Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Superstars and Misfits: Two Pop-Trends in the Gender Culture of Contemporary Evangelicalism

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Superstars and Misfits: Two Pop-Trends in the Gender Culture of Contemporary Evangelicalism

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the United States, conservative Protestant evangelicals (2) thrive in the religious marketplace, in part, because they integrate popular culture into their religious traditions (Finke and Iannaccone 1993; Lee and Sinitiere 2009; Roof 1999; Wuthnow 1998). For instance, they are especially skilled at using entertainment media to convey their religious beliefs (Hendershot 2004; Steinberg and Kincheloe 2009). Some evangelicals use movies, music, and even live magic shows to transmit an evangelical worldview on topics such as relationships, depression, and diet. Consequently, scholars find that it is evangelicals' capacity to stay culturally relevant that helps explain how they triumph in the religious market.

In this paper, we analyze how two forms of mediated contemporary Protestant evangelicalism present conservative religious beliefs about gender. One group is Misfits United (MU), a network of skull-and-crossbones donning Christian punks who scream rather than sing their praises. The other is Beth Moore's It's Tough Being a Woman (ITBAW) Bible study. Unlike the dissident tattooed youth that make up Misfits United, Moore is an evangelical superstar, who has a distinct but sophisticated Southern drawl, sun-kissed skin, and is heavily but tastefully made up. At first glance, the Misfits United and a Beth Moore Bible study are unlikely cases to be joined together for a discussion of gender and evangelicalism. Yet both are sites of gender imagination and articulation in predominately white evangelical communities that use media to organize spiritual life.

Our project is not to compare Misfits United and Moore's Bible study, but rather to present both as illuminations of how two types of mediated contemporary Protestant evangelicalism present gender. Whereas Moore's ITBAW study takes place via DVD on a large projection screen in the Orchard Valley mega church, the Misfits United conference brings together emerging church ministers and affiliate Christian hardcore bands for an annual weekend of music, movies, and workshops. We think the gender differences of ITBAW and Misfits United also make them exceptional cases for this kind of analysis. While Moore repeatedly makes reference to femininity during her all-women's Bible study, the male leaders at Misfits United seldom discuss masculinity openly. Instead, they use the aggressive qualities of hardcore punk music scenes to appeal to a predominately male audience.

Scholars of contemporary American evangelicalism say two types of Protestant evangelical communities are thriving in the twenty-first century: mega churches, or non-denominational churches whose membership exceeds 1,200; and grassroots emerging churches, characterized by small, intimate services that emphasize direct participation and the visual representation of spiritual life (Balmer 2006; Flory and Miller 2008; Lee and Sinitiere 2009). Mega and emerging churches appeal to those not interested in attending a traditional service because they offer alternative worship that can include rock music or live theatre in addition to a plethora of Christian lifestyle classes. In mega churches, there are support groups, marriage classes, and Bible studies that utilize evangelical TV talk show formats, instructional videos, and stadium screenings. In emerging churches, there are a variety of art, music, and activities that "emerge" from and specialize in the cultures they engage. These gatherings range from skateboard ministries and tattoo parlour "Bible fight nights" to spiritually inspired art exhibitions.

In studying the alternative spiritual spaces that religious media creates, we assess how non-traditional worship spaces shape gender in evangelical communities. The gender culture of modern Protestant evangelicalism is extensively studied (Ammerman 1987; Brasher 1998; Griffith 1997; Ingersoll 2003). What is missing from this research is an interrogation of the gender messages presented by these two new forms of evangelical ministry, both of which provide mediated spiritual programs. …

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