In a story that’s been largely overlooked, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary unveiled several shipping crates purported to contain remnants of Lottie Moon’s rented house from P’ingtu City, China, along with personal possessions and other 19th century antiques from the area.
Seminary President Paige Patterson displayed open crates reported to contain “some of Moon’s furniture, such as chairs and a stove, as well as shingles, bricks and other remains from her house in P’ingtu, China,” according to the article, which offered no information about how the items were authenticated as being Moon’s.
Because Moon is known to have lived exceedingly frugally in a tiny dirt-floored house, the 35,000 pounds of materials reportedly contained in the shipment must have included many tons of bricks and clay shingles as well as a lot of stuff that never belonged to Moon.
As expected, Patterson used the occasion to praise Moon as a champion of biblical inerrancy, something I’ve heard him do since the old “School of the Prophets” days at Criswell Bible College back in the 1970s. According to the article, Patterson prefaced his dedicatory prayer over the artifacts with a talk that “explained why Lottie Moon is so significant to Southwestern Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention ‘in the aftermath of the conservative renaissance of the convention.'”
Patterson repeated a time-worn story of how Moon was once engaged to Southern Seminary Professor Crawford H. Toy but broke off the engagement because Toy had “imbibed historical-critical thinking” and developed a skeptical attitude toward biblical inerrancy. While there is evidence for a broken engagement, I’ve seen nothing to substantiate the motives Patterson attributes to Moon.
The article led me to imbibe in thinking along two tracks. The first was to note that the acquisition of Lottie Moon’s effects from China, if indeed they are authentic, appears to have completely bypassed Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), whose history is closely intertwined with Lottie Moon, and which has raised untold millions of dollars for international missions through its trademarked “Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.”
Southern Baptist leaders have sought during the past decade to gain ownership of the Lottie Moon trademark as well as to control WMU by making it an agency of the SBC, but both efforts have been thankfully unsuccessful. The plan to build a public shrine to Lottie Moon at Southwestern may be well-intentioned, but it could also be used to reframe the mission pioneer’s role as a defender of conservative Southern Baptist orthodoxy while diminishing her historic connections with WMU. (There is no mention of WMU in the article.)
One could hope that WMU will be invited to partner with Southwestern in developing the display, but given that the ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Convention of Texas is raising funds for the project, exclusion is a more likely scenario.
The article also inspired me to reflect on the life of Moon’s spurned suitor, Crawford H. Toy, a brilliant scholar and a man of great piety who was loved by colleagues and students, but who felt forced to resign his post at Southern Seminary rather than surrender his integrity.
He later had an illustrious career at Harvard but was lost to Baptists. A quick search of the web led me to this enlightening biographical sketch of Toy by the late Dan Gentry Kent, a former professor at Southwestern. It’s well worth a few minutes of your time.
I have admired Lottie Moon from childhood, when devoted WMU ladies taught me about her willingness to suffer deprivation because of her devotion to Christ and to missions.
Increasingly, I have also come to admire Crawford Toy, who was no less devoted to Christ, and who was willing to suffer rejection by Southern Baptists rather than surrender to the narrow-minded demand that he forgo scholarship and limit his teaching to popularly accepted notions.
There’s more than one way to be a hero.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.