Not that kind of action, real action. The election cycle has already begun. Women of faith are increasingly seeking to elect those who commit to the betterment of women's lives and recognition of our contributions, cherished freedoms and autonomy. So, what should Christian women be looking for in a candidate in 2016?
Here's the thing: we at times still display a tendency to vote against ourselves and our best interests. Candidates who use a lot of Christian keywords in their stump speeches also tend to be men who block beneficial policies such as the Paycheck Fairness Act, which prohibits pay discrimination based on gender and prevents employers from punishing women who report pay disparities, and The Equal Rights Amendment, affirming the equal application of Constitutional rights to all persons regardless of their sex. These candidates often run on vanquishing healthcare that allows women to make their own medical and contraceptive decisions with their doctor, family, and spiritual advisers, and provides easy access to treatment for assault and rape.
There is a striking correlation between Christian rhetoric on the trail and those who prefer women's futures and bodies be subject under mandate of the male-majority government. But something about Christian God-talk can put women of faith into a trance, making us follow people and ideas that are moving backward, convincing us it is good for us. Mansplaining what is right for women, as seen in the all-male contraceptive care panels of 2012, is simply not healthy and not democratic; nor is it going to fly anymore among the faithful.
In 2015, women hold 104 (19.4 percent) of the 535 seats in the 114th U.S. Congress; 20 (20 percent) of the 100 Senate seats, and 84 (19.3 percent) of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. For a little more than half the U.S. population, that is a dismal excuse for equal representation. Women have been long socialized to (erroneously) feel under-qualified and unworthy of leadership, have a harder time raising money than the good old boys' clubs, and face discrimination and sexism at every level of campaigning. Seventy-one countries have had female presidents or prime ministers, including Pakistan, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, Turkey, Rwanda, and China. Not the land of the free.
Let's consider a couple of 2016 examples. Ted Cruz is the first Republican to officially throw his hat into the ring. He announced his presidential primary bid last week at Liberty University; the student body -- not all Cruz supporters -- was mandated to attend at risk of a fine. Cruz did so in order to establish his worldview and appeal to his hardline Christian, right-wing, tea party base. Liberty was founded by the infamous intolerant Jerry Falwell, who denounced gay people and feminists, claiming 9/11 was God's judgement on an immoral America brought on by human rights advocates.
Liberty is also famous for its restriction of First Amendment rights: students are not allowed to read, watch, listen to, or participate in anything not pre-approved as suitable by the university; including demonstrations, music, literature, movies, and art. There is no dancing allowed on campus, no kissing or hugging. Women are held to Liberty's "Guide to Female Modesty," which dictates to women precisely how they can dress, if and where they can have jewelry on their ears, and how to think and behave generally. Trends of telling young women they are at fault for any harassment or assault, and ignoring the needs and voices of women, have been reported.
Cruz began with a story about his mother getting to go to college. He talks about his father fleeing Cuba. He drops phrases like "relationship with Jesus," "the transformative love of Jesus Christ," the "God-given liberty of every American," the "American dream" and quotes "Give me liberty or give me death." Liberty ironically gives no one any liberty. Cruz's vision is limited to those who share his fundamentalist religious beliefs. As a female Christian minister, his dream is not my dream.
Then take Hillary Clinton, a presumed presidential candidate among the rest of the so far non-declared. Jehmu Greene, political analyst for Fox News, recently wrote a piece for cnbc.com about Clinton's appeal for women. It is all about action. As the most-traveled Secretary of State in history, Clinton met face to face with powerful leaders to call them on the carpet and discuss the rights of women and girls around the world. She made the Beijing declaration 20 years ago that "human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights," and has tirelessly followed through on the most intractable issues for women that will raise up all of humanity.
Greene reminds us that Clinton co-sponsored the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007 and the bill that became law in 2009. She introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in the Senate. She named the first ambassador-at-large for women's issues around the world, and crafted an economic vision promoting female entrepreneurship, removing barriers that keep women from engaging in the global economy. She was an original co-sponsor of the Prevention First Act to help reduce to rising rate of unintended pregnancies, and hence, abortions, while still advocating a woman's control over her own body.
Americans of faith have to give our politicians permission to talk, think and act more broadly than religious rhetoric for the common good. We must offer support that allows them to lead without restricting them to narrow, rigid assumptions and actions, or else we are doomed in both domestic and foreign policy. Instead of buying into religious rhetoric, religious constituents need to encourage the wisdom, compassion and risk required for reconciliation, peace, equality and opportunity for all. This goal -- a distant memory in polarized extremist religious politics -- is what makes America great.
As Women's History Month comes to a close, we can't forget how recent our freedoms are, how very long we were held down and held back, and how much further we still have to go. The party you typically support does not necessarily matter. Christian women: Don't be fooled by talk in 2016...look for action.
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