Friday, April 13, 2012

Religion and Politics: 1912, 2012

Margaret Nicholson and Norman Nicholson in the garden at Tighsolas in Richmond Quebec. Norman in Masonic regalia (I have the sword!). The Presbyterians did not approve of the Masons, because they kept secrets from their wives. But not to be a Mason was social suicide for Norman.

Well, in a letter from 1909,Norman writes this to his wife Margaret:

You must have hit Uncle Alec hard when you mentioned about 'milking cows and making fires' and when you said St-Paul has been dead a long time and there have been many changes in the world since St. Paul's time. I think women's suffrage is one of the changes that will happen in the near future. Too absurd to think that a woman cannot exercise her franchise with as much intelligence as some of the male sex. And that they are making this so hard is so many countries when you have to drag some of these supposedly intelligent men to the polls as you would cattle. I think ladies taking an interest in politics could study out which side to take. I am giving you this speech as an extra.


It shows that Norman supported his wife (and vice versa as it happens) during hard times, even from his lonely post on the Canadian Transcontinental Railway in Northern Ontario.  But it also shows something else, that in those days,  religion was used as a tool to argue both for and against women getting the vote.


The sword. It is in my living room. (The family got it back through a strange coincidence.)

Last week I turned on the TV to a discussion on Meet the Press about religion's place in politics. This is now an ongoing debate in the US, where once the establishment, at least, believed in the separation of church and state.

The American Right Wing is recognized as the "Religious" faction, although it appears a somewhat unholy alliance between Big Business and Evangelicals. And they are as anxious to change the social agenda as much as the political one.

As usual, it was argued that the Civil Rights Movement was a religious movement, "so if mixing religion and politics  was 'good' in that case, (everyone, left and right agrees) why can't it be a good thing now?

( I think Salon had an article last year with the same argument. But I wish someone would bring up the Suffragette Movement, in this debate, because I think that movement better reflects what is going on today than the Civil Rights Movement. The Suffragette movement was an unholy alliance, too, between factions, business and social and political. And the Pankhurst's et al handled these disparate parts with some savvy.


Corset advert in April 19 Votes for Women Magazine.

Anyway, as it happens, the April 19, 1912 edition of Votes for Women has a rousing report on the debate by the National Union of Teachers, with the unfortunate acronym of NUT.  For my book Diary of a Confirmed Spinster,the follow up to Threshold Girl, I will have Edith get her hands on a copy.

In Threshold Girl Edith  takes sister Flora to hear a British suffragette speak, that's  in early May.  As it also happens, right beside the article on the Teachers is a letter to the editor, from an Alberta Minister!! So perfect. Edith is thinking of quitting her teaching job in Westmount, at a missionary school, run by a man, of course, Paul Villard.

Even though this Alberta Minister  is living 'near the Klondyke Trail' he is definitely the working man's proselytizer.

(In my ebook Threshold Girl I show that some business people didn't want women to get the vote because it was thought they'd vote for the removal of tarifs on cotton, so they could get cheaper clothing.  The Nicholsons were staunch Liberals, in large part because they felt their livelihood depended on it. They were sort of right.)



Dear Editors of Votes for Women,

Last year, when I was working in London and occasionally had the privilege of speaking at Suffrge meetings held by the various societies, I frequently came across the view that the Bible strongly taught the subordinate position of women. St. Paul especially came in for a great deal of censure, and, as I would suggest, quite undeservedly. I always feel myself that the imperfections we notice in the Old Testament, which was written all the way through by men considerably in advance of their respective generations, show us more clearly than anything else the need for the higher conceptions in the New, and the careful student of the Bible may notice that the higher the revelation man received of God’s character the higher the honor paid to women hood.

In Christ people recognise that the ideal was reached in the matter, but it is often felt that St. Paul was somewhat retrograde. This is probably due to the fact that some of his letters to definite communities, written in reply to certain particular questions from those communities, contain advice which he thought suited to the particular occasions. To say that these statements that he sanctioned the subordinate position of women is scarcely fair. Another test I have often heard quoted against St. Paul is 1 Cor. Xi.2: “The head of a woman is the man.” I confess that at first sight these words seem to have hav only one possibly  significance, but ‘authority’ is beginning at the present time to have a meaning which our grandfathers were not familiar, but meaning which Christ and St. Paul both understood very clearly.

To our grandfathers, the word ‘authority’ almost implied the arbitrary right of one individual to treat another as he pleased. To Christ, to St. Paul, to some in authority in the governments of the present time, and to all, it can be hoped, in governments of the future, the word implies the obligation and privilege of one individual to do all in his power for those over whom he may be placed.
The difference is enormous.

I would now point out that the words ‘the head of the women is the man’ immediately follow the words “the head of every man is Christ.”
If these two sentences are taken together in this context, it would be clear, that Man in his attitude to women is to emulate Christ’s attitude to Man. Surely this is no base ideal.

I suppose it is gradually becoming recognised, that the three things that hinder the human race are race and colour prejudice, the inequality of sex and the differences between capital and labour.
In St. Paul’s day the prejudices between Jew and Gentile correspond with colour and race prejudices of the day,the struggle between bond and force correspond to our struggles between capital and labour.

The question of male and female has never come up asa practical question, but St. Paul was idealist enough to see that these prejudices and inequalities were never part of the divine scheme for the world.

And at the end of Galatiana number 3, he made this statement,which one could not but admire if it had been  made in the 20th century, but when we realise that it was written about 48 AD we cannot but be astounded. The words are these: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

To remove these artificial divisions is the object of those who are now working for International Peace and for the Emancipation of Womanhood and for the welfare of all the labouring classes – St Paul’s Programme.

I have been today reading a little book which has just reached me in my log shack a few miles fro the Klondyke Trail. It is entitled Christ and Labour and in it eleven Labour members, whose speeches were delivered in Browning Hall during the second Labour Week, all avow that they intend to use their ‘authority: to give statutory effect to principles  of Christ’s teaching; and I believe it would be fair to St. Paul to say he has sketched out the lines of which this may be effective than to regard him as one who would lend his sanction to old customs out of which are rapidly growing, such as the subordinate position of women. 

(Rev) W. L Seymour Dallas MA. Paddle River, Alberta, N.W. Canada.

(I checked. He doesn't appear to have gone down in history.)