Gender and the Family in Evangelical Mission

Emily J. Manktelow

“When it is well between me and my God, then it is well between me and my wife: and when it is well between me and my wife, then it is well between us and our children: and when it is well between us and our children, then it is well between our family and the servants: and when it is well within the house, then it is well between me and my people.”

‘Address of the Rev W. Jowett at the Opening of the Missionaries’ Children’s Home, Islington’, CMS Gleaner 1:3 (June, 1850), p. 28.

These words were attributed, in 1850, to the famous missionary evangelist Jonathan Edwards, by a former missionary himself, Rev. Jowett, upon his opening the Church Missionary Society’s school for missionary children in London (see CMS Gleaner June 1850). It speaks eloquently to ideas of family, ministry and order in the nineteenth century (whether Edwards actually ever said it in the eighteenth century or not), and draws a direct line between familial harmony and communal harmony – between God, family and nation.

Missionary families were at the core of the evangelical missionary enterprise in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Their presence was designed to evoke peaceful intentions, to be emulated as the prime example of western domestic economies, and to insulate the missionary from the trials and temptations of life on the spiritual frontier. The mission homestead or household was the primary missionary institution until well into the nineteenth century, and stood both physically and metaphorically at the heart of evangelical mission. At the same time, of course, family, gender and household were key sites for imagining, performing and negotiating the colonial and moral economies of ‘self’ and ‘other’. As such they were often fraught, but endlessly fascinating colonial spaces. Missionaries have left a complex legacy for historians, anthropologists, linguists and others:- their archives are full of the everyday practices of colonialism at its grass-roots. Thinking with the family, meanwhile, allows us to access the most intimate aspects of missionary lives, which themselves shaped and defined the public discourses and approaches of the missionary project. Missionary families are compelling and fascinating subjects of study in their own right; but understanding the politics of intimacy within and between their homes, families and identities also increases our understanding of the missionary enterprise as a whole.[1]