Tag: lottie moon christmas offering

The Real Lottie Moon Story

While many individuals are held in high esteem in our denomination, Southern Baptists have only one saint and her name is Lottie Moon.  Of course, we don’t refer to her as “St. Lottie,” but the legend that has arisen around her life story qualifies Lottie Moon for the highest regard in Baptist life.

After all, who but Lottie Moon set off to serve alone as a single woman to China in 1873?  Who but Lottie Moon worked with Chinese women and children, leaving the preaching  and mission politics to men?  Who but Lottie Moon starved herself to death because she gave all her food and money to feed the Chinese around her?

Those questions comprise the legend of Lottie Moon as generations of Southern Baptists have come to know her.  Unfortunately, none of the above statements is completely true according to Regina D. Sullivan’s new book, Lottie Moon: A Southern Baptist Missionary to China In History and Legend.

The author of this new groundbreaking book grew up Southern Baptist, and is now a professor at Berkeley College in New York.  Sullivan contends that many of the hagiographic details of the “Lottie Moon story” were embellished by others in a misguided effort to bolster missions funding, and to camouflage Moon’s advocacy of women’s rights in SBC life.

Contrary to both the policies of the former SBC Foreign Mission Board which appointed Moon in 1873, and the current SBC International Mission Board, Sullivan also contends that Moon believed in and lobbied for an equal voice for women on the mission field.  The historical record shows that Moon worked not only with Chinese women and children, but also preached to and taught Chinese men and boys when the situation demanded it.  And here in the United States, at Moon’s urging, Southern Baptist women organized themselves into the Women’s Missionary Union, despite the opposition of many SBC pastors in the late 1800s.  In short, Moon was an egalitarian when it came to women’s service in Baptist life.

Regina Sullivan has done Southern Baptists a great favor by pulling back the curtain of misinformation that has surrounded Lottie Moon’s story since her death.  Working from primary sources which have never been surveyed comprehensively, Sullivan researched SBC archives at current SBC institutions, but also expanded her inquiries to other institutions such as the University of Virginia, Drexel University, Yale Divinity School, and many other non-Baptist sources.

Sullivan’s Lottie Moon is not the typical Baptist biography of Moon, like Her Own Way or The New Lottie Moon Story.  Rather, Sullivan has positioned Lottie Moon in the ranks of significant Southern women. Impeccably footnoted and referenced, the endnotes, bibliography, and index comprise a quarter of the book’s volume. The publication of this book by Louisiana State University Press in its “Southern Biography Series” speaks to the quality of her research, and the integrity of Sullivan’s work as an academic.

The significance of this book for Southern Baptists is that the real Lottie Moon story is better than the myth.  After the Civil War, at a time when women in American society were advocating women’s political rights, Moon was a pioneer in her advocacy for women’s rights within the religious culture of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Sullivan skillfully weaves the details of Lottie Moon’s life, the struggles of SBC Foreign Mission Board, the emergence of the Woman’s Missionary Union, and the politics of the Southern Baptist Convention into a single compelling story.  At the center of it all was Lottie Moon, a force to be reckoned with in the late 1800s, and after her death a legend to be exploited for fundraising.

Moon’s defiance of the SBC Foreign Mission Board when she moved alone from the established mission compound in Tengchow to pioneer work as a single woman in Pingtu is an historical fact that cannot be ignored or rehabilitated to fit Victorian or contemporary notions of a woman’s “proper place.”  Had the Foreign Mission Board been prescient enough to anticipate Moon’s entrepreneurial approach to mission work, the FMB would never have appointed her.  For the same reasons today, Lottie Moon would not be eligible for appointment by the current International Mission Board.

But the current IMB website continues to perpetuate the myth of Lottie Moon with statements like these:

“Lottie served 39 years as a missionary, mostly in China’s Shantung province.  She taught in a girl’s school and often made trips into China’s interior to share the good news with women and girls.”  — IMB.org

The truth is that Lottie Moon started some of the schools in which she taught, and established and ran the Pingtu mission singlehandedly.  While she did teach women and girls, she also taught and preached to men and boys out of necessity, and in defiance of SBC Foreign Mission Board rules for female appointees.

“In 1912, during a time of war and famine, Lottie silently starved, knowing that her beloved Chinese didn’t have enough food.”  — IMB.org

This carefully worded IMB statement tries to perpetuate the Moon myth, but  carefully de-couples the connection between Lottie Moon’s death and the famine in China.  The truth is that in her last days Lottie Moon suffered from an abscess behind her ear.  This condition led to bouts of dementia and delusions, which included her refusal to eat solid food.  Moon was taking liquids until she slipped into unconsciousness on December 23, and died aboard a ship in Kobe, Japan,  at 1 PM on Christmas Eve, 1912.  The legend that she starved herself to death because she gave all her food and money to feed the Chinese is not correct.  That account appears to have originated with articles written after her death by those who were not present with her on the mission field, and for the purpose of raising additional funds for missions work.

Why spoil such a wonderful story?  After all, Lottie Moon has been a role model for Baptist mission work and sacrifice for almost 140 years.  And, largely because of her story, Southern Baptists have given over $1-billion dollars to international mission work through the SBC Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

But Moon’s story is even more wonderful because she was a true pioneer.  Lottie Moon was a woman who grew up in a family that educated its girls, expected them to excel, and gave them room to grow into intelligent, thoughtful young women.  Moon’s sister, Orianna, was the first woman in Virginia to study medicine and be granted a medical license.  Moon’s family encouraged their young women to find their own place in a rapidly changing society.  Moon’s sister, Edmonia, preceded Lottie to China as a missionary, and Lottie joined her  and others there in 1873.

It is important that the real Lottie Moon story find as enthusiastic an audience as the mythological story did.  The real Lottie Moon was an articulate, forceful, determined, and visionary woman who reshaped and probably saved Southern Baptist foreign mission efforts in China.  Moon did this by writing compelling articles for SBC and other missions publications.  Not only did she plead for more money and more missionaries in these articles, Moon also argued for women missionaries’ right to vote on mission matters; the necessity for women missionaries to lead worship and preach in the absence of men on the field; and, for dropping the pejorative use of “heathen” when referring to the Chinese people and their culture.

By reading and acknowledging the real Lottie Moon story over the myth we have long embraced, Southern Baptists will be giving the legacy of Lottie Moon its true and rightful place in our history and heritage.

We make people into the heroes we want them to be.  Unfortunately, Lottie Moon’s wisdom, fortitude, perseverance, and convictions have been altered in to a “politically-correct” caricature that she would not recognize.

We do not need to beatify Lottie Moon.  But we do need to embrace her for who she was, what she did, and the manner in which she lived her life.  In her case, the real Lottie Moon story is much better than any we could create.  We’re indebted to Regina Sullivan for uncovering the real story of Lottie Moon that we in Southern Baptist life have been unable, or unwilling,  to see previously.

Lottie Moon:  A Southern Baptist Missionary To China in History and Legend, by Regina D. Sullivan.  Published in 2011, by Louisiana State University Press in its “Southern Biography Series,” Andrew Burstein, series editor.   253 pages.  Also available as an ebook through Amazon’s Kindle books.

Disclaimer:  I purchased both the Kindle edition and the hardbound printed edition from Amazon, and this review was written solely by me.  I received no incentive to review the book.

Waiting for Christmas

 

christmas-decorations1When I was a kid, time seemed to stand still, especially in the weeks before Christmas.  I remember asking my mother, “How many days ‘til Christmas?”  

 Her patient reply to her 6-year-old reassured me that Christmas would indeed come someday soon.  We didn’t start decorating for Christmas at our house until the middle of December.  But I could see the signs of Christmas long before it actually arrived.  Mama would start getting out the boxes of ornaments and the strings of colored lights — the big ones, not the tiny ones like we have now — and I knew that Christmas was coming. 

Gifts arrived by mail from cousins and aunts and uncles whom we only saw a couple of times a year.  Christmas cards began to pile up in the living room as friends and relatives near and far sent greetings of Christmas.  Some cards contained Christmas letters, catching us up on the lives of families we seldom saw, but cared about deeply. 

Another sign of Christmas coming appeared at the church.  Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Columbus, Georgia was a working-class church.  I remember firemen, mechanics, store owners, factory workers, and truck drivers who made up most of the membership.  These men dressed up in suits on Sunday morning, filing in to sit on the front pew, as the deacons did back in those days in Georgia.  At Christmas, the old sanctuary came alive with color.  Now, this was long before Baptists ever heard of an advent wreath or liturgical colors.  No, the sanctuary brimmed with poinsettias, Christmas garland, some candles, and Christmas lights.  Always prominently displayed was the Lottie Moon Foreign Mission Offering board.   Big white lights were lit for each $100 given toward our goal of $2,000 — a big sum for working folks to give. 

Of course, the Christmas that all the red and green gave way to purple and gold was one to remember.  Seems that the son of one of our members, who owned a flower shop in Atlanta, volunteered to decorate the church.  Instead of pine garlands that year, we had lemon trees with silver and gold ribbons.  Instead of red-and-green, the colors were lime, purple, and gold.  As you can imagine, that caused quite a stir at Eastern Heights Baptist Church.  The next year we were back to our traditional décor.

 All of those signs told a little boy that Christmas was coming.  So I waited, and Christmas did come.  Just like the world waited 2,000 years ago, not knowing what to expect, not knowing what to hope for, but seeing the signs.  This year, as you wait for Christmas, watch for the signs of His coming.  That was always my favorite part of Christmas.