Last night the Interfaith Initiative of Santa Barbara sponsored an event called Believing Women. Six women - a Roman Catholic, a Baptist (progressive), a Sunni, A Shia, an Orthodox Jew, and a Reformed Jew - each shared their experience of their faith as a woman. The youngest, the Orthodox Jewish woman, was a college student, the Reformed and the Roman Catholic were grandmothers and the other two were grad students. It was fascinating as they shared their journeys and even more so as they talked about the constriction of their roles (my term, not theirs) by some of the traditions. Likewise the tensions between ancient traditions and future hopes was very interesting. The Roman Catholic woman spoke with hope of a time when women could be priests and priests could marry if they desired. The Sunni and the Orthodox Jew spoke of the distinct differences between men and women while the Baptist and the Shia talked about the impetus for social change in their faiths. Following the main panel, the audience broke into small groups led by women of a wide variety of faith traditions where more individual stories were shared, the panel presentation was discussed, and questions were framed. The larger group then regathered and questions were posed to the panel. We ended with informal discussion and food.
Perhaps the most interesting piece about the evening had nothing to do with the people up front... the attendance. It was smaller than any of the other IFI events have been although that wasn't unexpected as there were a number of conflicts in the broader community that would attract pretty much the same crowd as an IFI event including George Regas speaking at the Capps Center at the university. No... the most interesting piece was that the crowd was just a bit over 10% men. And a significant proportion of them were board members of the IFI. The question is why? Were the progressive men of faith all at other events? Did they not care what the women had to say? Are they more interested in hard facts and action than personal stories? Wherever they were, they missed a significant event that stretched all of us who were present.