Thursday, August 23, 2012

Women in Pentecostalism

Taken from my new book to be released early in 2013 (Oxford University Press, 2013), pp.93-94.

From its beginnings, the widespread phenomenon of women with charismatic gifts throughout Pentecostalism resulted in a much higher proportion of women in ministry than in most other forms of Christianity. Leadership and participation were based on the fundamental pentecostal belief in the priesthood of all believers and the empowering and legitimizing experience of the Spirit that is available to all, irrespective of gender. Women were prominent because inspirational leadership was privileged over organizational leadership. Like men, women could exercise any spiritual gift, testify to their experiences, and witness through music, prophecy, song, and many other forms of participation in the services—and in most cases, they did so more than men did. The spiritual leadership of women in Pentecostalism accorded well with the prominence of women in many pre-Christian religious rituals in Africa and parts of Asia, contrasting again with the prevailing practice of older churches, which barred women from entering the ministry or even from taking any part in public worship. No observer of pentecostal activities will fail to notice that most of those involved are women, even though the leadership is often male. But in spite of all the practical involvement of women with personal charisma and authority in pentecostal churches, these churches were not yet ready to come to terms with the theological implications of women in ministry. There were loud, male, conservative voices in pentecostal denominations advocating restrictions.

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