This I Believe: That the Shaker sister, Mother Ann Lee got it right when she said, “Put your hands to work and your hearts to God; that women should be able to choose, to vote, to pursue an education, career or decide to be a wife and homemaker if that is her true ambition, that our foremothers and forefathers fought hard for women’s rights and that when a young woman’s religion, or community denies or discourages her to choose a path such as minister, scientist, or politician it is a travesty. With so many choices, I believe in the right to choose according to and within my own spiritual beliefs whatever they may be: Baptist, Buddhist, Amish, Shaker, or Muslim without fear of condemnation or judgment. I believe that when families or religious institutions discourage young women from pursuing their callings and dreams, our society takes steps backwards.
Some religions and families cultivate societal norms that discourage and prohibit females from pursuing what many US citizens hold as ‘certain unalienable rights’: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. At the time that Thomas Jefferson said these words (July 4, 1776), women were still considered as secondary citizens in the tiers of our society. During the Shaker Mother Ann Lee’s lifetime (1736-1784), there were and still are many religions that do not allow women to minister in their church according to their religious laws and beliefs. Since the time of Jefferson, our society has given women the right to vote, to hold political office, and our societies have allowed women to wear pants or whatever attire (or not) we wish. Since the time of Sister Lee, most of the same religions still do not allow women to minister or hold high rank in their echelons, and require dress codes such as skirts, veils, and hair coverings. While US society is opening up to allow women their unalienable rights, religions are not. Fortunate for me and other women who value higher education, and political activism, separation of church and state IS working.
It is interesting to note that while society has changed much, many religions have not. There is the possibility that having just elected our first black male president, we could elect our first female president (of whatever race) in the not-too-distant future, and that during this time their would be citizens under her guidance who do not believe that women should hold positions of authority over men. A few of the religions in the USA whose sacred laws forbid this are: Fundamentalist Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Christian sects. Timothy 1 (2:12) states, “Do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man: rather she is to remain quiet.”
We are “One nation under God”, but thank God, even in the Bible belt, our government does not profess to know or to divine God’s rule and impose it on us. Thank God, that I can wear pants, teach, write this essay, and that I have a voice, a female voice, and that it will be heard, even if some believe differently.