Opinion Columns & Blogs

Message to clergy: End religiously inspired sexism

There are so many reasons to dislike the recent Supreme Court majority opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that it’s hard to know where to begin listing them. Is it just another example of specious logic justifying faulty science in the service of bad religion?

Another example of the absurdity of basing a national health care system on the economic and, now apparently, religious whims of employers and insurance companies? Or is it simply one more example of five white males using religion to strike a blow for male privilege?

As a long-time supporter of Planned Parenthood, I’ve frequently argued that the best way to prevent abortions is through better sex education and free access to contraception. For example, the birth rate among U.S. teens, by law, often can’t access those things is almost eight times that of the Netherlands where they can. The U.S. abortion rate is over twice that of Germany, another nation where contraception is readily available. As Julia K. Stronks and Jeffrey F. Piepert write, “Bottom line: contraception doesn’t cause abortions, it helps prevent them. A ruling allowing for-profit corporations to deny their employees coverage would actually undermine increased access to the most effective ways to prevent unintended pregnancy and abortions.”

For those who think this is a win for religious liberty, Jack Jenkins recently surveyed a wide range of religious comment on the case and concluded that the vast majority of people of faith disagree with the decision. He writes, “These voices represent the majority of religious Americans who insist that today’s pro-Hobby Lobby decision isn’t about protecting ‘religious liberty.’ Instead, it’s just a victory for one kind of religion, specifically the (usually conservative) faith of those privileged enough to own and operate massive corporations. That might be good news for wealthy private business owners like the heads of Hobby Lobby, but for millions of religious Americans sitting in the pews—not to mention thousands working in Hobby Lobby stores—their sacred and constitutional right to religious freedom just became compromised.”

But the most troubling aspect of the Hobby Lobby decision is that it’s simply another example of men using religion to justify their own privilege at the expense of women and the common good. Jesus called that sort of self-serving moral exploitation hypocrisy and he was withering in his criticism of it in all its forms.

Former President Jimmy Carter is no stranger to the teachings of the Bible as they relate to personal piety or political realities. In his most recent book, A Call to Action, he goes straight to the heart of this insidious and seemingly intractable challenge for all people of faith. He writes of how “prejudice, discrimination, violence, distorted interpretations of religious texts, physical and mental abuse, poverty, and disease fall disproportionately on women and girls” and compares it to the ravages of racial prejudice he witnessed growing up in the Deep South. “There is a similar system of discrimination extending far beyond a small geographical region to the entire globe; it touches every nation, perpetuating and expanding the trafficking in human slaves, body mutilation, and even legitimized murder on a massive scale. This system is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible, the Koran, and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are, in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms.”

But here’s the telling part. “Many men disagree but remain quiet in order to enjoy the benefits of their dominant status,” he writes. “This false premise provides a justification for sexual discrimination in almost every realm of secular and religious life.” I’d like to think I’m not one of those who remain quiet for my own advantage but I confess to not having spoken up loudly or often enough on this issue. Let’s face it, religious leaders like myself are culpable for most if not all of the misinterpretation of religious texts used to justify the system of discrimination that Carter describes. So I’m calling out all men but especially my fellow clergy and faith leaders. It’s long past time for the hypocrisy of religiously inspired sexism to end. For the sake of our mothers, sisters, wives, colleagues, congregation members, neighbors, and friends, it’s time for us to find our voice.

John Rosenberg is a member of the 2014 Board of Contributors and recently retired as pastor at The Lutheran Church of The Good Shepherd in Olympia. You can reach him at jprosenberg360@gmail.com.