Freedom for Women - And Men

AT this time, thousands of people from around the world have gathered in China for the Nongovernmental Organizations Forum on Women. And soon governmental delegates will be participating in the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women there.

Even as new opportunities have opened up for women in many areas, the discussion of their rights has tended to remain more political than spiritual. To bring about permanent change in the status and treatment of women, however, the spiritual element is essential.

Christ Jesus' ministry makes this very clear. His spiritual teaching included women of all kinds-from the ignorant to the educated. At a time when women were considered hardly more than possessions, he recognized that they too are the spiritual offspring of God.

He was willing to speak up boldly in defense of this spiritual nature. Luke's Gospel tells us of a case in which a woman ''had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself'' (13:11). After Jesus healed her, the ruler of the synagogue criticized him because he had done this on the sabbath day. Jesus replied, ''Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?'' (13:15, 16)

Jesus persisted in presenting the love and goodness of God to both men and women. His compassion for suffering humanity was not exclusive to any one segment of the population. And during his ministry he consistently supported just treatment for women, as the example above illustrates.

Mary Baker Eddy, a follower of Christ Jesus, lived in New England during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Even in those more modern times, she faced discrimination, and her discovery of Christian Science was ridiculed because she was a woman. From this she learned the importance of instilling in humanity a more spiritual sense of true womanhood. Only a radical change in thought-a greater spirituality-would wipe out the roots of injustice.

This change comes about through prayer that affirms the spiritual nature of man, a generic term that includes both male and female. It shows us that we are not warring genders-one side fighting to retain ''power,'' while the other threatens or suffers. In her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mrs. Eddy writes: ''The ideal man corresponds to creation, to intelligence, and to Truth. The ideal woman corresponds to Life and to Love'' (p. 517).

While we may feel far from living up to these ideals, the study of her book, along with the Bible, opens the way to achieving this goal. Christian Science teaches that God is Mind, the source of all intelligence, and that this is the only Mind there is.

Each of us is the idea of this divine Mind, no matter what our human gender may be. And as we think of ourselves and others in this way, we begin to understand spiritual man to be the expression of divine qualities such as love, wisdom, strength, patience, goodness. While some of these qualities may seem most commonly found in the male or in the female sphere, the fact is that each of us-as ideas-can express all of them. The limitations that would hold us back are mistaken customs or habits, which are not at all relevant to the spiritual idea that God created.

In our prayers for world progress, then, we can affirm that each of us-male and female-can express the spiritual qualities given to us by God. And in our daily lives, we can intelligently prove that these qualities do not diminish but rather enhance our identities. As we actively continue to pray and live our prayers, our individual lives and the world will make progress.

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