This past Sunday, I saw two of our 10:30 a.m. regulars at the 8:00 a.m. service. I wondered why, and so I asked each of them why they worshiped at the 8:00 a.m. service. Both of them shared with me that they wanted to get worship out of the way so they could watch the Women’s World Cup soccer game between the United States and the Netherlands. One of the parishioners explained to me that her husband would be at the 10:30 a.m. service. True to her word, the husband was at the 10:30 service, and when I shared what the wife had said to me, he indicated that he prefers to watch the game from the midpoint to the end, as opposed to watching it from the beginning to the end.
I, myself, didn’t watch the game but I was nonetheless elated with the win - the fourth United States World Cup championship win. In a very special way, the win was more like a gift to every American as we celebrated our 243rd year of independence. Soccer in America has come a long way and, most certainly, women’s soccer has been extraordinary. There are women who are playing at the highest level of soccer, and that reminds me of a story that I heard about a man who was dropping his son and a friend at soccer practice. In the course of their conversation, he heard the son ask his friend, “Who's better... boys or girls?” Without any hesitation, the friend responded “Can girls play soccer?” The topic was resolved, for in their minds boys are better because girls can’t play soccer. In the minds of these two little boys was an embedded reality fueled by an unhealthy resolution that boys are better than girls because boys can play soccer.
If they had seen the women play at the just-ended World Cup, they would have arrived at a different conclusion. If they, and many others like them, had ever seen women play at the highest level of soccer, they may well change their attitude towards gender equality and neutrality in general, and not just in soccer.
In the most strident way, Paul argues in the Letter to the Galatians that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The idea of being one in Christ is against the backdrop of a society that would have used the same language to lift up boys over girls, simply because boys play soccer and girls did not.
This same idea of equality between genders has long existed in Hinduism, probably before Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians. In Hinduism, the Atma - which is the Soul - is separate from the body, and is neither young nor old, neither male nor female. In actual fact, by virtue of the belief reincarnation, the Atma experiences life sometimes in a male body, sometimes in a female body, thus allowing each a chance to develop and imbibe the values of each gender. For this reason, the Gita encourages us to see every human being, and indeed every creature in nature, equally in terms of their spiritual identity as an individual soul.
Indeed, there are physiological and psychological differences between the genders, but Hindu spirituality regards these as complementary, and not competitive. And so in Hindu temples, for example, the divine is portrayed as the unity of female and male forms, and such equanimity is the goal and purpose of spirituality.
Over the years, our own cultural and theological presuppositions have led us to embrace an attitude which affirms the conclusion of the two boys. Our systemic failure to embrace the principle of equanimity between genders has led to income disparity, gender bias in leadership positions, workplace issues, and sexual harassment - among other ills - against girls and women.
So, who's better: boys or girls? I cannot look at my three beautiful daughters or any other girl and, for whatever reason, conclude that my boy - or any other boy, for that matter - is better than any one of them. The Women’s World Cup has addressed the question of whether women can play soccer. In my mind, girls and women are champions, not only because of soccer but because of the idea that girls are not worse or better than boys; each is inherently the same - complementary, and not competitive.
I’d like to see spiritual philosophy similarly challenge these negative religious and cultural ideas so as to help us further nurture gender equality and complementarity. Yes, we all ARE champions!! And so may this championship increase this awareness of our complementarity.