Women religious leaders may be gaining more visibility in churches, temples and synagogues, but there are still some areas where women clergy are not welcome. Examples of institutional holdouts to allowing women to become ordained are Roman Catholic churches and Orthodox Jews. There is also continued resistance in most of the Islamic world to allowing women to worship in the same area as men during Friday services, let alone to letting them becoming Imams. I haven’t seen much written about this from the perspective of the women who are largely left out, so it was refreshing to see Maureen Fiedler’s anthology of interviews mostly conducted on her public radio show, “Interfaith Voices.” We talked by phone about her thoughts on womens equality in religious leadership and what the future might bring in this area.
How did you choose the title of this work? Not every house of worship has stained glass, for instance, though I like the use of the metaphor.
Fiedler: The phrase “stained glass ceiling” became fairly common among religious feminists when “glass ceiling” became common for other women.
Before you started your work on Interfaith Voices (a religion news magazine on public radio) what was your experience with women religious leaders?
Fiedler:There are many leaders in religious communities of women, like Mary Luke Tobin, SL. She was a leader, not only in Catholicism, but beyond that, and highly influential in carrying out the reforms of the Second Vatican Council nationwide. Nuns have long been presidents of universities and administrators of hospitals when other women could only dream of such positions. In my work with interfaith coalitions around issues like the Equal Rights Amendment, and Central American issues in the 1980’s, I also met many women leaders for justice, peace and equality.
Was there a particular interview that resonated with you more than the others? I was moved by the perspective of Julia Butterfly Hill and her spirituality, for instance. I found the women who had been ordained as Roman Catholic priests to be particularly interesting, considering the discussion of women’s ordination in the church recently.
Fiedler: I too liked those 2 interviews. But the two interviews that struck me most deeply were those with the two African women: Leymah Gbowee and Immaculee Illibagiza. I actually met Gbowee about three months after the interview when she came to the US and the DC area to receive a “Living Legends” award. She is every bit as powerful as her story! Organizing an interfaith coalition of women in Liberia to overthrow a dictator is no small feat! And Immaculee’s story still strikes me as one of the deepest examples of spirituality I’ve encountered… her willingness to forgive is something like one would read in the annals of saints, I think. I also felt that way about Hill, who claims no religious affiliation per se.