Monday, August 1, 2011

The old, old story: Lottie Moon and Crawford Toy

I was introduced to the story of Lottie Moon and Crawford H. Toy at one of the SBC annual meetings during the contentious years of the Conservative Resurgence. During that time, one of the marquee conservative preachers (Criswell?) told the story of our beloved Baptist saint and revered icon and her romance but ultimate break with the brilliant, but liberal Southern Seminary professor Toy.

The narrative went like this: Pioneering SBC single missionary, Lottie Moon, was in love with the learned professor Crawford H. Toy. Marriage was planned and the couple planned to serve on distant oriental mission fields. Toy, though, migrated to more distant and foreign theological fields, those of higher biblical criticism and Darwinism. When Lottie learned of this she broke off the relationship, returned to China, and continued until her death the work for which she is known, remembered, and revered. Toy continued down the path of liberalism eventually leaving the SBC and even orthodox Christianity.

The lesson for SBC conservatives in the 1980s was plain - Lottie Moon recognized liberalism and fled from it a century before SBC conservatives recognized it.

So, is this part of Conservative Resurgence mythology? Did conservatives dredge up this obscure part of Lottie Moon's life and dramatize it to their advantage? Or, is it factual?

Much of the story is not in dispute: Lottie Moon and Crawford Toy were engaged to be married. They did not marry. Moon did serve out her life on the mission fields of China. Toy was indeed a brilliant scholar but one whose views became more and more liberal. He died a Unitarian.

A lengthy article by Dan Kent in 2003 says of Lottie's break with Toy: “Eventually, she began to hear of the [Toy] controversy. "She obtained books which were representative of Toy's position which she studied. She became violently opposed to his views, broke off the engagement, and never married." (47) "Toy's family understood that there was an engagement which was broken because of religious differences." (48)

Kent relies on Pope A. Duncan ("Crawford Howell Toy: Heresy at Louisville," in American Religious Heretics: Formal and Informal Trials, 1966) for the first part of that paragraph and Catherine B. Allen’s 1980 WMU biography of Moon for the second. I can't determine excactly where Kent got that Lottie "violently" reacted to Toy's views.

Concerning the relationship and cancelled wedding plans, Regina Sullivan in her new book on Lottie Moon ("Lottie Moon") conducts a more exhaustive examination of the source materials. The Moon/Toy relationship takes up only three pages and Sullivan concludes that evidence is lacking and the reason is unclear why the marriage never occurred. She notes that there are no letters between Toy and Moon extant and that there is a gap in correspondence between Moon and Foreign Mission Board head H. A. Tupper for a critical time when marriage was planned but Moon was in China and Toy stateside. If she "violently" opposed Toy's views, that description must have come from secondary sources. We have nothing from Lottie herself on this.

It is quite clear from Sullivan's research that Moon maintained her relationship with Toy for years after his forced resignation from Southern seminary and during the period when Toy's views were hotly criticized in the Baptist papers. What was Lottie writing to her fiance during this time? We don't know and probably never will.

Sullivan offers two possibilities for the cancelled wedding.

“The first is that Moon realized that if she married Toy her career as a missionary would be over” Toy being unacceptable to the Foreign Mission Board because of his views. The second is that “Toy’s views had finally moved too far from what Moon considered orthodox, causing her to reconsider the marriage.”

Since both of these pivot on Crawford Toy’s theology, I don’t see how the CR narrative needs much adjusting other than to drop the references to Moon's emotions. If it looked like his theology was such that he anticipated appointment by the FMB, he and Moon might have married and both served in China or Japan. If he had not gone as far theologically as he did by the early 1880s, perhaps he would have remained acceptable to Moon and they could have married.

Sullivan says that Moon's later actions "suggest that she allowed some variance in doctrinal matters." She bases this primarily on Moon's intercession with FMB head Tupper in behalf of a missionary colleague who resigned over theological questions. Moon wrote and asked Tupper not to accept the resignation and allow the missionary time to think about and work out the unspecified theological issues.

Interesting, but not compelling.

So, how can the Moon/Toy narrative be truthfully told?

While we don't know and cannot say exactly what Lottie was thinking, the evidence points to the accuracy of the standard narrative: Moon and Toy were to be married. They did not marry either directly because of Toy's liberalism or indirectly because his views made him unacceptable for missionary appointment. Moon goes on to become a Southern Baptist saint. Toy has a distinguished career at Harvard but dies outside of orthodox Christianity.

Moon's journey continued in faithfulness and for the faith once delivered to the saints. Toy journeyed away from the same and died outside orthodox Christian faith.

Let the reader judge which path was superior.

Read Al Mohler on Toy with links for the Toy/Moon matter: Heresy is not heroic which has a link to Kent's article.

Previous discussion by plodders like me may be found: here.


BDW said...

If there is really little evidence to demonstrate one way or the other why the break-up went down, why should we assume that the two options presented by Sullivan are the only two options?

Perhaps a more simple, more common explanation is in order. She was in China. He was stateside. They'd been dating for a good while and had yet to tie the knot. And - for a number of reasons (theology may very well be one of those reasons - it just wasn't working. So someone (or both?) called it off.

In light of the fact that she was still dating Toy years after his resignation at Southern, the standard narrative isn't persuasive. Had she dumped Toy shortly after his resignation, I'd buy it.

Seems more plausible that the two had some other issues should explain why they never said, I do.

Anonymous said...

It seems reasonable that Moon took time to gather books and examine Toy's new views.


Stephen Fox said...

Now here's a link I hope Thornton's readers will cut and paste or google at the Benton Courier:

William of Barrow County has also posted at forums of Baptist Life dot com SBC Trends.
I have challenged him there to engage the thinking of Calvinist scholar and Pulitzer winner Marilynne Robinson on matters of experience and Dogma.
With Cat Allen who worshipped with me at the church where my Mother was baptized--David Currie and Mark Baggett were there with my then pastor and his wife, Francis Schaeffer disciples--Feb 24, 2002; I am convinced if nothing else Lottie Moon were she with us Today Would not: I repeat would not be an apologist for the Fundamentalist Takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Can I get a Witness; Do I see a Raised hand out there under Conviction?

BDW said...

"It seems reasonable that Moon took time to gather books and examine Toy's new views."

Well, if Moon did as you say, then by all means that indicates a rather ODD relationship. Does it not?

She had dated/been engaged to Toy for years and she decides to dump him after taking time to read his published writings? She learned what her fiance really believed via a book? That's a little weird, you have to admit.

The original narrative strikes me as a rather "academic" interpretation of a relationship between a man and a woman who once loved one another enough to get engaged.

Anonymous said...

Sure it was odd. Moon knew Toy from her school days in VA even before he went to SBTS. He was forced to resign in 1879 and controversy swirled around him in the state papers even after that. He and Moon had a wedding scheduled for 1882. It didn't happen.

I know of no one who does not attribute this either directly or indirectly to his liberal views. I don't think there is any route to another conclusion from the evidence or Sullivan would have taken it.

One might note, unsurprisingly, no letters exist between Toy and Moon. Too bad. One might also note, surprisingly, no letter on Toy exist that Moon wrote to the FMB during that critical time. Surely the subject came up in the voluminous correspondance between Moon and FBC head Tupper. Such correspondance must have been pulled or destroyed from the files.


Anonymous said...

I like to think that Moon's work became so important to her that she knew being together with Toy would never work out. Perhaps she just simply was kind enough to give him up rather than confuse his life further.

Regina Sullivan said...

Greetings to All: I really enjoyed this conversation about my treatment of Toy and Moon's relationship. My take is that she didn't break off the engagement because of his views, per se. She likely ended it due to the fact that Toy could no longer be appointed as a missionary. She was unwilling to end her career to be married. Although, I must say it is possible that they simply has a personal falling out, as BDW has suggested above.