Honoring the real Lottie Moon

Lottie Moon concluded she must listen to God rather than the traditionalists of her day.

By J. Duane Bolin

Last year Southern Baptists collected nearly $150 million dollars for international missionaries through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. International missionaries could not continue to do the work they do without these funds donated sacrificially outside tithes and offerings given through the Cooperative Program.

Imagine what those international missionaries -- married couples and single women -- might accomplish if the patriarchal leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention allowed them to follow the example of the heroic woman for which the Christmas offering is named.

The long-standing hypocrisy of the “good old boy” network in control of the SBC has purposefully ignored or glossed over the real Lottie Moon story, so as to maintain their odd complementarian view of the roles of men and women. In other words, men and women are equal, but not really; at least, not in any sphere -- work, politics, church, the mission field --outside the home.

The convention leadership’s perpetuation of Lottie Moon mythology has also been deferred to by the laity -- both men and women --thus making it easy for them to maintain a submissive role for women in the church and on the mission field.

lottie moonBut this is exactly the view of women that Charlotte Diggs Moon fought so hard against. She was indeed an early Southern Baptist women’s rights advocate. A careful study of Ms. Moon’s correspondence makes this crystal clear. Her letters from China show the evolution of her thinking about what women should and could do for the cause of Christ.

And this is exactly what Regina Sullivan reveals in her book, Lottie Moon: A Southern Baptist Missionary to China in History and Legend, published by the Louisiana State University Press in 2011.

While we Southern Baptists give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering year after year, and while we continue to keep women from serving in leadership roles in churches and on the mission fields, there was Lottie Moon all those years ago teaching us exactly what women could accomplish if they allowed themselves to be open to God’s calling. And she did this work in the most unlikely place -- in China, where girls and women have been historically undervalued.

As Ms. Moon, Martha Crawford and Sally Holmes went to the villages to speak to the Chinese people about Jesus, Sullivan tells us, “they did not separate the villagers out by sex.”

“Instead, they simply started 'preaching,’ as they termed it themselves. Moon immediately sensed how their behavior blurred the boundaries of what was considered proper, but she was overwhelmed by her responsibility for the souls of all the people she met -- not just the souls of women.”

She wrote to Foreign Mission Board secretary Henry Tupper, “I should not have dared to remain silent with so many souls before me sunk in heathen darkness.” Lottie Moon concluded that she should listen to God and not SBC officials or other traditionalists.

Letter after letter documents Moon’s ongoing argument with the SBC’s male patriarchy about a woman’s missionary work. She published articles about “Woman’s Work in China.” She threatened to resign. She continued to preach.

Yes, she preached. She preached to girls and women. She preached to men. And when those Chinese men died and went to heaven, the Judge of all things did not ask them if they were convicted under the preaching of a tiny woman in Chinese garb from the American South.

No, He simply knew that they had professed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior at the end of an open-air worship service in some Chinese village sometime in the last three decades of the 19th century or the first decade of the 20th. How could they have heard without a preacher? The preacher was Lottie Moon.

This is a path-breaking book on the legendary Southern Baptist missionary, Lottie Moon. Through archival research Sullivan corrects long-standing beliefs about Moon, held by or put forward by the patriarchal leadership structure of the Southern Baptist Convention as a way to maintain a submissive role for women in the church and on the mission field.

The irony and the hypocrisy is -- as Sullivan shows so convincingly -- that Moon preached to men, as well as women and children, in China.

Southern Baptists give millions of dollars to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering year after year, yet maintain a strictly submissive role for women in the church, in the pulpit, and on the mission field. In other words, give us your money, but shut up and do what the men tell you to do!

This is just one example of the many myths about Lottie Moon that Sullivan corrects in this solid piece of research and writing. This should be required reading for every Southern Baptist and for everyone interested in religion in the American South. 

Related:

Lottie Moon's death story a myth, new book contends

Lottie Moon, a missionary in history and legend

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.