“Favored As We Are”: Early Protestant Missions, Cultural Imperialism, And The Liberating Power Of The Bible -- By: Hannah Nation
PP 30:4 (Autumn 2016) p. 22
“Favored As We Are”: Early Protestant Missions, Cultural Imperialism, And The Liberating Power Of The Bible
Hannah Nation is a student of church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is finishing a thesis on the literary themes used in memoirs of the first generation of American missionary wives. Hannah has worked in international campus ministry and plans to pursue doctoral studies in women’s history. This article won the student paper competition at CBE’s 2016 conference in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Two Assumptions In America’s Historic Concern For Women
When the first American missionaries prepared to leave the shores of New England in 1812, Jonathan Allen, a respected minister of the gospel, delivered an exhortation to the women of the company. Speaking to them directly, he reminded the women that they were “now engaged in the best of causes,” specifically, the delivery of women in foreign lands from oppression. Allen proclaimed the call for American women to “enlighten” the minds of their foreign sisters and to “raise their character.” The American women were to “bring them from their cloisters” so that these subjugated foreign women might “enjoy the privileges of the children of God.” Ultimately, the work of American women in missions would teach women in the non-Western world that “they are not an inferior race of creatures; but stand upon a par with men.”1
To readers of Priscilla Papers concerned about gender-based violence, these words may sound encouraging. We may find ourselves delighting in the knowledge that stopping violence against women has long been integral to the work of Christian missions; after all, the welfare of women has been a central concern from the inception of Protestant Christian missions in the West. This concern has motivated both women and men to participate in the spread of the Christian gospel, the development and institutionalization of education for women, and the public condemnation of and campaign against a wide variety of injustices. The needs and plights of women have been a primary motivating factor and recruitment tool to rally Christians in the West to engage the needs of the world, and herein is an example of this cause at the very inception of American Protestant missions. However, while we celebrate what is good in this history, it is important to recognize and consider two basic assumptions at the heart of it. First, nineteenth-century American evangelicals believed deeply that American women enjoyed an elevated position in society which needed to be replicated throughout the world. Second, it was assumed that American women enjoyed this elevated position as a result of moral and so...
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