[Speech given at the Plenary of Reconciliation, Parliament of World’s Religions, Toronto, 2018]
After that music and looking out on you and knowing this community for so long, I know that the Truth I want to share with you will be received. It is a Truth that needs telling. I know am in welcoming company and that is the heart of reconciliation. I come to speak Truth, not to accuse, but to seek reconciliation. And I know that the message here radiates out into the world, and it is for those who have trouble with reconciliation that some of my remarks are addressed.
It is an honor to be with you tonight and to be a part of this important conversation. I am here to speak for sisters who are not here to speak. All reconciliation relies upon our ability to speak honestly and to listen with open hearts.
Tonight, I ask us to do both, and to ask others to do both as well, because once again, I am going to address the forbidden third rail of religion; the dignity and equal rights of women; the global and human rights issue of our time.
Violence, child marriage, slavery and forced prostitution, rape and sexual assault, domestic brutality and abuse, “honor killing” and immolation, bodily and genital mutilation, genocide of girls and selective abortion of female fetuses, and the legitimized murder of woman are pandemic. Seven hundred million women were children when they were forced to marry. More than one hundred and thirty-three million girls have experienced genital mutilation. Every year, more than twenty thousand women a year will be victims of “honor killings”, usually perpetrated by their father, uncle, or brother. Women have little or no voice, not even regarding our basic freedom to control our own bodies, to move about freely, to own property, to choose to marry or obtain a divorce, to retain custody of our children, receive an education, to simply work or to have our testimony given equal weight in court.
It is difficult for us to imagine that, for we are people of greater privilege, but this is the plight the truths of over one billion women. For thousands of years, these violations of women’s dignity and human rights have been based on the false premise that men and boys are superior to women and girls. It is an outdated view and it has been perpetuated by too many religious leaders, institutions, and adherents who have misinterpreted or deliberately used carefully selected scriptures, texts, and teachings to proclaim the inferiority of women and girls.
Religion has played a role in imposing constraints on women’s basic freedoms to be safe and healthy and live free of fear. The door to formal leadership remains closed in too many traditions, and injustice remains dictated by men who claim their actions are backed by faith. The world’s religions can no longer allow the domination, the subjugation, and the violation of half of humanity. To do so is to break faith.
The justification of discrimination against women and girls on the grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable. And I will keep saying it until is no longer true.
Women have always been told, we need to wait until the current crisis is resolved before we can focus on the rights and dignity of women. We were told that we had to end the nuclear arms race, we were told that we had to end the war in Viet Nam, we were told that we had to end terrorism. Mistakenly and sadly, today, we are even being told that we need to solve climate change before we can focus on women’s rights and dignity.
But we cannot wait any longer, because in fact, none of the issues that we are facing can be solved without the full participation of women, and women cannot fully participate without their rights, their dignity, and their safety. And, in fact, there is a direct practical and spiritual connection between the domination of women and the destruction of our planet. The devastation and desacralization of both are historically and spiritually intertwined.
The problem of our wrong relationship with the Earth can only be resolved by our right relationship with women. The solution to the issues of war, terrorism, and climate change are all symptoms of our broken faith that arose through the domination of women. The healing of the Earth requires healing the soul-shattering division between men and women. The Global Ethic of 1993 stated that There will be no peace in the world until there is peace between religions. But there will be no peace within religions, no peace with Mother Earth until there is peace and reconciliation between men and women.
Religious leaders have always played critical roles in the social justice issues of their times. It is time for faith leaders to accept their moral responsibility to ensure that women who risk being ostracized, abused, or killed if they speak up or act to challenge their abusers, will not be alone. It is time for religious leaders to receive the stories of women; to stop the deprivation and violence against women; to stop harmful teaching and practices that justify discrimination and abuse; and to ensure that women are fully involved in decision-making within religions; to open their hearts to the full participation of women.
Institutions do not engage in reconciliation, it is people. It is time for religious leaders to receive women’s stories. It is time to take responsibility for the damage done. It is time to take the actions necessary to transform a history of harm into a future of re-connection, wholeness, and the fulfillment of our faiths
In 2015, the Parliament of the World’s Religions adopted the Declaration for the Dignity and Human Rights of Women. It was a courageous act of Gender reconciliation. The principle of treating others the same way one wishes to be treated is stated in one form or another throughout the religions of the world. We are all interconnected and interdependent and when half the human race suffers, we all suffer. We must all be treated with respect, justice, kindness, and with love. The Declaration reset the moral compass, stating that it is impossible to imagine a God, a Divine Source, a Sacred and Ultimate Reality that is unjust. There is no religion that really despises women, for hatred and oppression cannot come from the heart of God or Goddess or Holy Mother/Father, nor flow from that which is Divine, the Creator, the One, the Source, the All, by whatever name we call it.
I’m going to sum up.
I want to share a memory of bearing witness to a profound moment of true reconciliation. It happened at a small interfaith gathering in Texas. As we began, a young Indigenous women stood up, struggling with tremendous emotion, and she expressed the terrible pain of her peoples’ subjugation and her own subjugation and suffering of both. She held in her hands very heavy braids of black cloth, symbols of her peoples’ grief and her own. She asked if someone would take them from her.
The room was very silent for a moment.
And then, a Presbyterian minister, white, middle aged, comfortably ministering to one of the wealthiest communities in Dallas, stood up and he stepped forward, and he reached out, and said, “I will take them from you.”
He has since become a good friend and I knew in that moment that his life was going to be changed forever. He was compelled by his faith, moved by her suffering to truly live the gospels of his own faith; to take away the sufferings of an other, to take personal responsibility for her pain, whether he was personally responsible for it or not. That was a moment that began a reconciliation.
Gender Reconciliation summons us into the heart of our deepest religious convictions. It calls us to live our faith, to heal the wounds that have separated us from one another. When we are truly present with each other, the Divine is present within us and with us, and we are shown who we are and who we are meant to be, we are shown the love that binds all wounds, heals all hearts, and makes us whole again.
Thank you for hearing my story!