I recently heard a radio interview which intrigued me. It was with Dr. Geoffrey Burnstock, an Australian Neuro Scientist. In the year 2000 he was awarded the Royal Medal (also known as the Queen’s Medal, which was commenced in 1826) for his research into neurotransmission pathways. To cite the actual wording of the award: “In recognition of his development of new hypotheses challenging the accepted views on autonomic neurotransmission, leading to new advances in the understanding of purinergic neurotransmission.” Presently in retirement, apart from mentoring Doctoral graduates in this field of research, Dr. Burnstock related how difficult it was to introduce his findings to the established scientific fraternity.
He spoke of the ridicule that he experienced at the hands of other bio-medical scientists, some even going as far as to say that they would dedicate their lives to destroying his hypotheses. In that context he gave actual examples of the alienation and underhanded defamation that occurred in the 20 years of wilderness he experienced for daring to challenge the entrenched beliefs of that era.
Hearing this gracious Professor speak of the negative reception of his thoroughly researched and documented hypotheses reminded me of how difficult it is for egalitarians to make their case in the present church climate that is predominantly influenced by complementarianism.
Two things in this scenario are a standout.
Firstly, in the wording of the Royal Medal award, Dr. Burnstock, ‘was challenging the accepted views…’ That is exactly the position in which egalitarians find themselves, that of ‘challenging the accepted views’. It took 20 years for the legitimacy of Dr. Burnstock’s research to be recognised and in the meantime he suffered intense opposition from those who labelled his hypotheses as ‘magician’s tricks’. Egalitarians are confronted with the same kinds of personal attacks and ridicule. One of the most damaging accusations is to suggest that egalitarians have abandoned the testimony of Scripture and have embraced liberalism or are modern day ‘gnostics.’ No matter how much sound Biblical evidence and universally accepted interpretive methodology egalitarians employ, the accusation is upheld because the religious establishment has spoken. As egalitarians we have dared to challenge the age-old accepted interpretations of key hierarchical texts. Dr. Burnstock persisted in publishing his findings over two decades until finally his work was recognised as scientifically sound and accredited. Egalitarians cannot but continue to put forward their beliefs until they too are recognised as having a legitimate and, in fact, more God honouring interpretation of Scripture.
Secondly, some of Dr. Burnstock’s critics vowed to make it their life work to disprove his theories. At that time the good doctor was given some sound advice by an eminent mentor who said, in so many words, “Be courageous and patient Geoffrey. When your theories are finally proven your detractors’ names will never be remembered.” It took a long time, a lot of patience and steadfast courage, but in the end these words were proved to be true – in Christian parlance, ‘prophetic.’ Egalitarians too, because they have challenged entrenched patriarchal beliefs, have made some arch enemies. Even today there are some prominent christian leaders who are determined to destroy the efforts of egalitarians in making their case. Such stalwart patriarchalists write reams of anti-egalitarian material to persuade their followers that true Biblical equality was never in the mind of God. They cannot conceive that it could ever possibly be that God intended otherwise than that men should be leaders of both the church and home. We too are encouraged to be patient and courageous because there will come a time when all of this is behind us and those outspoken detractors are long forgotten. In the meantime we keep on graciously making our case for Biblical equality through a high view of Scripture.