Thursday, January 23, 2014

A love/hate relationship

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Nellie McClung. Well, perhaps love/hate is too strong a phrase.  I guess it's more like admire/cringe.

Nellie, as a Methodist of the early 20th century, and someone who was influenced by the Social Gospel movement, saw her faith and activism as a way to improve society. Indeed, in In Times Like These, she sees women as crucial to saving the world:
The woman movement, which has been scoffed and jeered at and misunderstood most of all by the people whom it is destined to help, is a spiritual revival of the best instincts of womanhood -- the instinct to serve and save the race... The world needs the work and help of the women, and the women must work, if the race will survive.
Of course, Nellie was known for her dramatic flair, and maybe her tone is purposely designed to rouse the reader as her public speaking roused her listeners.

She was a Christian activist who was influenced by her doctrine, and her doctrine seemed to downplay the sinful nature of men. While she did believe that man was created in God's image, and that men would always find a way to perpetuate evil, she seemed to hold the view that removing the outward instigators, most importantly alcohol, was the way to cope with that situation. She occasionally spoke of transformation, but I don't get the sense she believed it as being something that came from within, and through Christ.

Her view of the role of the Church seems to be as a vehicle for societal change as opposed to the primary role to preach the gospel and make disciples. But again, she is a woman of her time, and if she doesn't sound like a 21st century evangelical (a term nebulous in itself) then we can excuse her. Whatever her views on total depravity and the role of the church, you cannot help but see that her faith is what motivated her activism.

So, while I cringe at some of her comments, I also find her voice compelling. She was a woman of energy and optimism. She was a woman who understood the power of words and used them well. She was a woman who saw herself as responsible to the larger society around her by virtue of her faith and what God had blessed her with. She spurs me on to ask myself what I see as the role of activism. What distinguishes Christian activism from that which is not specifically Christian? After all, Christians aren't the only activists. What makes our efforts at helping the less fortunate different from anyone else?

I'm pretty certain that Nellie would be the one cringing if she heard the voices of some women today, and likewise, many today would not welcome her into their circle. But she did a lot of ground work so that women could have a better society to live in. We did not invent the wheel. These voices of women from the past are valuable, because they cause us to realize that we can only build on a foundation laid for us.