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Radio Interview

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.


  1. Yvette Yvette
    Comment #96649 posted August 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Great post, Trevor!
    It also reminded me of Rebecca Merrill Groothuis’ article, “Strange Bedfellows: Darwinists and Traditionalists and the Strategies They Share” found here: http://www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/strange-bedfellows-darwinists-and-traditionalists-and-strategies-they-share
    Well worth reading.

  2. Comment #96650 posted August 28, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Thanks Yvette, that is a rather long link to follow but I really appreciate your point in likening the post to Rebecca’s article. She reasons her case so incredibly well. Not so long ago I had reason to pick up again that old (but re-worked) christian classic, ‘None of these Diseases,’ and I noted that every move to improve things that we now take for granted, like hygiene in hospitals and sanitation in cities was opposed vehemently by the establishment. Proponents of simple things like the washing of hands before moving from dissecting corpses to examining live patients were ridiculed and removed from hospitals as if they were madmen. All the degrees of subterfuge and redefinition to which Rebecca alludes, in her comparison of Darwinism and Traditionalism, were used against these progressive, medical heroes to the point that some finally went insane. It seems incomprehensible to us, in view of how important we now understand hygiene and sanitation to be, that those who pioneered these developments were treated so badly. Surely it will, in time, be seen that the doctrine of male superiority has done such immeasurable harm to humanity and equality ‘pioneers’ applauded for their tenacity.

  3. Yvette Yvette
    Comment #96651 posted August 28, 2012 at 11:09 am

    It wasn’t all that long ago that some within the religious establishment wanted women to be denied pain medication during childbirth because they believed that God wanted women to suffer pain during childbirth. Glad that most people now reject that idea, especially since one of my children was delivered by c-section!

    I think that just as the church is now ashamed of the pro-slavery stance that many Christians once held and endorsed, someday it will feel the same way about how it has sought to restrict women from using all of the gifts and abilities that God has given to them for the benefit of the church. I’m thankful that the internet provides another place for Christians to gather and share information outside of the control of the dominant, traditional establishment. This resource provides a greater chance for dissenting voices to be heard and not silenced. I’m excited to see more and more men and women using the internet to speak out in support of women’s full equality.

  4. Comment #96652 posted August 28, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Great post, Trevor. The parallels between Dr. Burnstock’s scientic work and the fierce resistance it encountered, with that of Egalitarian biblical scholars and their critics, is very telling. And as far as bucking longstanding sacred traditions is concerned, the Reformation came about because one lone monk and teacher, Martin Luther, on the basis of Galatians and Romans, took on the long-standing tradition that we are justified by works. And as result, the doctrine of salvation by divine grace alone, through faith in the finished work of Christ alone, has prevailed among Protestants. But it was Luther’s unwavering commitment, coupled with his Spirit-inspired and persistent proclamation of God’s Word, that lay at the root of it all. And it will be similar commitment to the truth, coupled with Spirit-inspired and persistent proclamation, that will win the contest of our day.

  5. Susan
    Comment #96653 posted August 31, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Thanks, Trevor for encouraging us to take the long view. Entrenched views are difficult to change.

    Power structures become established as views gain acceptance and it’s difficult for us sinners to separate the two.

    Christ’s example certainly challenges us to constantly be wiling to examine a view objectively and be willing to relinquish the power or status we enjoy as He continually directs us to His lordship.

    i’m struck Yvette and Frank that in the examples you cite, it was Christians who opposed Christians. The “Christian” culture created a kind of slavery far more abominable than the kind of slavery we encounter in New Testament times. And it was largely Christian leaders who led to its abolition. Similar with Luther and Catholic theology. So may it be with gender equality.

    • Comment #96654 posted September 6, 2012 at 12:19 am

      I believe you’re on the mark, Susan. However, it is never easy to go against tradition, even when one of your traditions is to test all tradition! For instance, a slogan among those of the Reformed persuasion is “The Reformed church continually reformed according to Scripture.” Yet even these churches struggle with the natural tendency to resist valid challenges to longstanding traditions. I think David Wells gives a word of advice we all need to keep in mind : “It is dangerous to assert that God the Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures, but somehow omitted to give us the key(s) to understand them! Systems of understanding are legitimate only to the extent that they arise from the Biblical Word and are themselves disciplined by it…If we do not assert the right of Scripture to stand in authoritative relationship to every presupposition, custom, and tradition; every teaching, practice, and ecclesiastical organization, then that authority will be co-opted either by an ecclesiastical magisterium or by a scholarly one” (Cf. “The Nature and Function of Theology,” THE USE OF THE BIBLE IN THEOLOGY, p. 187). So on every issue, Scripture must always have both the first and final word.

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