[June 22, 2003]

Christianity's Contribution to Women

By Wayne Dunn

American women were baptized into the workforce decades ago. Today they're running their own businesses, launching their own product lines, are managers, directors, VPs and CEOs. That's why the Southern Baptists' spat over women in the workplace is laughable. What's next – debate over whether the earth is round?

In recent Tennessean columns, two Christians vent opposing views of the Baptist flap. Each cites scripture supporting his position; each says the other's interpretation is wrong. Imagine that. Two folks reading the same Bible and drawing different conclusions. Somebody call "Ripley's Believe It or Not!"

Bible-babble aside, what exactly is Christianity's legacy to women in the workplace and at home? Well, thanks to religion teaching people to eschew the material world, the "home" where women worked throughout most of Christianity's bleak history was a mud hut.

Today, due to our secular profit-system – which Christians benefit from while simultaneously criticizing – homes are gadget-filled comfort zones, workplaces computerized offices.

This progress came about not because of religion's influence, but despite it – Christianity kicked and screamed the whole way.

For instance, as industrialization began curing ills supernaturalism had wrought – illiteracy, famines, abject poverty – and families poured into factory towns for a better life, the clergy pitched a fit. Cities, they howled, are "wicked," factories "satanic," machines "infernal," money-making "materialistic."

Later when science begat disease inoculation, Christian leaders were right there condemning it. For example, in 1772 the Rev. Edward Massey published his sermon berating the practice as "endeavoring to baffle Divine judgment." Vaccinations, the pious said, are "diabolical operations," for diseases "are sent by Providence for the punishment of sin" and thus shouldn't be impeded.

But Christianity's sanction of suffering doesn't end there. When physicians discovered chloroform dims childbirth pain, pulpits reverberated with disapproval. Preachers reminded flocks of God's punishment for Eve's fruit-nibbling transgression: "In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children." Circumventing "holy writ" with anesthesia, therefore, is immoral.

When birth-control pills hit, religionists squealed to high heaven. Even now the Catholic Church and some Protestant groups oppose contraception. As one theologian put it, any "attempt to gain control over procreation…offends God."

Okay women, imagine you've shunned contraception, birthed without painkillers, somehow stayed alive without being vaccinated, and, after all that, you've just been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Will Christianity – that sweet little pro-life force for goodness – finally cut you some slack and let you take advantage of promising new stem cell research? Sorry sister, the Faithful say a clump of cells in a Petri dish is more important than you are. (They'll gladly pray for you though.)

And if you're hoping to clone your child's embryo and have it frozen should the cells be needed to treat your kid's own body someday, forget it. The God-squad hates cloning, too.

Frankly, the Baptists' argument over women in the workplace misses a greater point. Such workplaces, and the wealth they create or attract, wouldn't even exist if Christian "otherworldliness" had consistently been practiced. Nor would most of us be alive today – our ancestors would likely have been wiped out by the devout's willful ignorance.

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© COPYRIGHT 2003 by Wayne Dunn