Kathryn Butler a Clinical Surgeon in the Boston area writes an article for Desiring God in which she explains why she walks away from active medicine to be a stay at home Mom. This article is filled with issues that I believe warrants a response. From Kathryn throwing the complementarian grenade, to making others feel guilty, to also exploring whether or not she is wasting her skills as Jesus taught in the parable of the talents. This post is from the son of a California neurosurgeon who grew up in a medical family.
“He who cures a disease may be the skillfullest, but he who prevents it is the safest physician. “
“He who doth with the greatest exactness imaginable, weigh every individual thing that shall or hath hapned to his Patient, and may be known from the Observations of his own, or of others, and who afterwards compareth all these with one another, and puts them in an opposite view to such Things as happen in a healthy State; and lastly, from all this with the nicest and severest bridle upon his reasoning faculty riseth to the knowledge of the very first Cause of the Disease, and of the Remedies fit to remove them; He, and only He deserveth the Name of a true Physician.”
Luke, the beloved doctor, sends his greetings, and so does Demas.
Luke 4:14 NLT
Fletch sees the Doctor, forgive me I could not resist!
I grew up in a medical family and I am a doctor’s kid. My father was a neurosurgeon in California and quite talented, known for his niceness, kindness and being loving. My father went to medical school at The University of Chicago, and did an Internship at Duke University. He then did his Residency in Neurological Surgery at the University of Washington. It was a difficult life and medicine is a changing game. My father was also involved in medical organizations like the Western Neurological Society or the California Association of Neurological Surgeons. I am not trying to brag I am just trying to set up the response to today’s article.
Being in a medical family was also challenging. My Dad had a difficult schedule at times and he was at the whim of other people’ situations, calls schedules, and hospitals. He didn’t complain about the late nights, being away from family or more. I can’t ever recall him complaining about the stress of the job. It didn’t mean it went perfect but it was the job and the career he signed up for in his life and he deeply loved it. I can’t tell you how many times my family would be having dinner and there was a phone call and my Dad learned that there was an accident and a person was being transported to the hospital and the estimated arrival time. He rushed to finish dinner, and sometimes try and get some sleep before the person arrived especially if it was going to be a late night. My father was talented in what he did and medicine was his life. It was so much a part of his life that when I came home from football practice at times I would see him sitting on the couch, doing dictation or watching medical tapes, or surgeries from pharmaceutical companies. In high school I knew what a fractured disc, herniated disc, and glioblastoma was, it comes with the territory of being a doctor’s kid. People who go into medicine are also quite talented, and have a unique skill set. Medical school is not easy, and to be a doctor is a lot of stress, and work. You also have to keep current with your certification. For my Dad that meant pursuing continuing education and keeping up with the profession and developments. However, in all that let me also state the following…in all the years that my Dad was a physician he never once missed a football game I played when I was in high school. That I value quite a bit today.
Who is Kathryn Butler?
Kathryn got her BS from Barnard College in 2002 and went onto Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons where she graduated with her M.D. in 2006. At Massachusetts General Hospital she was the resident in General Surgery for six years and a fellow of Surgical Critical Care for one year. She was also the Acute Care Surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for two years. She was the instructor in Surgery at Harvard Medical School for four years. Also at Harvard she was the Associate Director of the MGH Surgery Clerkship for two years. Kathryn also was the Trauma and Critical Care Surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 2016 Kathryn pushed back from active medical practice to be a stay at home Mom. It appears as if she is still going to teach at Harvard. Her decision to pushback from active medicine is written about in a Desiring God article called, “From Medical Doctor to Stay-at-Home Mom.” She has published at least four articles for Desiring God. They vary on everything from medical care in Kenya to prayer in regards to the Zika virus.
A Critique on Her Article and Concerns
Before I start let me clearly state that this is not meant to be a criticism of stay at home Moms. I think stay at home Moms are awesome and its a job unto itself. This writer and Christian has the deepest respect for stay at home Moms. That said, when I read this article I was greatly disturbed. In a phone call with Dee Parsons I asked her “Did you read that article?” I was troubled by what I read and felt it needed a strong response. Dee and I discussed the problems of the article and I decided to put it on my pile of things to write about. For the record this article is being emailed to Kathryn Butler to give her the opportunity to respond.
One of the things that bothered me about this article is the massive guilt trip that Kathryn Butler lays on people. What she decides for herself is obviously the norm for Christians. Not only that but in the process she says that to follow God one must “opt out” even though she once claims that the Lord “made her this way” and that she states the following early on in the article:
Ten years after I first slipped into a white coat and welcomed an identity I wore everywhere I went, I questioned my compass. For years I had convinced myself that, as a doctor, I sacrificed moments with friends, family, and my husband for the greater good. The call to heal the sick and tend the injured superceded all else. The Lord heaped blessings upon me, and I hurled them back in the name of “service” to him.
I am not trying to boast but as I was growing up I never heard my father complain like that at all. I am aware of saying that earlier on but I feel the strong need to emphasize that fact. My father knew that medicine is a challenge and he had countless nights and times away form the family. But he also accepted it as part of the job. My Dad also saw patients who struggled to pay at times and worked with them or did things out of his own understanding of the Christian faith. But my Dad also knew what serving the poor meant, especially since Catholics have a greater understanding and history of serving the poor than evangelicals do. My Dad looked upon some of that as being his Christian duty. But what troubles me in this article is the guilt trip that Kathryn lays on people. She acts and claims as if she knows the way to serve God and in the process its “opting out” from an active medical practice. For others who are Christians in medicine who struggle with the schedule, the stress and more my hope is that they won’t feel obligated to follow suit. Medicine is a challenging job, and the message that is being communicated is that to serve the Lord you have to “opt out.” As I know there are Christian medical associations and student groups, with some who act as if John Piper is the fourth member of the trinity, I can almost guarantee that this article has probably been shared in some Christian fellowships on various medical schools. My concern is that others who read Kathryn’s article feel as though they are guilty. They should not feel guilty and the pious, snobbish ways of many in the Neo-Calvinist camp needs strong push back. But there is another thing that bothered me as well…that Kathryn Butler turned this situation into another complementarian hill to die on.
Another Complementarism Grenade?
When I read this article I was taken back that the subject seemed to turn the issue of parenting, and medicine into another reaction for complementarism. After all in the article she speaks about her career and how when they were going to have children her husband was going to stay home. But as she said God had other plans. I have this to say…really? I’ve actually known a number of men over the years who have chosen to stay at home and work. But as this article deals with medicine I actually know someone in Wisconsin who stayed at home to raise his children while his wife is having a very flourishing medical career. Is Doug engaged in sin because he is not playing the role as defined by complementarism fundamentalism? The risk in these situations is that people are being defined by the gender and not their talent, skill set, or what they are capable of doing. And how did Kathryn Butler know that her staying home was God’s plan? Did she get an email from God? Text message? Phone call from Heaven? I don’t mean to belittle her I am just asking, as so many people say, “God had other plans.” And then they never define, explain or state the reasons why. I have heard plenty over the years of how some Christians use the phrase “God had other plans” to get out of something they do not like. They excuse themselves and move on into a new area. With the way that Kathryn pens this article I can see how it leaves many people with a guilt trip. I have known a number of people over the years where they had to change, or adjust roles due to unemployment, talent, or a whole host of other issues. But it also leads me to ask a question of Kathryn as well…does this Christian know her Bible well? I’ll explain that in the next section.
Is Kathryn Familiar with the Parable of the Talents? If so, is she Sinning in Walking Away from Clinical Practice of Medicine?
I am honestly amazed that so many Christians claim to know the Bible when many do not. The toxicity that comes from people like John Piper and Mark Dever only becomes much more poisonous as people assume that their teachings are correct. Its time for people to put down their celebrity pastor de jour and spend time reading and studying the Bible for themselves. Along the way I also hope that some people will learn to think and question for themselves. After all if the Lord gave us a brain I would suggest its a sin not to use it.
In Matthew 25 there is the parable of the three servants, which is also known as the parable of the talents. In the story a man going on a trip calls his servants and gives them bags of silver to each man depending on their abilities. After the man leaves the three servants do differing things with the money. One man takes the five bags of silver and invests it, while the second man takes the two bags of silver and invests it. Meanwhile the final man took the one bag of silver and buried it. He did nothing and chose to not use his silver. After a significant amount of time passed the man returned and he gathered all the men together. Each one explained what they did. The one man who was given five bags invested it and made five more. He was congratulated and given more responsibilities. The other man who invested two bags earned two and he was congratulated. When the man got to the final man he explained that he was afraid to do anything and he took the money and buried it. When the master heard of this he said, “You wicked and lazy servant!” and he proceeds to chastise him and takes his money from him and gives it to the others who invested the money responsibly.
I view that parable as a teaching on what we are to do with our skills sets and abilities. Each one of us have differing skills sets that are unique and individual to us. Some can be great teachers, others can be great engineers, others can be exceptional fireman or lawyers. Whatever the skill set is I believe we are to use it. And for the record let me state that I don’t believe you need to be a Christian to have skill sets. We all have them in our unique way. So what does this mean to Kathryn Butler? Let me explain how I view this parable in her situation. Doctors are gifted and talented and very few people every become doctors. The standards are rigorous and getting through medical school is quite demanding. They are high for a reason in that you want only the best and those qualified to do the jobs that are needed. After all…would you want anyone practicing ear, nose and throat? Cardiology? Neurosurgery? General Surgery? Of course not, you want someone who is capable and skilled to do the job on you. People who become doctors go through demanding education and have long hours. So if someone goes through all that training an experience and they persevere and thrive what does that speak about in regards to their talents? It speaks a lot in my opinion. So let me ask this question. For Kathryn Butler to become a trauma surgeon speaks a lot about how gifted and talented she is. After all I could not be one, nor could many people who read me. But here is the question I have…when she is walking away from the profession and giving it up is she being like that final servant in the parable of the talents? Is Kathryn thinking she did the right thing and squandered her talent only to possibly hear one day, “You wicked and lazy servant!” The sad part about all this is that she acts and believes as if this is all glorifying to God. But is God being glorified when someone who is talented and gifted not using their abilities as they have been created? And please understand in most situations I would never ask these questions or write such a post. But Kathryn Butler chose to write a post at Desiring God and parade her beliefs for the world to see. So if she is going to do that let’s ask some questions. That, by the way, I believe is another permanent flaw in evangelicalism when the pastorate is deified and you have people who think the only way they can serve God is by becoming a pastor and going into ministry and in the process they walk away from careers and jobs that most of the church would never even interact with. But getting back to the original point is Kathryn Butler wasting her skills and talent in walking away from clinical medicine?
Another Proposal That Allows Both
Instead of the black and white thinking which Kathryn is exhibiting in her article I would like to propose another way that I hope she could consider. I am also wondering if there are additional reasons as to why she wants to get out of clinical medicine. After all its my understanding that trauma surgery is tough on families, and leads to a high divorce rates. Did Kathryn Butler know about this going into it? But I think she is incredibly gifted and that I hope its not too late for her to re-think her options. What Kathryn can do is find a medical practice that allows her to work part time. She can cross-train into another field and her background would suit her well. For example why not transition over into Emergency Room Doctor or Anesthesiology? In those fields she could work a couple of days a week and share the responsibilities with her husband. It will take some talent and coordination and she may have to prioritize life but in that format she cold still practice medicine part time. Think of it this way as well….Kathryn could do that for years and as the kids grow older she could work more in clinical medicine as she will have had to maintain her certifications, licenses and more. That would be a win/win for her plus she would be using her skill set. Plus it would also play into the parable of the talents. One of the major problems with fundamentalism is that it gives people a tunnel perspective or black and white thinking. Its an “either/or” frame of mind. In the end she is hurting herself, her community the medical community in Boston is losing someone quite talented, and its disrespectful to God. None of that has to be as I honestly hope she will reconsider. I don’t with her malice I don’t want her to make a mistake. In closing since we’re talking about the frozen chosen of Desiring God again I am going to leave you with some classic Foreigner. Please know that I love you guys!