Several years ago a church my family is affiliated with started supporting women in Afghanistan and Iraq. They made cookbooks and sold them as well as having bake sales and other fundraisers, all of the money going to a fund to support women’s rights in Muslim countries. The celebration of a “beyond the veil” day in which stories of Afghani women who were able to remove their veils were read sparked an interesting discussion.
Because that particular church sat a little to the west of the heart of the largest Amish settlement in the world. Every day, parishioners would drive by farms where women wore black bonnets and knee length black aprons to weed their gardens in 90 degree heat. Every day, they walked by women with ten children in tow because birth control is banned by their faith. Every day, they saw sixteen year old girls who feel pressured to marry and start families. Every day, they drove by the buggies, buggies that get in a large amount of accidents because the stricter sects of Amish belief will not allow battery powered lamps or reflective strips. A strong argument can be made for the follies of the Amish faith- there is a high rate of depression, of birth defects, even fatalities when women are told their bodies won’t bear another pregnancy and they refuse hysterectomies. There is one story that stands out in my mind, one where a doctor pulled aside an Amish man and said, “another delivery will kill your wife,” and the man replied, “then I will remarry.”
The argument that Islam is alone in it’s strong belief that women are to be modest, to be wed and submissive, is foolish. Christianity has it’s fair share of extremism where that is concerned. There are churches that pray to Christ where the men and women don’t sit together, where the women have scarves on their heads and ankle length skirts. These churches also could not easily be written off as extreme fundamentalists or crazies. Take the Mennonite faith, for example- they hold to a lot of old tradition, including a notable lack of instruments during worship. They praise God with their voices, they work hard with their hands, in the more traditional churches the women wear head coverings and the men and women sit on opposite sides of the aisle. There are still girls who are raised to not seek out careers, instead to marry and move out and start families of their own. Women rarely go out alone- they marry young and travel in packs until the children come.
In fact, there are a great number of parallels between conservative Christianity and Islam. Trace them back historically and they come from the same roots- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There are some women who will point out the fact that Christianity traditionally didn’t allow for divorce, even when women were being beaten. In fact, some orders of Christianity encouraged spousal abuse to teach women submission. Islam, on the other hand, teaches that men are to honor their women and treat them well.
I realize that there are failings. There are still honor killings, there are cultures in which Islam is used as a justification for the horrific subjugation of women. But I believe that the cultural differences cannot be blamed on belief any more than Christianity being blamed for the KKK- religion, when abused, loses the touch of faith. It’s not the faith that is to blame, but the abuser. Historically certain parts of the world have always subjugated women, and when religion came along it was twisted for the use of the culture instead of redeeming it. The failure is the culture, not the faith.
I simply find it interesting when I see churches cheering on young Afghani women to remove their veils, while outside in the streets Amish women slave under their bonnets, hands raw from wringing out clothing and hanging it to dry, arms tanned from hours of tilling by hand. The point is that some believe that honor can be found in holy living, and holy living can be found in being bound by the dictates of a restrictive faith. It is a choice that is made, a choice that should be honored. Where culture falls short, by all means call for change.
Just don’t ignore what’s going on in your own back yard.