Finney the Feminist

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Charles Finney, the wild eyed revivalist preacher pictured here who was at the forefront of the 2nd Great Awakening was the president of Oberlin college. Oberlin is now a progressive ivy league school. My sister who went to Oberlin tells a story of a girl student who Finney confronts on campus saying, "repent child of the devil!" the girl unphased responds "Good day to you too professor Finney".

It's a cute anecdote, but one thing that you might miss is the fact that a woman is in college at all in the mid 1800's. In fact Finney's Oberlin became the first college in the world to admit women, and I might add blacks as well who were not segregated from the white students. That's in the 1850's people. Oberlin was also a part of the underground railroad housing and even liberating escaped slaves, and practicing civil disobedience in defiance of laws that required escaped slaves to be returned to their owners. Finney was outspoken in his public opposition to slavery. Finney lists a failure to confront social evil and advocate for humans rights as one of the reasons revival is hindered. Shockingly, these statements have been edited out of many Evangelical editions of Finney's work. For example V. Raymond Edmond in "Finney lives on: The man, his Revival Methods, and His Message" lists only 22 of Finney's 24 reasons that revival is hindered, renumbering them so as to make it look like Finney made no connection between the personal and the social.

Finney was also controversial because he allowed women to speak publicly in his revival meetings. Oberlin allowed many women to have the education that would further the feminist movement (ie women's suffrage) including Lucy Stone who was famous for keeping her "maiden name" in marriage, and Betsey Cowles who went on to be president of the Second National Women's Rights Convention of 1851. If that is not enough, Finney's Oberlin were also mostly vegetarians, and into health food. At the time that meant they followed the health advice of Syvester Graham - the inventor of the Graham Cracker. This involved abstinence from alcohol, cafeene, tobacco, and other "stimulants". If you's like to read more of this, it is documented in detail in "Discovering an Evangelical Heritage".

All this draws our attention to the fact that the split between progressive social justice and Evangelical personal faith are a rather recent phenomenon that dates back to the rise of Fundamentalism in the 1930's. For centuries, for such major Evangelical figures of the American revivals and awakenings such as Finney and Wesley, social justice, caring for the poor, prisoners, and marginalized, opposing violations of human rights and social evil and other such "liberal" causes were considered to be an integral part of what holiness meant in the life of a person who had been born again.

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At 9:02 PM, Blogger Tia Lynn said...

This is simply a superb post! I am going to link to this!

At 9:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, glad you liked it. You should check out the book by Dayton then.


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