The divine rights of women ... and men

A Christian Science perspective.

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This month marks the 30th anniversary of the National Women’s History Project in the United States. Originally issued as a Presidential Proclamation designating the week of March 8 as Women’s History Week, Congress voted seven years later to expand the week to a month.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of women and men celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) this March 8, for the 99th time, in hundreds of cities worldwide. In 29 countries IWD is a national holiday. Such annual pause points are a time to recognize women’s current and historic contributions and to lay plans for improving their lives in the years to come.

It’s estimated that in the early 1980s, less than 3 percent of teacher-training textbooks in the US mentioned the contributions of women. Today, the Internet offers more than 40 million references to women’s history.

At the same time, millions of women the world over suffer grave injustices daily. According to Women for Women International, 70 percent of the world’s poor are women and 75 percent of civilians killed in war are women and children. And 1.75 million women and girls are sold into some form of slavery each year and transported over international borders.

Considering that females have long comprised at least half of the earth’s population, oppressing women – ignorantly or intentionally – can only hurt the entire human family and thereby hinder humanity’s progress. In contrast, the first chapter of Genesis, the Bible’s opening book, pictures a civilization of balance and fulfillment including the “male and female” of God’s creation, and a world that is peaceful, fruitful, good, and spiritual.

This scriptural proposition – of the spiritual nature of the Creator and creation – goes to the heart of the solution to gender inequality. By beginning with God, Spirit, the all-good originator, instead of looking out from social traditions and cultural practices, we realize a womanhood and manhood destined to be not lopsided and contentious but equal and complementary. We find, in fact, that taking a God’s-eye view lets us start from the presence of fairness and wholeness, and so discover answers where problems have been.

For instance, over the past 15 years women of faith in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Liberia have learned ways, through prayer, to rebuild after a devastating genocide, to negotiate an end to the forcible recruitment of children as soldiers, and to start a movement of Muslim and Christian women that convinced their country’s warlords to lay down their arms for good. Today, more women serve in Rwanda’s parliament (55 percent) than in any other national government in the world.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor, did much to forward women’s rights, though her writings speak far more of the rights of man (a generic term for the “male and female of God’s creating”), and her efforts for the most part were not made in areas of legislative, civil, or social reform. In fact, she discerned a higher goal than that of women achieving equal rank with men, as important as this was and is. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” she wrote: “God has built a higher platform of human rights, and He has built it on diviner claims. These claims are not made through code or creed, but in demonstration of ‘on earth peace, good-will toward men’ ” (p. 226).

In striving for most of her nearly 90 years to follow in deed, character, and thought the master Christian, Jesus, Mary Baker Eddy became a Christian healer and taught others (including a large number of women) eager to take up the same work. She also preached, wrote and published, and established the Church of Christ, Scientist, to make available into the future the spiritual discovery she called Christian Science.

Through all her labors, she sought to make God’s nearness, power, and love tangible to others – and in that way for each one to find release from every kind of limit, including those connected with gender. “Christian Science,” she said, “raises the standard of liberty and cries: ‘Follow me! Escape from the bondage of sickness, sin, and death!’ Jesus marked out the way. Citizens of the world, accept the ‘glorious liberty of the children of God,’ and be free! This is your divine right” (Science and Health, p. 227).

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