WORLD’s 2018 Books of the Year
Midwifery is making another comeback, as small-town hospitals are gobbled up by corporate medical centers and they discontinue labor and delivery services. Nearly half the counties in America are without obstetricians. In their place the number of certified nurse midwives is growing.
Childbirth is hard work—there’s a reason it’s called labor—yet the midwife’s philosophy is to recognize it as a normal part of life, requiring assistance but not always medical intervention. To midwife is to be “with woman,” to serve by coming alongside, using knowledge and skill as a helper in what the body is meant to do. In this midwives have so much to teach us. Their practice may give life, preserve lineages, even whole nations.
We have the Hebrew midwives to thank for the life of Moses, and Moses to thank for the preservation of God’s people, who survived slavery in Egypt to become a nation and bring forth a Savior of the world. In what commentaries sometimes call the Bible’s first act of civil disobedience, we see in the midwives’ actions how defiance may be put to service, how coming alongside may prosper a nation.
In the first chapter of Exodus, the king of Egypt tells Shiphrah and Puah, two Hebrew midwives, to kill all the male sons born to Hebrew women while letting their daughters live. (It’s perhaps significant that the midwives are named while the king is not.) Shiphrah and Puah form a vanguard to protect the nation of Israel by the simple act of letting the Hebrew baby boys live. In doing their jobs, they launch a revolution.
‘Biblically understood, a just system of law always has in view human flourishing.’ — Russell Moore and other evangelical leaders
Christians throughout history have made it their business to carry on the work of rescue, nation-building, and transformation in the face of obstacles and opposition. Take just one example, refugees. The largest and most prominent U.S. refugee resettlement agencies have roots in churches and Jewish organizations because after World War II they raised funds on their own to care for Europe’s orphaned and homeless war victims.
Such compassion is one reason similar organizations have been at the forefront urging Congress to take action to resolve the status of dreamers, immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children. “The Bible does not give us a specific list of bills that should be passed in the Senate or the House. But the Bible does tell us who to care about,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
When dozens of evangelical leaders, including Moore, signed a six-principle statement calling for “a timely solution” for dreamers, they began, “Biblically understood, a just system of law always has in view human flourishing.”
Human flourishing has been at the heart of the pro-life movement, of recent demands for accountability for workplace sex abuse, and further back in civil rights and abolitionist movements. Human flourishing gets lost in current protest movements like the Women’s March, and in a binary world of Fox versus CNN or Trump versus the Resistance.
When compromise is unthinkable, we are led to believe there are only two sides to any issue. A sound-bite culture turns a deaf ear to complexity. Yet most issues that are important are also complex, like immigration, not subject to zero-sum gamesmanship.
The Hebrew midwives give a pattern we see throughout Scripture, a pattern of perseverance in the face of an oppositional culture, of watching out for the vulnerable no matter the cost. They succeeded not by loudly defending their cause but by quietly getting to work (though they also did defend their cause). They were less about guarding their positions and more about defending the future.
I like what commentator David French wrote recently: “It’s not hard to be a Christian in the age of Trump. It’s really not. You applaud him when he does good things, critique him when he does bad things, and never, ever forsake your larger religious and cultural voice for the sake of secular political tribalism.”
And you get busy with the labors of life, the Hebrew midwives might add. It may be risky work, but if it’s life-giving and future-oriented, it’s what a body is meant to do.