Love, sex, and marriage in the global mission of Walter and Ingrid Trobisch
Stasson, Anneke Helen
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In 1962 Walter Trobisch, a Lutheran missionary in Cameroon, published a book about love, sex, and marriage. By 1974 the book had been translated into seventy languages. One million copies were in circulation, and Walter had received 10,000 letters from young people around the world asking for sexual advice. The book, J'ai Aimé Une Fille, launched Walter and his wife Ingrid into a global marriage counseling ministry. Through books, seminars, and personal correspondence the Trobisches advocated western, Christian sexual ethics like premarital chastity, spouse self-selection, monogamy, and the intimacy and spiritual equality of husband and wife. This dissertation analyzes the economic, political, and religious conditions that facilitated the global flow of the Trobisches' message. Global gender relations during this period were in flux, due to the influence of colonial encounters, industrialization, urbanization, and new forms of education. Cultural chasms often developed between the young, who were open to new family structures and sexual norms, and the old, who insisted on preserving traditions like the bride-price and arranged marriage. While the Trobisches held paternalistic attitudes common among western missionaries of their generation, their vision of sexual ethics aimed to provide young people around the world with tools to navigate changing sexual norms of the mid-twentieth century. In the 1960s, the Trobisches helped to popularize and shape an African marriage guidance movement. However, with the awareness in the 1970s of the church's complicity in colonialism, the Trobisches' leadership in African marriage guidance became increasing problematic. As they lost influence in Africa, they shifted their focus to the United States, where their vision of sexual ethics resonated with evangelicals who were trying to distinguish their views of sexuality from those of the surrounding culture. Although the Trobisches conceived of their work as a way to introduce non-Christians to the faith, the people most affected by their work were those who already considered themselves Christian. Through historical analysis of books, correspondence, diaries, articles, and conference proceedings, this dissertation argues that the Trobisches played a significant role in shaping a transcultural conversation about the meaning of Christian marriage during the mid-twentieth century.