When I read 50 People Who Shaped the Church by Alton Gansky last year I had one primary criticism: lack of diversity – gender, racial, or otherwise. As important of an issue as that is I realized in making that criticism I had few suggestions to offer right off the top of my head. It was time to read up a bit on women of the faith. 50 Women Every Christian Should Know by Michelle DeRusha was a strong start for appreciating the role women have played in the evolution of Christian thought and action.
And what a group DeRusha assembled. The women she included were playwrights, authors, public-speakers, suffragists, abolitionists, world-travelers, pioneers, nurses, advocates for prison reform, composers, teachers, housewives, poets, doubters, skeptics, college founders, married, single, divorced, mothers, childless, Quakers to Baptists to Roman Catholics and everything in between and around. Their journeys ambled and rambled. Some made a beeline for their path of influence and purpose, others ran in the other direction. Some gradually grew into their roles and others had the spotlight for a time and flickered to obscurity. Some achieved their goals and others left legacies they never imagined though their own definitions of success were unreached. Some had obvious Christian missions and others preferred to allow their Christian worldview to influence their work indirectly. It was a hodge-podge assortment of women, and that was perhaps the most inspiring part of the group as a whole.
On the individual level I identified with Elizabeth Fry when she struggled with her role as a mother and fearing that she would be become just a “careworn mother.” I appreciated the snide humor and clever motivational tactic of Lottie Moon to get the Baptist women to start giving money: by comparing them to their more generous Methodist sisters. (This seems like a good use of the denominational divides if any good reasons for them were to exist.) Writers Madeleine L’Engle and Flannery O’Connor shied away from overt evangelical themes in their writing but did see their craft as a way of exploring their faith. I was challenged by the ideas of Thérèse of Lisieux – who inspired the nun we now know as Mother Theresa – who lived on the premise that small acts done well and with kindness could generate great change.
DeRusha’s list is far more diverse in black/white representation, but still names only one woman from India. The biographies are quick glimpses of what these women accomplished, and DeRusha pulls the headlines out quickly and narrates with an even pace. I could have done without some of the “wrap-up” paragraphs that gave a little “here’s how we can relate” sense to the chapters, but that’s a stylistic preference that is not a deal-breaker in this case. Now if only we didn’t need to have separate books for how women have been involved in Christian history.
Time for me to crack open some books on leaders and influencers in the churches of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Next Book Note: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall