Time passes so quickly and yet not quickly enough if you are part of a class that doesn’t enjoy the fullness of human dignity. In 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York an enlightened group of men and women signed the Declaration of Sentiments. While it spoke primarily of the role of governments it did address the role of the Church. One must wonder if what was written in 1848 could today be applied to the Church and the role of women. Consider replacing “government” with “church” below and ask yourself, “Does this describe what we need today?”
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments [Church] long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience has shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they were accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government [Church] and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government [Church], and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.
How far have we come from the resolutions of 1848 in the public and in the Church? It can be well supported that we have made great progress in changing public laws as they relate to women. However, we must remember that it was less than 100 years ago that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote was signed into law. Today we are still fighting for laws such as The Violence Against Women Act because too many in our culture still think it is acceptable to keep us down by beating us, threatening us, and even keeping us from speaking about that which we hold most dear – our faith.
America Magazine published a special edition on women’s issues and when I read it I was impressed by some of the work of amazing women like Carolyn Woo and Sr. Prejean. Yet, too much of the issue was the same old story. We are valued because we have wombs and they produce the children of men, as if to say we do it for men and the children are theirs. I started reading with great hope and when I finished reading the articles I felt that Elizabeth Stanton would be shocked by the lack of progress since she drafted the Declaration of Sentiments.
Resolved, That such laws as conflict, in any way, with the true and substantial happiness of woman, are contrary to the great precept of nature and of no validity, for this is superior in obligation to any other.
Resolved, that all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature and therefore of no force or authority.
Resolved, that woman is man’s equal, was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.
Resolved, that the women of this country ought to be enlightened in regard to the laws under which they live, that they may no longer publish their degradation by declaring themselves satisfied with their present position, nor their ignorance, by asserting that they have all the rights they want.
Resolved, that inasmuch as man, while claiming for himself intellectual superiority, does accord to woman moral superiority, it is preeminently his duty to encourage her to speak and teach, as she has an opportunity, in all religious assemblies.
Resolved, that the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior that is required of woman in the social state also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be visited with equal severity on both man and woman.
Resolved, that the objection of indelicacy and impropriety, which is so often brought against woman when she addresses a public audience, comes with a very ill grace from those who encourage, by their attendance, her appearance on the stage, in the concert, or in feats of the circus.
Resolved, that woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.
Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.
Resolved, that the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities.
Resolved, that the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women for the overthrow of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions, and commerce.
Resolved, therefore, that, being invested by the Creator with the same capabilities and same consciousness of responsibility for their exercise, it is demonstrably the right and duty of woman, equally with man, to promote every righteous cause by every righteous means; and especially in regard to the great subjects of morals and religion, it is self-evidently her right to participate with her brother in teaching them, both in private and in public, by writing and by speaking, by any instrumentalities proper to be used, and in any assemblies proper to be held; and this being a self-evident truth growing out of the divinely implanted principles of human nature, any custom or authority adverse to it, whether modern or wearing the hoary sanction of antiquity, is to be regarded as a self-evident falsehood, and at war with mankind.
I submit that human dignity is not supported by separate but equal approaches to spirituality. We learned long ago that there is no such thing as separate and equal. Separation results in subjugation and as women we need to develop our own Declaration of Sentiments as it relates to our Church and our faith.