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Where will they go?

November 19, 2013

The other day I received an e-mail from someone who had just been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.  The e-mail wisely assumed that at least some of the recipients didn’t have a clear idea what Crohn’s disease was so it included a link to an article where we could learn more about it.  I immediately clicked on the link so I could “pray intelligently.”  (I’ve always wondered about that last phrase.  Does God ever say “Well, that’s a stupid prayer, I am going to ignore it.”?)

If your mind is like mine, both curious and undisciplined, then links are the bane of the internet age.  The temptation to click on a link and discover new worlds of information is too much.  The end result is often I end up clicking on links in the articles I linked into and go hopping merrily across the internet in a chaotic quest for knowledge, or at the very least information.

And that is what happened here.  A short time, and a number of links, later I realized I was deep into a study of 19th century women doctors and the amazing stories of opposition that these medical pioneers faced.  I’m not sure how I got there, Crohn is neither a woman or from the 19th century, but there I was.  I do recall that at one point I passed through the web site of Johns Hopkins University who proudly declared that from the beginning they admitted women to medical school.

There is a woman doctor in our small evangelical church.  She is highly regarded as a competent and intelligent woman and not only is there no protest about “lady doctors” she has sort of become our resident expert on all things medical.  In addition, her competency in her field is automatically taken as testimony to her intelligence and wisdom and, whatever the subject, her opinions are valued.

But her 19th century women colleagues faced exactly the opposite reaction.  They faced assumptions they were intrinsically not capable, opposition to daring to practice, scorn for their desire to intrude on this “male” domain, and mocking that there was something wrong with them for even wanting to be a doctor.

We have gradually come a long way.  I am old enough to remember when female doctors were rare and usually limited to treating, in the words my oh-so-proper mother-in-law,” women’s troubles.”  Today more than half our medical students are women and the percentage is growing steadily.

Oddly enough, there are echoes of those 19th century arguments against women doctors still around.  While there is a degree to which those who still spout them are sounding more and more like the Flat Earth Society there is one amazing commonality to a bunch of them – they claim to be evangelicals and are sure that their opinions are “Biblical.”

To be sure these people are on the quirky margins of evangelicalism but what is the point here?  One conclusion I can draw is that diligent and earnest study of the Bible is no assurance that you are reading it correctly.  This would compel me to be at least a tiny bit gracious and humble when I am spouting my views on Scripture.

It disturbs me how often the widespread pronouncements of God’s disfavor toward women doctors dominated the Christian culture of the day.  It makes me wonder if, particularly on hot button issues like the role of women, we can be confident that we’ve got the Bible nailed in the teachings on this issue.  It makes me wonder if, a generation or two from now, we are going to sound as stupid as the 19th century Christians who were as confident as we are that they were right.

But here is the real conclusion I draw.  The surge in women doctors, and lawyers, and MBAs, etc., tells me that intelligent and competent women will find venues to use those gifts.  This cannot, and should not, be stopped.  The challenge for the evangelical church is clear.  Where will the half of your church that happens to be female exercise their gifts?  Competence and ability will always find a way to be expressed and exercised.  The only question is where will that place be?

How will the evangelical church answer that question?  If our answers are in the kitchen, in the nursery, in the home, on the hospitality committee and the like will it be any wonder that capable women will exercise their gifts outside the church?  How the evangelical church chooses to address and use the capabilities of half the church will determine whether, a generation or two from now, we will sound like those 19th century critics of female doctors.

Whatever your views on women in the church, whatever you think about what the author says, the book Jesus Feminist is well worth reading if you take that question even half seriously.

 

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