Wednesday, June 25, 2014

On Writing a History of the American Bible Society--Update #10

Atrium of the American Bible Society headquarters in NYC
I am writing from the very sunny first floor atrium and coffee shop of the American Bible Society (ABS) at 1865 Broadway in New York City.  I spent most of my Tuesday morning in a poorly lighted office on the third floor of the ABS headquarters but have now moved from "darkness into light."  I think I will stay here for a while.  A prayer-group is going on a few tables way.  ABS employees with laptops are scattered throughout the room, apparently doing the same thing I am doing. It is a beautiful day in the city and the coffee is free after the first $1.00 cup. Not bad. It is a shame that the ABS will be leaving this building soon.  I fell like I am working at the center (Columbus Circle) of what writer Russell Shorto called the "island at the center of the world."

I continue to read the Monthly Extracts of the American Bible Society.  I am currently in the 1820s.  Just before I sat down I read a speech by a Rev. Mr. M'Murray, a New York Dutch Reformed minister, delivered before the Female Auxiliary Bible Society of New York City. M'Murray suggests that the Bible society movement has opened up a new role for women.  He writes:

Once it was the happy privilege of a few pious women to sit at the feet of their Lord, and to hear the words of grace which flowed from his lips.  It was considered an honor to be permitted to wash his feet with their tears, and wipe them with the hairs on their head…Once too they were honored to be the first witnesses of his resurrection and triumph over death and the grave; and to be commissioned to tell the joyful tidings to his terrified and scattered disciples.   

But now women have progressed beyond the limited role that they played during Bible times. They have moved from a support role as servants and messengers to an active role as promoters of the circulation of the Bible through female Bible societies.   The creation of Bible societies:

...opened before your sex their appropriate sphere of usefulness where the benevolence of their hearts may have its full exercise, and their Christian graces shine in their full splendor.  They are thus furnished with the opportunity of being workers with Christ, in promoting the eternal interests of their fellow-beings, in a manner perfectly consistent with that delicacy which is their highest ornament.”  

From a historical perspective, M'Murray's speech is about progress--1820s style.