"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."
The history of this nation has been an enduring (and halting) quest for equality, as we have slowly expanded the vision of which "men" are truly created equal. In the last year we have marked the anniversaries of a number of historic and tragic steps in this process -- the Emancipation Proclamation, the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the assassinations of King and the Kennedys. We have observed the passage of time and noted that the work is still far from complete. We have made progress, yet discrimination continues.
Women were first recognized to have access to these rights when they were granted the vote in 1920. Today, they still earn less than men in the same occupations. They still lack guaranteed access to the full spectrum of health care, and that access is denied by political leaders who deem women's reproductive health less significant than that of men. Viagra is a covered drug under most insurance plans, yet we don't see the same move to limit its availability based on religious principles. No one is asking for a conscience clause so corporations don't have to pay for it.
Women have served with great integrity as leaders in government, academia, business, the nonprofit world, and their communities, yet we still see inordinate attention paid to their hairstyles and modes of dress -- attention of a kind that is almost never directed toward men. Violence against women is hidden, ignored, and rampant, whether we speak of rape on college campuses or the subtle violence that ignores and discounts the contributions of women in public discourse. We watch as esteemed professions and occupations once dominated by men begin to be integrated and see average wages and social recognition plummet -- as if they were now contaminated.
Yet women continue to challenge their communities to attend to the needs of those who have no voice in the public square -- children, the elderly, immigrants and refugees, the abused and forgotten. Mothers stand vigil for those incarcerated for unjust reasons, they agitate for adequate schools, and they bury too many who serve in our seemingly interminable wars.
Women have been leaders in a few religious communities for eons, but rarely public ones until recently. The Episcopal Church is marking the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women as priests this July, in an act that challenged the institutional church to recognize and remember that God created human beings in God's own image, as both male and female. The patriarchal Church resisted mightily, yet the tradition itself -- scriptural, theological, and the evident gifts for leadership and our avowed hunger for justice -- eventually sustained that bold act.
We continue to seek equality and justice for all, work that has been ably and prophetically led by women, both lay and ordained. Our work is far from finished, and we seek the partnership of all who are willing to be moved by the suffering in this world. Human beings were created for abundant life, freedom, and joy -- in communities of equality.