Pursuing Partnership: Women Missing in Recorded Church History – Week 9

Women Missing in Church History: Filling Out the Historical Record
Social Justice Activists
Based on Women in the Mission of the Church, by Dzubinski/Stasson

(Used by permission: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021)

A Taste of Chapter 7: Social Justice Activists
By Rebecca Hopkins  www.rebeccahopkins.org

Ida Wells may have been freed from slavery at age 3, but she knew the work for justice wasn’t over. She spent her life fighting against lynchings, pressing for equal rights for black Americans and advocating for those who were wrongly jailed.[1]

Some of that fighting she did through legal action and activism, but some she did through prayer.[2]

“While visiting 12 black men who had been wrongfully imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit, she urged the men to stop thinking about death and start praying to God,” wrote professor Leanne Dzubinski and historian Anneke Stasson in their new book, “Women in the Mission of the Church.”[3]

The 19th and 20th centuries were a time when slaves and the colonized suffered. And Christian women were often the ones fighting for justice, better medical practices, and protection of women, the authors of this book wrote. These two authors have collaborated on a book that unearths little-known stories of women—including those who fought for social justice—in the role of the Christian church. [4]

“For some of these women, interest in social justice grew from religious conversion or from a desire to share with others the gospel healing they themselves had experienced,” they wrote. “For others, interest in social justice flowed from personal tragedy or from the longings for God’s will to be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’” [5]

During this time period, Elizabeth Fry—mother of 11 children—saw the awful conditions that women and children endured in prison. She worked to change that, ultimately bringing about new British laws that protect prisoners. Also in England, William and Catherine Booth started the Salvation Army, which gave women an opportunity to be trained to be evangelists and to help under-resourced communities. Florence Nightingale, an Anglican, decided not to get married, but instead devoted her life to improve sanitation in military camps and train nurses. She’s been called the “founder of modern nursing.”[6]

Meanwhile, in India, Pandita Ramabai became a Christian and then began a school for child widows who would’ve otherwise been outcasts of society. Soon her work grew to include a home for the elderly, the sick and the blind. She later worked in Bible translation with a focus on retranslating the Marathi Bible to use terms that better convey the Bible’s message of honoring women.[7]

While important social justice work was done by both white women and women of color throughout the world, sadly, they didn’t always work together. And sometimes white Christian women added to the oppression of their black Christian sisters, allowing segregation in their Christian women’s unions, for instance, or advocating for lynchings.[8]

“Even though these women were doing similar work, they often did not see one another as allies,” the authors wrote.[9]

But many of those who did engage in social justice work healed some of the suffering in the world.

“Nineteenth and early twentieth-century women founded and joined numerous social justice organizations which helped to heal some of the social dislocation and suffering people around the world were experiencing as a result of colonialism, slavery, industrialization and urbanization,” the authors wrote. [10]

[1] Leanne Dzubinski, Anneke Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church, Their Opportunities and Obstacles throughout Christian History” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021), 154-156.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 147.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 147-150.

[7] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 150.

[8] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 158.

[9] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 157.

[10] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 159.