Date of Award

8-2017

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Committee Member

Dr. Paul Anderson, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Orville Vernon Burton

Committee Member

Dr. Elizabeth Jemison

Abstract

In evangelical churches, missionaries were regarded as heroes, and their stories were used to evangelize, entertain, and inspire. Missionary stories have been a regular feature of Sunday School lessons and religious periodicals for children since the nineteenth century, and practically every evangelical denomination dispenses them to children in some form. This project looks specifically at stories published by the two groups who carried the flag of foreign mission work in post-WWII America, Fundamentalists and Southern Baptists, between 1950 and 1980. Although the explicit purpose of these stories was to inspire an interest in foreign missionary work, even a cursory reading of both Fundamentalist and Southern Baptist missionary stories reveals another purpose which clearly loomed large in the minds of the authors—to prepare Evangelical children to live as missionaries in an America which, to them, seemed increasingly godless and foreign.

No matter the cultural setting of the individual stories, the authors consistently emphasized certain themes, crucial and contested in American Evangelicalism: the relationship of Christianity to American culture and politics, issues of race and human difference, and traditional gender roles in church and home. For Fundamentalists, these were major fronts in the battle against secularism and against other Christians who dared to make concessions. For Southern Baptists, these were key debates that raged within their denomination, with progressive leadership on one side and conservative congregations on the other. For both groups, then, the purpose of the stories was as much to prepare children for battles they would face at home as it was to prepare them for mission work abroad.

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