Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In Praise of Lottie Moon

“Southern Baptists have only one saint and her name is Lottie Moon.” So wrote Texas pastor Chuck Warnock in his fine review of Regina D. Sullivan’s book Lottie Moon: A Southern Baptist Missionary to China in History and Legend (2011). 
I am writing this in praise of “St. Lottie” (she has never actually been called this), whose full name was Charlotte Digges Moon, and in commemoration of her outstanding work and life, which ended soon after her 72nd birthday 100 years ago, on Christmas Eve, 1912. She was on her way back from China to the U.S. and died on board the steamer Manchuria as it lay at anchor off Kobe, Japan.
At the beginning of the 1870s, Southern Baptists did not think single women should be appointed as missionaries, but in 1871 Lottie argued publicly that women should be allowed to do paid religious work.
Consequently, Lottie became one of the first single Baptist women to be appointed as a missionary—with the understanding that she would be involved only in “women’s work for women.” Among other things, that meant not preaching or engaging in any kind of public activity when men were present.
But Lottie soon began to ignore the restrictions. As Sullivan says, “Moon was never one to be dissuaded by an argument that centered on gender.” Her breaking with her culture and board policy culminated with her, alone, beginning new mission work in the city of Pingtu. It was the first time for a Southern Baptist woman to start a new mission point.
As Southern Baptist missionaries for 38 years, June and I were indirectly linked to Lottie Moon, for in each of those years the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) was a major source of funding for the Foreign (latter International) Mission Board that provided our support in Japan. And I have spoken in numerous churches through the years, encouraging generous giving to the LMCO.
In July 2004 when June and I left Japan as missionaries for the last time, we spent a few days in China before coming on back to the States. Our most memorable time there was seeing the places where Lottie Moon had lived and worked. We visited the church where she had worshipped soon after her arrival in Tengchow (now Penglai) in 1873. And then we went to Pingtu (now Pingdu), where Lottie had lived and worked from 1886 to 1891.
We visited a church in Pingdu that resulted from Lottie Moon’s work there. Appropriately, the senior pastor there is Wang Xia, a woman—and a fourth-generation believer whose ancestors were among the earliest Christians in the city.
The picture shows Pastor Wang on the left and the couple who were living on the property by the house where Lottie had lived—and which we are standing in front of. (That house has, unfortunately, now been torn down.)
For a long time Lottie Moon has often been considered “saintly” because of what was written about her sacrificing her food, and ultimately her life, for the sake of the poverty-stricken people of China. According to Sullivan, those stories are likely fabrications for the most part. (Writing as a scholar rather than as the promoter of a cause, makes one more objective—and more nearly accurate.)
Lottie Moon deserves our praise, though, for her courageous work for gender equality among missionaries and for sparking the formation of the Woman’s Missionary Union among Southern Baptists as well as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which has raised more than $1.5 billion for missions since its inception in 1888.
We may not want to call her St. Lottie, but she is well deserving of appreciative remembrance on this 100th anniversary of her passing.

3 comments:

  1. Susan Miller, a local Thinking Friend who has done "paid religious work," sent the following comments by e-mail, and I post them here with her permission:

    "Thank you for posting this. I have always respected Lottie and been impressed that she was held in such high regard by those who did not hold women preachers in any regard. She is not only a saint, but a hero!"

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Susan.

      And I find it ironic that she is still regarded so highly by a denomination that would most likely not appoint her now, if she were to apply holding the same beliefs that she held back then.

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  2. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Anton Jacobs. (I am sorry that he had trouble posting these comments directly here, and I hear that others also have the same difficulty; I don't know how to remedy the problem at this point--other than for people to send me their comments by e-mail, which Anton did.)

    "Lottie Moon reminds me of the many progressive Catholics I know who continue to work in the church despite the fact that, except for some of its socially progressive views, it continues to promote practices to which they are completely opposed.

    "I often wonder whether remaining in such an environment is wise. (After all, Lottie Moon could have been an ordained minister in the Congregational Church.) I did not remain in the SBC because I experienced it as so stifling, and, since I went to a non-Baptist seminary, I would have probably been largely ineligible anyway to pastor a SBC church.

    "That being said, and apart from weighing the practical wisdom of working in a more restrictive environment vs. a more liberating one, I admire the tenacity with which some folk remain in such circumstances, even pushing for reform that may never occur but almost certainly won't without the stalwart efforts of insiders."

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