HISTORY (ALMOST) FORGOTTEN
In Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s biography of Katharine Bushnell, A New Gospel for Women, we learn of the life and work of an American physician who also was a prolific Christian feminist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After her medical training was completed, Dr. Bushnell started her career as a medical missionary to China. She initially was quick to pass judgement on foreign cultural practices that led to poor health outcomes, especially when these cultural practices were disproportionately practiced on females compared to males, e.g. foot binding. Apart from adverse health outcomes, she also directly observed culture’s influence on what she prior had thought was unchangeable. After becoming literate in the local Chinese dialect she was surprised by the differences between her King James Version and the Chinese translation of the Bible. In one of Paul’s letters, the Chinese translation changed the two women he was exhorting into men. Her surprise turned to astonishment after showing this discrepancy to a male missionary colleague who supported this change as it made their evangelism more acceptable to another culture. These experiences and the fact that the two main English Bible translations in use at that time had never allowed women as part of the translation process led Dr. Bushnell to investigate them for sex-bias as well.
As she set out to learn Hebrew and Greek to answer this question, she returned to the US and started working for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. This work and her role as a physician provided access to brothels, enabling her to investigate and report on sex trafficking of women that existed in the US, India, and China. In what is considered her most prolific work, God’s Word to Women, Dr. Bushnell shows how patriarchy in western culture has mis-translated the English Bible from its original languages and these translations have then been used to form theology which in turn has acted as the basis for social, cultural, and political norms that condoned the subjugation of women globally.