Prodigal daughters

Mother's Day and salvation: Better late than never

Issue: "Columbine: Teenage martyr," May 8, 1999

At the end of a century in which American society has moved from Victorian ways to Victoria's Secret, marriage and family are still perceived by many feminists as lurking in opposition to women's use of talents outside the home. Motherhood or career, marriage or work: The choice must be made, some say. The antithesis is a false one. It's clearly hard to pursue both with equal intensity at all different stages of life, but, as chapter 31 of Proverbs suggests, women can have it all, as long as they don't demand all of it at the same time. And, as Mother's Day approaches, it's good to remember that many women throughout American history have had it all, bestowing motherly gifts not only on their own children but on the prodigal daughters of other women. Prodigal daughters, they learned, have many of the same problems as prodigal sons, but one more as well: Their rebellion leaves them not only eating food fit only for animals, as in Christ's parable, but eating for two. Seduced, abandoned, and pregnant, prodigal daughters often hurtle toward their own and their unborn children's destruction-unless they find a second-chance mother who can also tell them about Christianity, the second-chance religion. I ran across one second-chance mother while visiting the Chicago Historical Society a few years ago. The monthly reports of Helen Mercy Woods, who from 1881 to 1903 ran a shelter in Chicago for pregnant and unmarried women, were enthralling. Month after month Mrs. Woods gave personal attention to each newcomer and rejoiced as their babies were born. She helped some of her charges to get married, others to place their children for adoption, others to get jobs-and all of them to become at least acquainted with the claims of Christ. In New York archives I encountered another adoptive mother of many, Annie Richardson Kennedy. She also read the Bible and ran a home for unwed moms in New York City between 1900 and 1920. Her diary reflected her desire to bring the girls in touch with their Savior and then build character. She provided love and opportunity for thousands, and then disappeared into the fog of history. Since it's hard to find information about such foster mothers, I have particularly enjoyed reading a book just out this month, Diane Winston's Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army (Harvard University Press). The book's look at the Salvationists from 1880 to 1950 is multi-faceted, but one part particularly relevant to our age shows how many of the Army's female leaders supported opportunities for women in education, work, and sports, without lessening the centrality of home, family, and church. For instance, the leaders of the Salvation Army in the United States from 1896 to 1903 were Emma Booth-Tucker and her husband Frederick St. George Lautour Tucker. (She was the daughter of Army founder William Booth and wanted people to know it.) Press accounts depicted her as the "mother" of hundreds of the young female recruits who flocked to the Army during those years, but she mentored those cadets at the same time she was cutting the hair of her seven children, sewing their clothes, and supervising their studies. When she died in a train wreck in 1903, the New York Tribune noted, "The subject in which Mrs. Booth-Tucker took the least interest was, perhaps, the great feminist movements of her generation.... She never talked women's rights. She took them." And she extended them to prostitutes, for whom she oversaw 21 "rescue homes." Her belief was that many "fallen women" had suffered from a lack of mothering, and that older women could be God's instruments in placing those prodigal daughters on the right path. Some Salvation Army posts, alas, have been tamed over the past several decades by, among other things, acceptance of federal funds with a big string attached: no "proselytizing." The need for substitute mothers remains but it is being filled, when it is filled, largely by relatively new programs like one in Houston, the Mission of Yahweh. There, in a complex of six ramshackle buildings in a poor area of town, sits 79-year-old Mother Gay, who in Jesus' name houses several dozen single women and their children, and 24 adopted children of her own. May she and all the other mothers who raise or repair children have a blessed Mother's Day. And may those who have strayed far from God and embraced any of the popular -isms of our day receive His grace.

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Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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