Global Agenda, the magazine of the International Herald Tribune, invited nine contributors to explore the question: “What does Gender Equality mean?”
One of them was the Rev. Chloe Breyer, Episcopal priest and Executive Director of the Interfaith Center of New York
Were you to stop someone in the street and ask them if the world’s great religious traditions would help or hinder the achievement of gender equality, my guess is they would conclude that religion was a hindrance. In Christianity and Judaism, the first book of the Bible, Genesis, describes Eve emerging from Adam’s rib. A few lines later, Eve succumbs to the serpent’s temptation, takes a bite of the forbidden fruit and offers it to her partner. For centuries, authorities within the church patriarchy attributed to Eve the majority portion of guilt for original sin and taught that the pains of childbirth were just atonement for Eve’s misstep. With so many obstacles like this within many religious traditions, what possible hope could there be for gender equality unless humanity becomes less religious? There is an alternative. I would propose that a less-religious world is not one in which gender equality will be more quickly achieved. Indeed, Christianity has untapped resources when it comes to achieving gender equality: Today’s women of faith who occupy two-thirds of the pew benches in churches around the globe. It is a matter of time before we will share power with men of our faith. From an earlier passage in Genesis come the explicit instructions that both men and women are created in the image of God: ‘‘So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’’ (Genesis 1:27). These words offer hope and a way forward.