God Forgive Us for Being Women
Rhetoric, Theology, and the Pentecostal Tradition
- ISBN: 9781532602023
- Published By: Pickwick Publications
- Published: May 2018
In God Forgive Us For Being Women: Rhetoric, Theology, and the Pentecostal Tradition, Joy E.A. Qualls analyzes Pentecostal history from the perspective of rhetorical theory. “Rather than looking at isolated instances that are static in time,” argues Qualls, “this inquiry views rhetoric as a dynamic process of social construction, maintenance, and change” (212-13). Utilizing the language and rhetoric of Pentecostal men and women, Qualls argues that women in the Assemblies of God (AG) fellowship have struggled to understand their place within ministry given the rhetorical dissonance developed over the course of the 20th century. Her arguments are grounded in three important themes: women’s prominence in Pentecostal history; spiritual empowerment versus institutional authority; and the clash of cultural and religious identity.
Although this book is focused through the lens of rhetorical theory, one of it’s most useful aspects is the collection of brief biographies of Pentecostal women scattered throughout the text. Qualls narrates the origins of the Pentecostal movement through the actions of Susanna Wesley, Hannah Whitall Smith, Phoebe Palmer, Amanda Berry Smith, and many others. The voices of Mae Eleanor Frey, Rachel Sizelove, Martha Klaus, Elizabeth Grant, and Melissa Alfaro help make sense of the tensions women faced in the AG over the various decades. While many of these women can also be found in the works of Edith Blumhofer, Vinson Synan, or Margaret Poloma (all historians of the Pentecostal movement), Qualls brings them together here in a very accessible way, highlighting the importance of women in the creation of the Pentecostal movement generally, and the AG specifically. Her chapter on women in Pentecostal history would be very useful in a course on Women in American Religion.
Qualls’s rhetorical analysis focuses narrowly on the AG and their tug-of-war with women in ministry. There may be some broader applications of her findings to the evangelical community at large, as she suggests, but they are minimal. Her real contribution to evangelical rhetoric is the analysis of the AG and its use of language to thoroughly confuse and confine women seeking to be ministers. “Because God chose women to participate in the New Testament Holy Spirit baptism experience,” writes Qualls, “then it was only logical that they should also carry the gospel message” (182). Early members of the AG believed that speaking in tongues empowered individuals for service in spreading the full gospel, and the Holy Bible suggested that both men and women could receive such empowerment. Yet, as the AG institutionalized the process of receiving ministerial credentials, the institution’s position on ordaining women waffled constantly between allowing women to lead and preventing them from doing so. The rhetoric codified in general councils and position papers conceded women’s right to leadership while leaders themselves rationalized and justified women’s exclusion from leadership. Qualls effectively untangles the many different positions of the AG—from its inception to the present—to demonstrate the internal struggle that exists within the AG between spiritual empowerment and institutional authority. Through most of the AG’s history, the fellowship allowed women to receive ordination but prevented women from attaining it through rhetorical means.
The analysis shifts to the balance of cultural and religious identity in the later chapters, as Qualls examines the AG’s decision to join the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), and its decision to combat the feminist movement of the mid-20th century. Ultimately, she argues that the AG was “molded and shaped by the standards of evangelical propriety regarding women’s leadership” (154). Despite allowing women to participate in ministry in the beginning of the Pentecostal movement, once the AG opted to become a part of the larger evangelical community, it also adopted the conservative views that would develop into the culture wars of the 20th century. Like other members of the NAE, the AG argued for women to exert themselves in the home caring for the family, instead of seeking to take the place of men in ministry. The decision to align its cultural identity with the NAE forced the AG to sacrifice “the prophetic nature of its message and diminished the impact of its role in the culture” (34).
Qualls hoped to contribute to the study of the broader evangelical community, but the connection is made weakly at best. The discussion of women rarely goes beyond the AG, let alone to other members of the evangelical community. Pentecostal women from other Pentecostal churches are not included, and the only minority women (with the exception of Melissa Alfaro) are found in the historical origins leading up to the Pentecostal movement. While the experience of Pentecostal women is similar to that of evangelical women, Anthea D. Butler’s Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World (University of North Carolina Press, 2007) and R. Marie Griffith’s God’s Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission (University of Califoria Press, 1997) both suggest that the experience of Pentecostal and evangelical women is diverse. Despite this disconnect, Qualls’s analysis of women in the AG is both an excellent review of previous work on the subject, and a new contribution to Pentecostal history from the perspective of rhetorical theory. It will be of interest to anyone hoping to better understand women’s ministry opportunities in the United States, and select chapters could be used in a variety of courses for undergraduates (or its entirety for graduate courses).
Alan J. Clark is a doctoral candidate in American Religion at the Claremont Graduate University.Alan J. ClarkDate Of Review:February 27, 2019