Evangelism, Sexual Slavery and Catherine Booth

 

Catherine Booth with her growing family
Catherine Booth with her growing family

Evangelistic Success
By 1863 the William and Catherine Booth had spent 18 months in Cornwall. William had been preaching persuasively among the churches and became known as a ‘Revivalist’ (the Primitive Methodists at the time warned against them). But 7000 people had been added to the churches as a direct result of Booth’s evangelistic preaching in that short time![i]

From Cornwall the Booths travelled to Cardiff and, finding that some of the larger churches were unwilling to offer their facilities, Booth adopted a strategy which later became the norm in the Salvation Army, they used non-religious buildings. His evangelistic campaign in Cardiff took place in a circus.[ii]

The need to ‘settle’
Although he continued to see some success evangelistically he also began battling depression. He needed to settle. His wife was battling sickness. Their children were growing. Their future was still uncertain.

Catherine, writing from Leeds to her mother, describes their frustration:

‘Well, we must labour and wait a little longer, it may be the clouds will break and surround us with sunshine. Anyway, God lives above the clouds, and He will direct our path. If the present effort disappoints us I shall feel quite tired of tugging with the churches, and shall insist on William taking a hall or theatre somewhere. I believe the Lord will thrust him into that sphere yet. We can’t get at the masses in the chapels…I think I shall come and try in London before long.’[iii]

The Midnight Movement
In 1865 Catherine was invited to take part in a mission in London itself. Hosted by the ‘Midnight Movement’, it was an outreach to prostitutes in the South East but was open to all (the adverts included, ‘Come and hear a Woman preach’).

The needs of the ‘fallen women’, and of the poor generally, ‘made an instant and overwhelming appeal to her heart.’[iv]

The Wesleyan Times reported on the meetings, commenting that Booth ‘identified herself with [the prostitutes] as a fellow sinner, showing that if they supposed her better than themselves it was a mistake, since all had sinned against God. This, she explained, was the main point, and not the particular sin of which they might be guilty. Then the Saviour was exhibited as waiting to save all alike, and the speaker urged all of them, by a variety of reasons, to immediate decision.’

The Sex Trade as Slavery
Catherine Booth was not only committed to bringing these individual women to life-change through faith in Christ, but she began agitating against the evil of sexual slavery in London.

One commentator writes, ‘Her indignation knew no bounds that public opinion should wink at such cruel slavery, while professing to be shocked at the scarcely more inhuman brutality that bore the name in other lands.

The paltriness of the efforts put forth to minimize the evil staggered her, and the gross inequality with which society meted out its punishments to the weaker sex, allowing the participators in the vice to escape with impunity, incurred her scathing denunciations.’[v]

This mission trip, provoking, as it did, the passion of Catherine Booth was enough to help bring the Booths to a decision as to where they should settle next.

With no backing, little money, but a conviction that the gospel could transform the lives of those who found themselves in the most desperate of situations, in 1865 they moved to the Empire’s capital city, London.

For the first post in the series on the Salvation Army click here

© 2015 Lex Loizides Church History Review

[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:258
[ii] ibid 1:259
[iii] ibid 1:270
[iv] ibid 1:270
[v] Commissioner Booth-Tucker, ibid 1:272

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