Beliefnet
Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D., has had a ringside seat at NOW, the Ms. Foundation, and other hot-button women's groups for thirty years. She is founder and president of The Sister Fund, a major contributor to women's causes. Hunt earned her Ph.D. at New York's Union Theological Seminary, focusing on the religious roots of the women's movement. She was troubled that religious views were not welcome in feminist circles. Through dialogue and conferences on faith and feminism that she is helping to organize, Hunt sees that rift starting to heal. An expert in conflict resolution, Hunt is married to Harville Hendrix, the couples counseling guru and former pastoral counselor, with whom she co-founded Imago Relationship Therapy and co-authored several best-selling books.

In her recent book "Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance" Hunt analyzes the relationship between faith and the women's movement; she also profiles five religious women who were pioneers in the struggle for women's rights: Emily Dickinson, Teresa of Avila, Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, and Dorothy Day.


Can you explain how you came to see that the feminist movement was closed off to religion?

In my personal life, as I was sitting in feminist meetings, it was ironic that we were invited to bring our "whole person" and our full sisterhood to the table, but if you mentioned your Hindu faith, or your Christian faith, or if you said "I'm in a prayer group," [you were] met with stony silence and embarrassment.

As I went back and forth between my feminist activities and my [religious] roots, I saw how combative feminists were and I felt that was necessary for part of our evolution, but that there was a greater strength. And so, I began to wonder what would happen if feminists got interested in empathy, and instead of challenging men for not including them, asked men what was going on with them, what made it difficult for men to invite women into their circles or give them equal pay. The dialogue piece was missing in the women's movement. Most faiths I know are about interconnectedness. That was missing in the feminist movement.

I feel that faith and feminism have a deep relationship to each other and that both are responses to the deep human yearning for connection and for peace on earth, and that they both have a vision of universal human equity. What this book is encouraging is a more intentional dialogue between faith and feminism because they in fact need each other to complete their respective missions.

Would you say that the greatest tension is with Christians who have attacked the feminist agenda, making it difficult for women to believe that they could be both active Christians and feminists?

I do think that the Jewish tradition and the Muslim tradition also structure their faith in a way that challenges the feminist agenda of women's voice being equal to men's. And it is troubling to me and troubling to many women who want feminism to resound strongly in their faith. I don't think it's more intense with the Christians.

Gloria Steinem wrote the introduction to your book. And Betty Friedan writes in a cover blurb that she encouraged you to write a book on faith and feminism as you were walking together on a beach. Is the fact that they wrote those things an indication of a change of heart on their part, a warming up to faith?

I was very blessed. Both women mean a lot to me, and I was surprised that they were so forthcoming in writing about the book. With Betty, she was never against religion. She was always frustrated that feminists projected that. In fact, of the seven people who founded NOW, two of them were nuns. And when they had their first press conference, Betty said, "Wear your habits." And the nuns said, We don't want to wear our habits because we are here to start a social movement-it's not about a religious thing. And Betty said, "No, I want you to wear your habits for this." And they said, no they wouldn't. And finally Betty said, "Dammit, wear your habits!" She was always wishing that religion would be front and center. She was more like Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Betty always felt that religion has to be part of social reform, that the story of religion keeps women subservient, so you have to open up the religious piece and talk about how religion can fuel the vision.

The form of your book is interesting; it's set up to be discussed and shared in a group, making it ideal for women's spirituality groups.

I would be thrilled if the book were presented that way. Letty Cottin Pogrebin is the only other woman who has written a book like this. She put it out a long time ago, and I don't think it got heard sufficiently. She said that feminism invited her into the movement but told her that she'd have to give up her faith. And Judaism told her that she'd have to give up her feminism. She felt schizophrenic. My book invites women to tell their stories-if you start talking about who you are, both your faith and feminism will come out.

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