As we enter National Women’s History month in the United States and approach International Women’s Day on March 8, the world is experiencing a watershed moment in the recognition of the rights of every individual to know safety and respect in the workplace, school, and home.
While revelations continue to unfold as part of #MeToo, a movement that has spread virally on social media to shed light on the prevalence of sexual harassment, many men and women are wondering, “Where do we go from here?” We are starting to see in public arenas the realization that in order for this moment to have a lasting healing effect, we cannot leave women feeling continually victimized or men feeling either guilty by association or without hope of redemption.
One example I have found profoundly helpful is that of Mary Baker Eddy, who lived and worked more than 100 years ago. A contemporary of American women’s suffragist Susan B. Anthony, Mrs. Eddy valued the movement to demonstrate the worth, place, and equal rights of women. But rather than being a political activist herself, Eddy put forth the radical idea that there is a spiritual basis for the inalienable rights of both women and men of every age, race, and heritage.
She did not accept that equality was an extraordinary demand, but came to see it as a natural and inevitable outcome of the biblical insight that everyone, woman and man, is created in the image of God, divine Spirit – not as a mortal, limited by gender, but as a spiritual and complete expression of God, who gives to all of His spiritual children goodness, worth, and dominion (see Genesis 1:26, 27, 31). This perspective on true identity applies to everyone and is foundational to the worldwide religion Eddy founded, Christian Science.
Eddy butted up against many of the traditional obstacles of a woman living in the 19th century. But her clear understanding of the innate spiritual worth of both men and women as children of an all-loving God, capable and valued, was empowering. It enabled her to move forward in spite of opposition, and to help many men and women experience more of their own spiritual freedom. In addition to founding a religion, she started her own publishing company; wrote and published her textbook on Christ-healing, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”; and produced this Pulitzer Prize-winning international newspaper. And at a time when the ministers in churches were almost exclusively men, she made a point of ensuring gender was not the basis for picking individuals to conduct the services in the church she founded; her preference was for “the individual best fitted to perform this important function.” For this role she designated the individual who was “most spiritually-minded” regardless of gender (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 249).
When I was a woman in my 20s working in a male-dominated industry, Eddy’s ideas were inspiring to me, particularly what Christian Science teaches about the true, spiritual nature of every man and woman. As soon as I came on board to my new department of men, all 20 years my senior, it became clear that there was a common belief among my colleagues that I had only received my promotion to management because I was a young blond woman. There was regular verbal harassment and innuendo.
My primary response was one of quiet, spiritual reflection and conviction. I affirmed within myself that God gives infinite intelligence, strength, and worth to all. Realizing that God could never put any of His children at a disadvantage helped me feel secure in my rich heritage as one of God’s children. And I saw that this was the true identity of everyone, including those working in my office. I found this to be a powerful basis for right thinking and acting.
As I came to see more clearly this innate equality between me and these men twice my age, the inappropriate comments soon stopped, replaced by respectful and fruitful working relationships.
To the men and women that worked as healers, publishers, writers, and teachers alongside Eddy, the leader of the burgeoning Christian Science movement offered these timeless words of advice, which were later published in her “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896”: “We are brethren in the fullest sense of that word; therefore no queries should arise as to ‘who shall be greatest.’ Let us serve instead of rule, knock instead of push at the door of human hearts, and allow to each and every one the same rights and privileges that we claim for ourselves” (pg. 303).
Now is indeed a time for both men and women to recognize that, as children of one God, we are “brethren in the fullest sense of that word.” None of us is created to subjugate nor to be subjugated, but to reflect both grace and strength, goodness and respect.