As the child of a Lutheran father and a Jewish mother who converted to Catholicism, I was raised Catholic. I loved my upbringing. My childhood was during the era of great change in the Church. It was a time of guitar masses, youth retreats, sitting at the top of the staircase during Friday night prayer groups, listening to the adults downstairs singing, praying, speaking in tongues. I wanted to be a nun, because the BVM nuns I knew were out to change the world.
But I was also comfortable questioning teachings that made no sense. The first time I was taught that only Catholics could go to heaven I was outraged. Not because I believed it, but because it struck me as cruel that Catholic educators would try to tell us that it was true. I knew without doubt that God did not have an innate preference for Catholics. Over time, I heard many teachings that smacked of manipulation. I remember talking with my dad about these strange Catholic rules, and how he told me that God is God, and Jesus is Jesus, but churches are made up of humans who often make mistakes and who enjoy power.
As a young adult I was always surprised when friends would choose misery and accept it as God's intention. Gay friends, pregnant friends, married friends who couldn't afford financially or physically to have another child, divorced friends who were not allowed to have communion, all of them suffering for a human interpretation of what God wanted.
Then one day, sitting in my front pew at St. Jerome's on Chicago's North Side, I heard the priest say, "The Church in her infinite wisdom . . ." and it hit me. The church did not have, never had, infinite wisdom. Infinite wisdom is God's purview, not the purview of the human construct that had spent millennia claiming to speak for God. In that moment I stood up and walked out of the church, realizing that I was done. I was no longer Catholic.
Today in America, we are all Catholic. We are all conservative Christians. Even though I am more than capable of making my own spiritual choices ... despite the fact that our own Constitution says we have a right to choose which religion to follow ... today we are Catholics and conservative Christians. Because as of today, we are forced to live according to religious beliefs that say abortion is wrong. That's all it is. A belief. Not scientific fact. Not social fact. Not ethical fact. Not even moral fact. We are being forced to embrace the religious belief of a minority in this country.
And then, my dad's reminder comes back to mind. God is God, but churches are created by people who make mistakes. People who like power. The Catholic and conservative Christian churches have always subjugated women, and women's reproductive abilities are at the heart of this subjugation. To remain a patriarchal society, men must control reproduction.
Chase that thread, and you will see every form of the oppression of women: Forcing women to take their husband's names, forbidding women to own property, not allowing women to have their own credit or bank accounts, not allowing women to vote, keeping women out of the workforce, and then not paying women the same amount of money as men when they are in the workforce.
Ensuring that women remain dependent on men keeps us from achieving a world where men and women equally share power. Keeping women out of church leadership ensures that women's voices cannot influence change. Women cannot achieve our full potential when we are economically disadvantaged, burdened with unwanted pregnancies, single-parenting without child-care, emotional support, or economic resources, or locked in terrible or even dangerous marriages. When women have to depend on men for well-being, the patriarchy remains intact.