When I interviewed for my first job after residency, I was quizzed very pointedly about my religious proclivities. There was a prominent prayer before the meals (interviews took part in two stages and involved several days of activities) asking for God’s direction on whether or not to hire me. At one point, I was asked to say a blessing for everyone. This did not bother me particularly at the time. I just wanted a job.
I was raised in a “Christian” home growing up and had my theology down pat. I felt fairly at home in this kind of environment and knew I could “properly” answer any question they posed. Except for one thing: What my role was as a Christian woman who was working full time as a physician.
Growing up I was taught that as a female I was not as loved by God as much as a man. It was intended that I should marry, have lots of children, and be subject to my husband.
The problem with this was that I did not feel God wanted me to have children. Instead, I had been given this very intense dream…a passion for medicine. I knew this was what I was supposed to do.
The Saturday before starting med school, I eloped. I told my parents the day before which created a HUGE broo-ha-ha. I should not get married if I was going to medical school. In fact, as my own mother put it, if I loved my soon to be husband I should not start classes. If I didn’t drop out, I didn’t really love him and we should not be getting married. Being a physician would put me in a position of power over a man and that was just not Biblical as far as they were concerned. My mother made it very clear that if I ever had children I should not come around asking her for help with them when I was doing something so evil as medical school.
So for years I had carried this baggage around with me. I asked pastors, teachers, other Christian women…NO ONE could give me a reasonable answer to my questions. Why would God call me to medicine if this was so sinful?!?!!!
So, during the final interview for this job, my husband and I were eating dinner with the whole entire group of physicians when two of the female physicians started talking about their own struggles with this very same issue and we talked for hours about it. I finally found peace.
I knew this was where I had to be.
But that is not the end of the story.
Later, as I was starting my job there, I discovered that the group had posted signs everywhere telling patients that they could ask their doctor to pray for them if desired. I was uncomfortable with this. Not because it was something that I felt was wrong necessarily, but because praying out loud in front of people was not something I was good at doing. Faith had always been a relatively private thing for me. Still, patients would ask and I would awkwardly do my duty.
Each and every group meeting and staff meeting was opened in prayer. I liked this. It made me feel closer to God on some level, like I was involved in something special for him.
When I would meet a new patient, their first question to me was, “Where do you attend church?” Somehow, it mattered deeply to them which denomination I belonged to and which church I attended. Telling them that I had not yet found one that was a good fit was OK for the first couple of months, but eventually people started getting pushy, including the other physicians.
I could not say, “Look, I don’t want to attend a church that just spent $180,000 on restoring an old pipe organ when there are people suffering in this community from lack of food and medical care. And I am not going to attend First Baptist simply because it is where the most prominent citizens attend.” I was an observer to the “My church is better than all of the other churches” phenomenon. Apparently snagging a physician for your congregation was a significant achievement.
Eventually, the religiosity started to take a negative turn. The self proclaimed group leader would say we were under attack from Satan’s element when someone disagreed with him, as of he were God’s appointed prophet for the group and his decisions were the only ones that could possibly be divinely inspired.
One of the women who had spent time during the interview talking about professional women and faith ended up having an affair with another physician’s husband. The woman whose husband had been unfaithful was told she needed to “forgive and forget” this ongoing affair that had already lasted a number of years right under her nose. When it was clear that the perpetrator was not going to be moved, the slighted woman asked for a transfer herself but told she would not be given the opportunity of changing offices. Her own mental health deteriorated as she was forced to face the other woman day after day. Those in the power to protect her failed to do so as they mandated their own warped definition of forgiveness.
Then, one day the lawyers from the BIG office had to come down and chastise everyone because apparently certain members of the group were discussing the religious preferences of an interviewee over company email, apparently not wanting to hire her because she did not share their Christian faith. She was not a good candidate for a multitude of reasons, religion never had to brought into it. But it was.
It became clear that something that should have been beautiful, was being used to manipulate the masses.
Eventually, I had enough. I met with the group leader and asked him a series of very pointed questions. The look of pure hate I received from him cinched it. I had to leave.
Now that I am more or less in charge of my own clinic, we do not pray at staff meetings. I struggled for a time about this. Am I selling out? But here is my philosophy:
God is not swayed by showy attempts at “honoring” him. That was the whole point with the Pharisees and their prayers in the temple. Further, he is not an ATM that I punch in a request in to and wait for a withdrawal. I cannot sway him by fasting and trying to be “good-er” than everyone else. Grace is a level playing field.
I am called to live with compassion and love, extending grace to everyone, especially those of other faiths. My job as a physician is not to proselytize. It is to help heal. I pray silently for all of my patients, just as I always have. I will still pray aloud with a patient if requested, yet I don’t advertise that fact.
In the end, belief cannot and should not be mandated or it is empty and dangerous.