Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

God, Man, Then ... Wait, How Does That Go? Emerging Gender Identities in 20-Something Evangelicals

Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

God, Man, Then ... Wait, How Does That Go? Emerging Gender Identities in 20-Something Evangelicals

Article excerpt

In the past 20 years, gender scholars have produced a significant literature detailing the gendered identities of Evangelical Christians. According to John Bartkowski (2007), Evangelicals have been a hot topic of study in the past two decades because they are perceived to be "the arbiters of patriarchy" (p. 154). In particular, this scholarship has been most concerned with the notion of "headship," a term used in many Evangelical circles to describe the relationship between God, men, women and children. In short, "headship" typically assumes a patriarchal chain of being in which children should be submissive to their parents, wives submissive to their husbands (and to God), and husbands submissive to God (the Father).

A good portion of this scholarship has analyzed Promise Keepers (Messner, 1997; Bartkowski, 2007, 2004; Claussen, 1999, 2000), its female counterparts, Women of Faith, Chosen Women and Women's Aglow Fellowship (Erzen, 2000; Griffith, 1997), and Christian media products, like Wild at Heart (1) (Gallagher & Wood, 2005). Much of this literature has focused on official texts and rhetoric, but a growing body of literature also analyzes "men and women in the pews" who identify with these movements and texts, yet negotiate them into everyday life in a variety of ways (Bartkowski, 2004, 2001; Gallagher & Wood, 2005; Griffith, 1997).

Some of this literature highlights the fundamental gender conservatism embedded in movements like Promise Keepers and books like Wild at Heart, paying particular attention to essentialized, patriarchal discourses about gender and normative discourse about the heterosexual family. Michael Messner (1997), for example, wrote: "Promise Keepers can be viewed ... as organized and highly politicized antifeminist and antigay backlash" (p. 35). Tanya Erzen (2000) argued that Women of Faith and Chosen Women furthered "an agenda advocating divine and worldly submission" (p. 252). Michael S. Kimmel (1999) suggested that the sensitivity rhetoric of Promise Keepers did little more than produce "a kindler, gentler patriarchy ... [with] male domination as obligation, surrender and service" (pp. 114-5). Finally, Julie Ingersoll (2003) suggested that despite whatever negotiations of power occurred within Evangelicalism, the dominance of patriarchy still does symbolic and material violence, particularly to women and homosexuals.

That said, a growing number of scholarship has also focused on the negotiation of varied gender symbols into more fluid gender identities (Bartkowski, 2004; Gallagher & Wood, 2005; Gallagher & Smith, 1999). This scholarship has argued a) that official rhetoric is diverse, b) that the spaces created by Promise Keepers and other groups are empowering to constructive masculinities, and c) that Evangelical men and women negotiate patriarchal rhetoric in a variety of ways.

Bartkowski (2004), for example, argued that Promise Keepers offered a "diverse array of godly masculinities" (p. 45). This diverse array, he suggested, existed within a spectrum anchored on one end by "rational patriarchs" and on the other, "expressive egalitarians" (p. 20). Gallagher and Wood (2005) supported this idea, arguing for a more nuanced view of official Evangelical rhetoric. They note, for example, the divergent ideas of masculinity that exist within Promise Keepers and the book, Wild at Heart (Eldredge, 2006).

Longwood (1999) argued that rather than thinking of Promise Keepers as repressive, scholars should think of broader American culture as repressive to men and Promise Keepers as a positive space "for personal healing and self-growth" (p. 13). Further, according to Stoltenberg (1999), this space offers men a "redemptive theology," as well as groups of compassion that help men transform their everyday ethics, particularly in relation to the objectification of women through pornography (p. 94). Finally, Don Deardorff (2000) suggested that masculine space like Promise Keepers offers men a space for "ritualized resistance" to broader cultural norms, "a refuge where [men] can cope with alienation that they feel on several fronts" (p. …

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