed up on Sunday, went to church with a big smile, and then spaced out until it was time to go home and have a big family dinner.
Now we are in the midst of a debate being presented on one side as women’s reproductive rights, and on the other as religious freedom. Yet many Catholic women practice birth control. How many? It’s hard to say. According to some, the 98% figure being bandied about is an inaccurate representation, but it’s obvious that families overall, including Catholic families, are smaller than they used to be, so do the math.
To me, the deeper issue is the power we give to religious organizations, often by default.
Overall, church attendance appears to be down, so maybe there’s less of this quiet hypocrisy than it appears. Even Catholicism, so prominent in the current political climate, admits to declining attendance and observance of church doctrine.
Still, in a country with religious freedom and a separation of church and state, religion has inserted itself in the debate, and the opinions of religious leaders, in power in part because of the passivity of their flocks, are being given more weight than they have the right to. Why? Why do we just ignore what’s being said from the pulpit or bimah? Why aren’t the people rising up and demanding more from their leaders, when there is obvious disagreement about their principles?
When Darrell Issa had his little “panel” to convene about religious freedom and insurance coverage for contraception, the panel was entirely made up of males. Some females actually defended this, saying it was a religious freedom issue. Really? Then why weren’t there female religious leaders? What religious freedom does a woman actually have in these organizations? What about the religious freedom of the women working in religious organizations who are not members of that religion? What about the religious freedom of the women to practice birth control without feeling guilty about being untrue to their church? Where are the leaders from religions who don’t have a problem with birth control? Finally, where was the religious freedom of the children who were sexually abused by clergy who now claim moral authority over women’s bodies?
It’s easier to stick our heads in the sand and to make our religions a buffet where we pick and choose what we want. The problem is that in our silence, those leaders think that we agree with them. Yes, some do, but it’s a minority — and that minority is now trying to control our political discourse. This is a problem that we have created collectively, and it’s a problem we must solve in the same way.