I’m a half-Mexican/half-British-Canadian woman who’s currently living in Norway. I’m an author, a middle-school teacher by profession, and an animal-rights and refugee activist in my spare time. I have a passion for learning in all things, but most especially in the relationship between religion and human rights.
In my work with asylum seekers, I have met many different people from different countries, cultures, and faiths. Since most of my friends are Muslim, I became curious about the perceived similarities between the Muslim and Mormon ways of life. As I read the Qu’ran and became more acquainted with Islamic culture and teachings–particularly where women are concerned–I discovered some striking parallels with Mormonism that left me feeling increasingly uncomfortable in my own faith and religious culture. It was around this time that I came across former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s provocative statement:
“Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths . . . This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries. The male interpretations of religious texts and the way they interact with, and reinforce, traditional practices justify some of the most pervasive, persistent, flagrant and damaging examples of human rights abuses.”
Although most Mormon women I know would balk at language such as “human rights abuses” or suggestions that they are inferior in their faith, attending a few Norwegian Lutheran and Community of Christ services and seeing women officiating as priests, contrasted with Islamic and Mormon teachings on gender roles, caused me to really ask myself: Was I prevented from playing a full and equal role in my faith? Do I, as a woman, really have any more influence within Mormonism than the average Muslim woman has in her faith community? After looking beyond extreme examples of violence and blatant gender inequality in the Muslim world, I realized that the limits they face in their religion were reflected in my own.
As a woman in Norway, I have many more opportunities and freedoms in my European society than my sisters in Islamic societies have in theirs. But within our respective religions, we are both excluded from authority purely on grounds of our gender. Any God-given talent for organizational development that we may possess becomes, ultimately, irrelevant where religion is concerned. Both Mormonism and Islam hold to the notion that women are equal, yet different, which is the justification for excluding them from full participation and authority. And both, in my opinion, fail to realize that this exclusion has consequences, even though, sadly, they remain largely unseen and unexplored.
Some would ask why I care about women being ordained when I am no longer involved with the Mormon church. I think back to my years growing up in it and then serving in Young Women and Relief Society. And I think of my two young nieces, who are being raised Mormon, and how their experience has the potential to be more uplifting and empowering than mine was. For their sake, and for all the other Mormon girls and women who now are as I once was, I believe that women should be ordained.