Book Review: Du Mez, Kristin Kobes 2015. A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism

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Du Mez presents a combination of evangelical missiology and theology, Bible translation, intercultural theology and contemporary history, all represented in one person: Katharine Bushnell. The study is carried out under the theme “conservative Christian feminism”. Kristine Kobes Du Mez carries the reader back into the period of the American-British evangelical revivals of the 19th and 20th centuries, namely the Methodist movement. Her topics are: Ideologically embossed anti-feminist Bible translation, colonialism, slavery, prostitution and child abuse in regard of (male) Christian responsibility and participation. The Commonwealth, and geographically-specific China, India and Australia come in focus.

In the preface Du Mez presents Bushnell’s translation of the story of creation in Genesis 1-3 (: ix-x; Preface). Only in the course of the biography of Bushnell becomes clear how this, at first impression, irritating translation of the Bible came to be. As the seventh of nine siblings Bushnell was born in 1855 in Peru, Illinois. She moved with the family, then the age of 15, to 130 km distant Evanston. This town was known as evangelical Methodist Mecca and one of the evangelical Christian feminist strongholds (:13-15; :12-26; A Paradise for Women).

The Holiness movement, especially under the leadership of women, clashed there in contrast to the strict Victorian gender segregation (:27-61; Virtue, Vice, and Victorian Women). This resulted in the participation of women at management level and in education (z. B. Northwestern Female College). The evangelization of women by men was criticized loudly. The outspoken Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society from the Methodist Episcopal Church (WFMS) was led by Frances Willard, Bushnell’s neighbor (:19). For decades she became her mentor, based on a mutually benefiting relationship (:21). Bushnell studied theology and the languages of the Biblical base text. Exegesis and hermeneutics became her favorite.

Based on emphasis on missiology oriented to other counties and on women in science, in the context of the Methodists, Bushnell further studied medicine (:24-25). In 1879 she went as Medical Intern-expert to China. Her trip stood under the influence of Christian feminism, the Christianization of women by women, and the so-called “social-purification campaign” (:27; social purity crusade). Here, in a foreign land, she recognized for the first time, significantly the (un)conscious reduction of women. She learned about the motivations by men behind, and why women leave this with them. She was, at that time unaware of her own imperialist-colonialist approach. In the Chinese translation of the Bible she found basic ideas for paternalistic and ideological bias in the global Christian context. As an example she addressed Philippians 4:2-3. In the Chinese translation the text referred to two male assistants, while the basic text speaks of Euodia and Syntyche as female assistants (:39-40). Even worse, was the theological “proof” of her male counterparts regarding this erroneous translation.

Bushnell got the chance to work for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) (:41). Back in the US she examined different scientific links between prostitution and male influence in Wisconsin, such as she had perceived in China (:60-62; :62-85; Heathen Slaves, Christian Rulers). Her big breakthrough came with an investigation for targeted prostitution by British soldiers in the Indian part of the Commonwealth. Under false pretenses, however, based on official assignment, she could discover there the conduct of British troops with Indian women. False marriage-promises led to a sort of “official” prostitution. As a consequence, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, suicide and social ostracism lead in turn to resistance against the British population (:69-71). Bushnell and Andrew, her friend, were able to prove this for China. Their findings led to strong protests in the Commonwealth but were scientifically sound. Bushnell was probably the first woman of that time, to declare publicly Christian theological thinking responsible for crimes against women (:86-89; :86-107; The Crime is the Fruit of the Theology).

Bushnell began her own Bible lessons for women: God’s Word for Women. At the same time she studied English Bible translations of their paternalistic mistranslations. She quickly realized that the understanding of the history of creation fundamentally influenced paternalist interpretation (:108-129; Leaving Eden). In particular, the position of Eve after the Fall was the key exegetical matter of fact (:130-151; Reedeming Eve). She borrows at the same time from anthropological and religious studies. The matriarchy, as an early social system served her as foundation for the special divine transferred responsibility of the man against the woman. Not as protector of woman, but as a God-opposite, absolutely equal to the woman. Only later paternalistic interpretation postponed this particular responsibility on the shoulder of the woman, who was now at the mercy of male power structures (:150-151).

Liberal movements in American-British Protestantism leveled in the long run the gender issue, and thus the participation of women in theological space (:152-162;). By the early 20th century a new liberal feminist wave began, for them Bushnell’s conservative approach was not enough. Bushnell spoke in favor of the family, against abortion and contraception (birth control) from (:163-178; A Prophet without Honor).

Since the so-called “modern liberal feminism” could not eliminate the discrimination of women, it became the “new morality” and “conservative Christian feminism” that rediscovered Bushnell for intercultural theology (:179-187; Conclusion: The Challenge of Christian Feminism).

In summary, this study is recommended to anyone who wants to educate on the subjects gender-question, human trafficking, prostitution, feminism and ideology in Bible translation.


Gender ; human trafficking ; prostitution ; feminism; ideology in Bible translation ; colonialism ; post-colonialism ; maternalism ; paternalism