Monday, December 10, 2012

A Feminist at Moody Bible Institute

Rosalie de Rosset
Carol Howard Merritt tells the story of Rosalie de Rosset, an Episcopalian with a Ph.D in literature from the University of Chicago who taught women to preach at Moody Bible Institute.  Here is a taste of Merritt's essay at The Christian Century:

"I have one rule for this class," de Rosset continued without smiling, "If you use the word 'share,' I will fail you. On the spot. I don't want to hear one woman stand up here telling us that you ‘wanna share a bit of your heart.’ If you do, you will get an ‘F’ in my class.” I looked around and saw many women, smiling broadly, shaking their heads. “I want you to preach. You're not schoolgirls sharing your dolls. You have a voice. You have something to say. And I want you to proclaim it."

De Rosset frequently lifted up the need for a sense of longing. “Longing is something that is not appreciated in our culture. We’re a nation of easy credit and quick satisfaction. Yet all good literature has that yearning at its core. When you write sermons, identify the longing in your context. Name it, explore it, and create your sermon around that vacuum. You may not answer the longing, but you need to lift it up.”

I sat up in my chair and moved to the edge of my seat. She's Rosie the Riveting, I thought, realizing that this was the first college class that I had taken where I felt like the teacher actually demanded something from me, as a woman. De Rosset continued, name-dropping great proto-feminist writing like Jane Eyre and constantly quoting Emily Dickinson. Her lectures were sprinkled with women writers that I read and loved, and then she introduced us to women I didn’t know, like Charlotte Perkins Gillman and her "Yellow Wallpaper," while weaving the literary/preaching thread from Gillman to her relatives Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher.

She left breadcrumbs out there, for interested students. I suppose that most of the women didn't even see them. But after each class, I went to the library with the names and titles that I scribbled along the margins and followed the crumbs, looking up the history and books they represented.

Mostly the path would lead me to the rich history of early feminist writing. Other times it would lead me to more recent authors. And woven along with this literary education, de Rosset introduced us to preachers who were brilliant at weaving narratives into their sermons.