Heroes of the faith – Josephine Butler

Aug 10, 2020 by

By J.John, Church of England Newspaper:

This summer I am writing about some of my favourite Christian heroes and a particularly fascinating one is Josephine Butler (1828–1906).

She is little known today despite being one of the most important Englishwomen of the 19th century. It’s not hard to find reasons for Josephine’s neglect. She worked tirelessly for decades trying to rescue prostitutes and prevent women being trafficked into prostitution and, in doing so, exposed a dreadful business that many people – especially men – would have preferred to remain hidden. Unfortunately, she paid the price: those who tackle an unmentionable evil often become unmentionable themselves…

…Josephine adopted a double strategy. She simply befriended prostitutes, speaking to them of Jesus and, where possible, offered them a way out. Some she housed in her own house, others in hostels (pictured). Yet she also ‘went public’ and, gifted with intelligence, charm and good looks, began public meetings to take her campaign against prostitution and female injustice to the nation.

It took courage as she was subjected to repeated verbal and sometimes physical attacks. For a woman to speak publicly was unusual in the Victorian era and for one to speak on sexual matters was felt to be an outrage…

…Josephine’s passion extended beyond the injustices of prostitution to every area in which women were badly treated. She was a prime mover in demanding that women’s education be taken seriously and an early advocate for women’s rights to vote. Her interests and enthusiasm took her to the Continent where she encouraged action there against prostitution and other injustices.

Read here   [£]

Lisa Nolland (Author, A Victorian Christian Feminist:  Josephine Butler, the Prostitutes and God, 2004) comments:

J John’s powerful article on Josephine Butler aptly captures the spirit and successes of the woman as well as the challenges she was up against. Josephine was not ‘politically correct’ and as such paid a high price. Indeed, not only did she pay the price but so too did her family. 

Josephine realized the role of silent complicity with immoral laws which entrenched the double standard of morality, but even more so, was willing to speak out against them. As discussions on prostitution were considered vulgar and lubricious, and because ladies were allegedly not supposed to even know of such matters, Josephine’s forthrightness earned her the public reputation in certain circles of being worse than a prostitute. 

I would only question the article’s title, with the emphasis on ‘faith’.  I would at least want to add, Josephine Butler, Woman of Faith and Action. Many shared her faith but very few were willing to act on it as she did, and in relation to the minefields, hypocrisy and evils of her day. 

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