Two weeks ago I attended the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was a gathering of more than 10,000 people of faith from around the world and it was powerful. I watched as hundreds of people hung a key on the Ordain Women art exhibit titled “Keys,” adding their support for religious gender equality. Every time the bell rang, I felt it reverberate in my soul.
While at the Parliament, I participated in a panel with three amazing women. Lesley Sachs is Executive Director of Women of the Wall, a group advocating for equal participation of women at the Kotel, or Western Wall, in Jerusalem. Ms. Sachs came to Salt Lake from Jerusalem to share wisdom earned through more than 25 years (and a couple of trips to jail) in pursuit of religious social justice. As I write this, I am wearing one of my new favorite possessions, a shirt that says “I stand with Women of the Wall.” I wear it when I need to feel fierce.
Also on the panel was Jane Via, a Roman Catholic woman ordained to the priesthood and excommunicated for it. Ms. Via said that her call to the priesthood was an extension of her feminism: she felt she had exhausted all other avenues in working for women in the Catholic Church. She shared her story of being removed from the institution of her faith, but not the gospel of her faith. And she continually referenced all women, saying that ordination of women is not just for women who want to be ordained—and if it is, then those women shouldn’t be asking. Ordination of women will be a service and benefit to all women.
The third woman on the panel was Dr. Laila Al-Marayati. Dr. Al-Marayati is an Islamic activist who has served on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and currently chairs the board of directors for KinderUSA, a group working to improve the lives of Palestinian children. She spoke of her experience serving on multiple interfaith councils and said that the most common thread through Abrahamic traditions is the oppression of women. Yet, Dr. Al-Marayati continues her work, because she sees religious gender equality clearly in the foundational text of her faith.
To meet these incredible women was a dream come true for me. They are my heroes and my inspiration. Their struggle came before mine, but it is my struggle too, for I have benefited from it. I live in a world with a little more equality because Lesley Sachs and the other Women of the Wall have read Torah at the Kotel. My daughters will one day have the chance to see a mass offered by Jane Via, and in her they will see their own ability to minister. And when I stand to speak for the ordination of women in the Mormon church—my own corner of Abrahamic faith—I will know that I am not alone in seeing gender equality as a hallmark of holiness. But mostly, I am grateful for three new friends who offered advice and wished us well. We have sisters around the world who stand with us, and that means everything.
Debra Jenson, the author of this post, is the current Chair of Ordain Women’s Executive Board.