Many evangelicals are warning about The Equality Act. They claim its a threat to the church and religious freedom. Evangelicals and Christians have longed beat the drum in culture wars in American history. In the late 19th and early 20th century the contentious debate took place over women’s suffrage. This post revisits that time in history and recalls how a number of Christians predicted the demise of the family and church if women voted. In contentious debates I believe the best teacher is history and this post aims to offer another perspective based upon history.
“God meant for women to reign over home, and most good women reject politics because woman suffrage will destroy society.“
From an Episcopalian sermon how if women voted the church and society would be destroyed.
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,
Philippians 1:29 NIV
The Equality Act is being hotly debated by many evangelicals since its passage in the House of Representatives. As of this writing I don’t think its been taken up by the Senate. The warnings of The Equality Act are broad. James Dobson condemned it which you can read about here. Then you have individuals like J.D. Greear and Russell Moore who have issued statements expressing concern about The Equality Act. David French has also weighed in on the topic. Also taking a stand is the National Association of Evangelicals and Ed Stetzer. And this blog which writes about the EFCA has also noted Greg Strand’s opposition to The Equality Act. So what is to be believed? Is The Equality Act the threat that all those people above say that it is? What does history teach us? Are there any lessons that can be learned? I have a background in history and studied it in both college and grad school. In witnessing some of the heated debate there is another period of American history that comes to mind. It was equally controversial and there were some warnings of what would happen if women obtained suffrage.
The Start of the Debate Over Women’s Suffrage and an Overview
The first convention that really launched women’s suffrage in the United States took place in Seneca Falls in 1848. The meting was held July 19, to 20, 1848 and had over 300 people show up. The issues that made up the convention are very diverse and Elizabeth Cady Stanton started with a speech proclaiming the convention’s goals. Here is how she opened the convention. “We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed—to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love.” Eventually the convention settled on what was to be known as the Declaration of Sentiments. The ninth item dealt with women’s suffrage and on the first vote it was defeated. After its defeat Stanton as well as Frederick Douglas gave fiery speeches which led to its passage. Today American historians trace the start of the women’s suffrage movement to Seneca Falls. After Seneca Falls the United States was divided on the issue of slavery. In 1866 the American Equal Rights Association, an organization for white and black women and men dedicated to the goal of universal suffrage was stood up by Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The passage of the 14th amendment in 1868, which made blacks citizens, and the coming 15th amendment split the women’s suffragist movement. Sadly racism became an issue. Stanton and Anthony’s are far more radical whereas the American Women’s Suffrage Association which is formed by Lucy Stone and others is the more conservative organization of the two. The Wyoming Territory organized with women’s suffrage built in at this time and in 1890 Wyoming becomes the first state in the country to allow women to vote. As the 15th Amendment becomes law Frederick Douglas breaks with Stanton and Anthony over their calls to scrap it and create a 16 amendment to guarantee universal suffrage. In an effort to protest women not voting Susan B Anthony is arrested in 1872 for attempting to vote in presidential election. One historical item of interest that I will touch on more below is the formation of the Women Christian Temperance Union in 1874.
In 1890 the two main suffrage organizations merge and becomes the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton is the head of the organization. But things change when she publishes the Women’s Bible in 1895 which leads some to believe she is too radical. Though she resigned in 1892 she is never invited to a another conference again. In 1911 the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS) was formed to fight women’s suffrage. I’ll talk about it some more below as some Christians joined the ranks of the organization. Two years later Alice Paul forms what would become the National Women’s Party which encourages civil disobedience hunger strikes, picketing and protesting. Shortly thereafter World War I breaks out. But the idea of women’s suffrage carries forward and the 19th amendment is finally ratified on August 26, 1920. The state that put the 19th amendment over the top if Tennessee.
Some Christians Supported Women’s Suffrage
The main organization that was most well known for supporting women’s suffrage was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) WCTU started out as being opposed to alcohol and wanting to see its ban. In time it began to realize that suffrage was important as women could engage in voting which could be a form or warfare against alcohol. In 1876, Frances Willard, convinced that women needed the ballot as a tool in their battle against alcohol, gave her first women’s suffrage address, The Home Protection Ballot, at the National WCTU Convention in Newark, New Jersey. Soon Francis Willard took over in 1879. But in supporting temperance the WCTU angered the alcohol industry who opposed women’s suffrage. They were not alone. Well known and radical anarchist Emma Goldman who was deported to Russia for opposing World War I opposed women’s suffrage because she feared Christians voting. But in the end it came down to Tennessee and North Carolina when it came to certifying the 19th amendment. The WCTU worked hard at swaying Tennessee which put woman’s suffrage over the top. The Tennessean did a really solid article on the topic which you can read at, “‘Sisters helping sisters’: The surprising role religion played in the women’s suffrage movement.” Another fascinating fact is that the WCTU is still active today and its historical achieves are based in Evanston, Illinois.
Meanwhile There Were Other Christians Opposed to Women’s Suffrage Who Warned About the Collapse of Morality if Women Voted
But things were not always as clear as history at times can reveal another side of the story. Today sometimes people like to look at a popular narrative and dismiss facts or downplay then. There is another side to women’s suffrage and that is how many Christians both Protestant and Catholic opposed suffrage claiming theological, spiritual and family reasons. While there are different examples I will use some of the opposition efforts in Nebraska. A speech by a suffragist resulted in a Nebraska chairwoman of anti-suffragists, Mrs. Mary Nash Crofoot to write a pamphlet aimed at Catholics called, “Lest Catholic Neb be Misled.” Since she was a woman and delicate she asked her husband to write the pamphlet for her. The pamphlet argued that women’s suffragist activity is an assault on the Catholic faith. It also argued that socialists were behind women’s suffrage activities when it stated the following. “All socialists are opposed to anything Christian, but they bitterly hate and attack Catholics. Why should Catholics join themselves with such a body?“
In Protestantism many pastors and preachers warned about what would happen if women were given the right to vote. In Lutheranism Adolf Hult who pastored a congregation taught that suffragism is nothing but feminism, and to be rejected. The movement was overtaken by “lust and immorality“. By letting women vote the family would fall and the world would go with it. Another example comes from St. Barnabas Episcopal Church talked about the two movements of suffragist activity. But he came out opposed to suffragism because the more mild and moderate movement could not control the radical one. The radicals were attacking and undermining the Christian family, morality, marriage, and home life as taught by Victorian culture. Because God has ordained that a woman’s place be in a home. The Episcopalian Reverend said the following, “God meant for women to reign over home, and most good women reject politics because woman suffrage will destroy society.” And lastly a minister from Ponca Nebraska quoted scripture and said God made a mistake when writing the Bible. He forgot to insert the commandment that stated that, “woman shall not vote.”
But the opposition to women’s suffrage came from others as well. It was God’s will to oppose women’s suffrage. Others such as Catherine Beecher and Sara Josepha Hale opposed women’s suffrage on religious grounds. They claimed the argument “Kinder, Küche, Kirche” Translated from German that means children, kitchen and church. Some Christians felt as if women’s suffrage threatened traditional gender norms and that it would end “true womanhood.”
An Honest Question, Given Evangelical History of Crying Wolf, Why Should We Believe Greg Strand’s and Other Evangelical Claims About The Equality Act?
The first election that a women voted took place in South Saint Paul, Minnesota. It regarded a water bond bill and was held on August 26, 1920. The first person who voted is Margaret Newburgh who was 26 at the time. Here are my questions that I have for many people to consider. Did the family implode in the United States on August 27, 1920? Did society collapse? Did the church fail? Were men corrupted into lust like some pastors warned? Did any of that take place? The answer is quite simple and clear.
Society moved on and continued like it always does. Over the history of evangelicalism, evangelicals have screamed wolf about many topics. Women’s rights, Dungeon’s and Dragons. Mystery novels, violence on TV, driving in a car could increase temptation for lust in the 1950’s. Just the other day this blog wrote a post about James Dobson and how he was conned by psychopath Ted Bundy which you can read about in, “Pornography is Not the Problem. The Real Issue is James Dobson.” James Dobson was so desperate to link pornography to violence that in the end he was conned and lost credibility in this blog’s view.
So the question remains, when evangelicals like Greg Strand warn about The Equality Act and you consider the long evangelical culture of screaming wolf at every little thing it begs the question. Why should Greg Strand be believed? I mean say Greg Strand is right and The Equality Act is a threat to the evangelical church. The problem is that he and other evangelicals don’t have a platform to be listened to because its been squandered and wasted years ago. When you scream wolf every time society changes and you warns of something as time passes on your voice and your legitimacy fades with time. This is why people like James Dobson have lost all respect. Now in regards to Greg Strand inside the EFCA it will be different because when you operate inside a bubble your influence is different. But I compose this post and raise these questions with the intent to ask these questions. Feel free to challenge my take on history or this post. I’m okay with it.