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On Feminine Fridays: Josephine Butler

My dear friend, Fiona has suggested that a good aid to my keeping this resolution of daily blogging in 2012 would be to have certain days of the week to which I assign a theme or topic.

Today will mark the first of those, a weekly homage to all things female and feminine: Feminine Fridays.

This is partly because I, unlike certain daily prayers of some Jewish men, do thank God that he has made me a woman.

And partly because I take great joy in alliteration.

This past week I’ve been away on the annual UCCF staff conference, and on Tuesday I enjoyed listening to Ann Brown give a seminar titled ‘Inspirational Evangelists: Women Who Have Made a Difference’, where we were introduced to Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher, the Haugean women in Norway, the Huguenot women in France, and the wonderful, Josephine Butler.

I was most encouraged to hear about that last lady, because although I knew nothing about her, I did at least recognise her name, (since one of the colleges at Durham is named for her) and having heard a little about her this week I’m extremely keen to learn more.

She was born ‘Josephine Grey’ in Northumberland in 1828, and she married George Butler in 1852. They had three sons and one daughter, Evangeline. Eva was killed in a tragic accident when she was only six years old, and Josephine, who was heartbroken over it, determined to  ‘find some pain keener than my own – to meet with people more unhappy than myself.’

She had no particular plan of what to do, but she decided that she needed to,  ‘plunge into the heart of some human misery, and to say (as I now knew I could) to afflicted people, “I understand. I, too, have suffered.”’ and ended up as a visitor to the Brownlow Hill Workhouse in Liverpool. There she would sit with the sick, abandoned, destitute women, many of whom were dying, helping them with their work and reading to them from the Bible. These visits, and the terrible things that she saw there, led her to turning the family home into a ‘house of rest’, to care for some of the prostitutes who were dying in the workhouse, and eventually led to her becoming a campaigner for the education of woman, and for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts.

She helped countless women, on both an individual and a national scale, and the thing that drove her to it was her love for the Lord Jesus, and the conviction that to part of what it is to be Christ-like is caring for the poor, the needy and oppressed.

And, rather wonderfully for one in a job such as mine, she was, as Ann put it, ‘the first CU lunchbar speaker’.

In 1879 she was invited to address students at Cambridge University on the subject ‘Social Purity’. The whole script is available to read online, and I’d encourage you to do so, but I thought I’d quote my favourite bits here.

She was speaking about the fact that English society appeared to be horrendously hypocritical, allowing men to act however they wished, and casting all the blame for impurity and immorality at the feet of women. She posed the question as to whether this double-standard has always been the case, in every society and through all of history, and quickly answered her own question thusly:

No!—not every age, nor all teaching! There stands on the page of history one marked exception; and, so far as I know, one only—that of Christ.

I will ask you the question of to‐day, therefore, in this connection, “What think ye of Christ?” Come with me into his presence. Let us go with Him into the temple; let us look at Him on the occasion when men rudely thrust into his presence a woman, who with loud‐tongued accusation they condemned as an impure and hateful thing. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” At the close of that interview, He asked, “Woman, where are those thine accusers?” It was a significant question; and we ask it again to‐day. Where, and who, are they? In what state are their consciences? Beginning from the eldest even to the youngest, they went out, scared by the searching presence of Him who admitted not for one moment that God’s law of purity should be relaxed for the stronger, while imposed in its utmost severity on the weaker.

Later in the speech she calls upon the young men present to decide there and then that they will not ‘wrong or sin against any woman’, but also calls on those who may already regret some past action:

But even if there were a man here present in whose mind there dwells some bitter memory of the past, or who feels himself unworthy to pronounce the name of PURITY, I would say to him, not from myself alone, but for all my fellow‐workers in this cause, that every such man, honestly regretting the past, becomes doubly my brother, as every repentant woman is doubly my sister. If I could not say this, in vain should I have learned for myself the glad tidings of perfect and everlasting forgiveness and oblivion for sins past; and most unworthy should I be to confess my own and only hope to be in Him who, once from his cross on Calvary, and now from his throne in heaven, says: “Thy sins and thine iniquities shall be remembered no more for ever:” they shall be “cast into the depths of the sea,” they shall be “no more mentioned to thee again for ever.” We invite all without exception, whatever their judgment of themselves, whatever their past may have been, to accept this full redemption, and to join us in this holy war.

I’m so glad for Josephine Butler: for the legacy that she left as she recognised that to know and love God is to love and care for the people he has made; for the sacrifices of comfort and status and safety that she made, in order that the poor and abused and oppressed might be defended; and for the example that she provides of a woman who stood in front of a roomful of students and called on them to consider Christ, and to accept the full redemption that he offers.

In summary: glad.

 

 

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This entry was published on January 6, 2012 at 9:51 pm. It’s filed under Feminine Fridays, God and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “On Feminine Fridays: Josephine Butler

  1. Pingback: On day 31 | surrounded by clouds

  2. Pingback: On no.900 | surrounded by clouds

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