The relationship between gender and religion throughout history is comparable to a game of tug-of war which traces the theme of original texts later used selectively by male religious leaders to legitimate patriarchy.
For many decades, women’s participation in the leadership and development of religions was nearly invisible. However, external social forces and situational constraints have imposed on faith communities to adapt to the changing times, leading them to re-think gendered roles temporarily or more permanently (Holm and Bowker 30-58).In this sense, faith communities across religions and within one religion in various regions and times are likely to exhibit disparities in the degree to which women are perceived and treated as the spiritual and mental equals of men. Founders of major faiths have equally supported women’s role in sustaining the spiritual emblem of their teachings through scriptural texts but they were overshadowed by the prevalence of a patriarchal society (Holm and Bowker 30-58).For instance, Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha were described in core religious texts as encouraging women to assume active roles in the new faith communities, citing the promotion for a more humane treatment of women than what was occurring in their societies during their lifetimes (Holm and Bowker 30-58).Scholars generally agree that women’s lesser position in the liturgy and leadership of religious or secular communities and institutions are not founded on religious tenets but on the values perpetuated to justify and explain practices arising from more worldly sources that restricts the leadership role of women.The onset of globalization brought about by the growing trends of migration, imperialism, international travel and communication and ensuing modernization have contributed to valuing pluralism on a collective level.
The impact of pluralism naturally invites tension within an individual’s core beliefs and perception of the world. New situations that cause people from different traditions to live and work with one another have disrupted the course of most faith organizations in recent years.Religious and other cultural movements, abetted by industrialization, have brought women together outside their families and communities of faith, motivating them to engage in opportunities and activities which have been inaccessible for them because they were women. One of these major developments to the emancipation of women’s role in the community is in acquiring higher education and involving themselves in the workforce. Immigration or social mobility has also enabled women to connect with others who share similar values and ideologies, widening their social acuity and appreciation of diversity in viewpoints (Holm and Bowker 30-58).The Christian faith is an extensive religious organization that nurtures many denominations such as Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and the Orthodox. My faith belongs to that of Catholicism and I believe that it is one of the faith-based communities that are predominantly patriarchal.
In the New Testament, Jesus is portrayed as to be inclusive of women in his teachings but the interpretations of male religious orders has shifted the focus of Christian doctrines to mainly preach biblical passages that relegates women to positions that are under men’s authority. Such changes experienced by the church through its radical beginnings until its established status aroused women’s perceived theological condition in the community from colleague to subordinate. One clear example of this is how most women saints in the New Testament are generally acknowledged for their gentle piety, caring and support of men and children. Women in the early stages of Catholicism did not garner the sustained support of their families or social circles in successfully challenging the male hierarchy existing in the community as they were not seen as strong leaders in church, home and in socio-political activities (Christ and Plaskow 20-45).
In Chaves’ book Ordaining Women: Culture and Conflict in Religious Organizations, he had stated that the advent of Catholic women’s orders of nuns sought to provide opportunities for pious women to live independently and fairly comfortable in spiritual community with other women. Since the organization offered education opportunities for those who would like to dedicate their lives to the order, many religious women in developing countries benefit from it as they are not given the same privilege in their secular communitiesDespite the maintained presence of the male clergy to oversee the activities of the women’s orders, the sect has secured women of an enhanced social status as they are accorded with more freedom in leading their communities, expanding to positions of authority in schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and social service organizationsAside from the instigation of the Catholic Women’s orders, Chaves’ book also described the gradual changes in some Catholic communities that took place in recent years due to globalization. The reduction in the number of priests ordained in some communities has relegated the role of pastors to a few highly educated nuns and other lay Catholic women. As a result of this advancement, nuns were given the choice to actively pursue their role as spiritual women leaders in a convent or in the outside community. This also increased the involvement of lay people, most especially women, in ministry work.
Still, the Pope does not look favorably on the practice of ascertaining women into preconceived male roles in the parishes so it has been insisted upon that a bishop should be appointed in the dioceses.Based on the information that I’ve gathered through my research, I’ve come to realize that my faith community has undergone a lot of changes in order champion parity between men and women in the community. However, there is still much to be done in terms of uplifting the role of women within the church and patterning it to the teachings in the Bible.Women scholars and spiritual feminists of today emphasize the importance of women in the formation and development of Christianity through retranslations of original texts with appropriate interpretations that thoroughly examines the actual roles of women in the history of the faith. This is the only way for the Christian faith to be wholly inclusive of women’s participation in shaping the community as it deals with the remnants of biased patriarchal practices that does not fit in today’s modern society.