Representatives of religions from across the globe are meeting up in the USA, for the Parliament of the World’s Religions that opens in Salt Lake City today, 15th October.
The parliament is, perhaps, the greatest international inter-faith movement and draws followers from a multitude of religious beliefs including Paganism, Islam, various denominations of Christianity, Buddhism – the list goes on and on.
There are major important absences from the list on its website as it sees that neither the Anglican nor Roman Catholic Churches will be taking part officially – and neither will the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latterday Saints, otherwise known as Mormons, despite Salt Lake City being their headquarters. Without that form of involvement, can it really be a Parliament of the World’s Religions? More needs to be done to encourage greater inclusivity.
Roman Catholic Women Priests will be there but that group can hardly be said to be an official representative of the church.
Its calls upon us all to ‘reclaim the heart of our humanity’ and invites everyone, of whatever faith, to work together for a world of compassion, peace, justice and sustainability. And the 2015 Parliament includes sessions on women, emerging leaders, income equality, violence and hate speech, climate change and, last but not least, indigenous peoples.
That all sounds like truly meaty stuff that I can see will be close to the hearts of people everywhere but while I agree that the issues regarding women should be discussed, I find it impossible to agree with this year’s inauguration of the Women’ Assembly.
For the life of me, I cannot accept that setting up a Women’s Assembly is in any way a good idea. I know some will welcome it as the only way to advance the female cause but, to me, it smacks of sexism and separatism – neither of which are good for women nor the world’s religions.
There is a plenary session of the Parliament that will be focussing on women and that should be the way forward. Yes, women’s issues are important but it is precisely because of that importance that they should be discussed by all, men and women together, not in a ‘Women’s Assembly’.
That assembly is said to be offering five days of special programming devoted to women, religion and spirituality that will be ‘fully integrated’ into the overall Parliament. That sounds good, the integrated part, but just having a Women’s Assembly is divisive, outdated and an unwanted form of segregation.
Integration, not segregation, must be the way forward.