Today is Part One of a series of posts on Pentecostalism and gender. Thus, it is going to be introductory and less argumentative/explanatory, which will come in future posts. I bring up a lot of topics here that don’t get properly discussed; I promise to address them more soon!
So, why discuss this?
Well, various scholars have looked at Pentecostalism and noticed that there is a strange situation around gender, so much so that they’ve labeled it the “Pentecostal Gender Paradox.” Through the Spirit, everyone matters and is usable for ministry broadly speaking; unfortunately, many Pentecostal churches and denominations reduce women’s roles to children’s workers and custodial staff. Now, nothing is wrong with those positions––they are quite vital to the life of a community. The point is that Pentecostals get a little leery about women leading…as in being the main pastor or overseer or whatever position is at the “top.”
But I thought it was the Spirit at work and not the individual that is gendered either male or female?
In future posts I will challenge the gender divide, at times lovingly direct. Here, however, I want to provide my personal narrative.
I’m a white male. In other words, the Pentecostal system was designed for me. But let me save that topic for another post. My point is this: my white-maleness is a recipe for success in Pentecostalism.
Side note, I’m also heterosexual meaning I’m qualified for every position in the Pentecostal tradition.
I’m bringing up some really provocative things but only to make a very basic point: there is nothing about me physically that disqualifies me from ministry; many others are not so fortunate. For our topic in this series––women.
If you’re Pentecostal, your story might be similar to mine. Yes, there were amazing men in my life that shaped who I am today––most notably my father who is one of the best people I know. Nevertheless, as I reflected recently, I realized that my faith and life has been shaped predominantly by women.
I have two older sisters, and when I was a kid my best friend was a girl. I hung out with girls so much that my primary school teacher told my parents that she was “concerned” about me (it was a Christian school and she seemed to be insinuating that I might be gay…that deserves its own post, though!).
In elementary school, one of my best friend’s mom regularly spoke Spirit-filled love into my life. In fourth grade, I experienced the Spirit for the first time during a revival led by a woman evangelist. Years later, I went up for prayer at my church and the pastor’s wife (she’s much more than that but that is our typical descriptor…) prophesied over me, something that continues to affect my life.
Recently I found out that my paternal grandmother attended a Foursquare Church that started out meeting in a tent in their small Tennessee town. My great-grandmother(s) then attended and eventually my grandfather did as well. And that is the same church my dad attended growing up, which influences my Pentecostal-ness today. I’m quite proud of my Pentecostal heritage that extends at least four generations.
It is also worth noting that the Foursquare Church my grandmother first attended, making her the matriarch of the family, was started by two women. Furthermore, the entire Foursquare denomination was started by a woman––Aimee Semple McPherson.
All those women (many of whom I never met) shaped me greatly and they still do today. But the greatest influence on my spiritual life is my wife, Heather. She has a master’s degree in clinical social work and she first introduced me to the world of social justice. People often refer to this world as “liberal,” you know, others focused and all. But when you hear Heather describe it, it feels like love and peace. Heather has led me, walk alongside me, and sojourned with me through our 15-years of marriage. She’s listened to my struggles/questions with life and faith and has always responded with assurance, compassion, sincerity, understanding, and love (really let that word stretch out to its full meaning).
There’s some strange macho theology out there that demands the wife to submit to the husband’s leadership. Honestly, that is outrageous, particularly for Pentecostals. Heather leads our family, although it is not a reductive binary type leadership, which is topic I’ll develop down the line.
In addition, my academic advisor is a woman (extremely good scholar and an even better person) and my favorite ethics and Buddhist professors are women as well. There are a number of brilliant women that are Pentecostal scholars and public theologians alike.
This is an introduction. I’m introducing you to me, and hopefully it is clear that Pentecostal women have formed me into the person I am today. Anyone who says that a woman is somehow incapable of leading, especially those that throw a handful of random Bible verses in as “proof,” are being led by something, but it isn’t the Spirit.
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.