by Kristin Du Mez.
In the wake of recent news coverage of Christian colleges and the mishandling of sexual assault cases, questions are being raised about connections between Christianity, patriarchy, and the abuse of women. Katharine Bushnell asked precisely these questions a century ago. I think her ideas can resonate powerfully today.
John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College, recently interviewed Calvin history professor Kristin Du Mez about her recent book, A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism. Here’s an excerpt from the interview on his blog:
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A New Gospel for Women?
KKD: To understand Christianity and feminism we need to look to the past (long before the 1970s), but we need to do so without depicting either Christianity or feminism as static constructs, or with the simplistic purpose of addressing a contemporary agenda (i.e. trying to prove that Christianity and feminism are—or are not—compatible). A New Gospel for Women doesn’t simply tell the story of a remarkably influential and wrongly forgotten Christian woman, but it also examines the factors that contributed to her historical neglect—and both of these aspects are essential to gaining a better understanding of Christianity and feminism today.
JF: Why do we need to read A New Gospel for Women?
KKD: Bushnell became a theologian in response to her activism. She was a social purity reformer, or in modern parlance, a Christian anti-trafficking activist. She was compelled by her faith not only to “rescue” and “reform” prostitutes, but also to advocate for laws and practices that protected the rights of “fallen women” (a term she rejected, by the way, unlike the majority of her Victorian counterparts). She first worked in the lumber camps of northern Wisconsin and Michigan, and then she turned her attention to the British empire. There she worked on behalf of Indian women who suffered egregious abuses in British military brothels (and later on behalf of women trafficked in Hong Kong, Singapore, and on the West Coast of America). Over the course of her career, however, she was increasingly disturbed to find Christian men opposing her at every turn. This happened so frequently that she concluded that something within Christian theology itself must be to blame. It wasn’t simply that a few men were being bad Christians, but rather that Christian theology itself engendered the abuse of women. …
Kristin Du Mez is associate professor of history at Calvin and teaches courses in recent America, US social and cultural history, and Gender Studies. Her book A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism was recently published with Oxford University Press. Follow her on Twitter @kkdumez.