“In natural law and in religion the right of woman to fill the highest measure of enlightened understanding and the highest places in government, is inalienable…” (Mary Baker Eddy, “No and Yes,” p. 45).
When the founder of Christian Science wrote that in the late 19th century, it was in keeping with an active movement to recognize women’s rights. But more unusual was the basis on which she claimed those rights. As biographer Robert Peel wrote, “Mrs. Eddy did not ask for women half the world that men had made; instead, she demanded an entirely new world for both of them” (“Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial,” p. 108).
Eddy’s lifelong cause was the right to know all people as the image and likeness of God, who is neither male nor female, but Spirit. Regardless of sex, race, class, or physical abilities, the substance of an individual is in the spiritual qualities God has created us to express – such as love, integrity, and intelligence. Understanding identity as fundamentally spiritual, rather than material, frees each one of us to fulfill our potential and benefit the world.
Prior to founding The Church of Christ, Scientist, Eddy had written a textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” explaining what she had discovered of the method behind Christ Jesus’ healing works. The book introduced the idea that Jesus’ ministry was scientifically based, and that the healings he effected were a result of his understanding of spiritual reality. Christian Science explains that the universe is a manifestation of God, the metaphysical Principle that is Love. Jesus, whom Eddy described as “the most scientific man that ever trod the globe” (Science and Health, p. 313), proved that living in obedience to God’s laws of love and truth has power to restore moral, mental, and physical health.
In the 19th century and still today, churches in general are largely led by men even when congregations are majority female. Eddy founded her church as a lay church without clergy. Notably, the position Eddy affirmed as most important in Christian Science was not administrative. It was the office of practitioner, consisting of church members who devoted their full time to the practice of healing others through the method taught in Science and Health, whether the challenge was physical and mental health, or business and other life problems.
Interestingly, though there is nothing in the teachings of Christian Science designating it, a perusal of practitioner listings suggests that a majority of practitioners from its inception to the present has been women. So if we measure importance of position by Christ Jesus’ criteria that “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20), it’s clear that women established themselves from day one as equal in moving the Church forward in healing.
And from what I’ve observed, it appears that in recent decades women have held senior administrative positions at The Church of Christ, Scientist, in equivalent numbers with men. This equivalence is certainly influenced by societal changes, but perhaps more importantly it’s a result of a progressively more spiritual view of God. Generally in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, God has been referred to with the masculine pronoun, and with a few notable exceptions prophets and leaders have been male. Yet many ancients with deep spiritual vision have also described God in feminine terms, as did the prophet Isaiah: “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13).
It’s logical that qualities such as tenderness, strength, discernment, and intelligence aren’t limited to one gender. The recognition of this begins on a personal level and expands to society at large. I observed this with a woman I was close to for many years. She and her husband were of the World War II generation. He was domineering and wanted his wife mostly at home. Her desire to do community activities angered him.
The grace and strength with which she handled this was impressive to me. With a quiet authority that came from knowing herself to be an expression of God with purpose to fulfill, she would calmly tell him what she was going to do and then do it, while still expressing love for him.
Divine Love is the most powerful liberator from inequality. Societal laws should increasingly reflect the equality of all people, but laws alone can’t bring about equal treatment. The essential change of heart comes most powerfully from understanding that all creation is a manifestation of one divine Life – the intelligence and goodness called God.