In my last post, Leaving Behind My First Love, I mentioned I would examine the historical significance of Pentecostalism and how it relates to the marketization of the church and patriarchal standards. I realize this is a complex topic that involves many theoretical frameworks and conceptualizations, so I do welcome your thoughts. In this post, I will be highlighting trends regarding the marketization of Pentecostalism, brand evangelism as a marketing strategy, and how concepts of neo-liberalism intersect with the Pentecostal faith.
Pentecostalism stems from Evangelical Protestantism incorporating spiritual elements such as speaking in tongues (glossolalia), charismatic leadership, religious healings, and ecstatic praise and worship. Modern Pentecostalism dates back to 1906 at the Azusa Street Revival. However, the First Day of Pentecost can be found in the Book of Acts when Jesus’ disciples gathered in a room and began to speak in different languages.
The marketization of the Pentecostal church expanded to “Latin America, parts of Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, with some surprising outposts elsewhere, such as among European Gypsies and among hill tribes in India” (Berger, Faith and Development, 2008). The institutionalization of Pentecostalism focuses on targeting a multi-cultural audience. Those residing in locations with economic, political, and social disadvantages have discovered forms of empowerment in the charismatic nature of Pentecostalism, with women as a primary target market.
Discourse around gender relations continue to exist at the forefront of the Pentecostal faith. In the paper Religious Change and Women’s Status in Latin America, Drogus cites Flora and Martin:
Pentecostals stress traditional gender roles, particularly motherhood, rather than challenging them. They offer practical advice on how to be a better wife and mother through special classes, campaigns, and even magazines. Pentecostal churches in Guatemala, for example, offer a women’s magazine designed to help women fulfill their God-given feminine destinies.
These constructs around gender roles may be quite off-putting for feminist theologians, including myself. However, growing up in the Pentecostal faith, I have witnessed women who take much pride and honor in forming an identity within the domestic sphere. On the other hand, there were women who felt burdened with the imposed, constructed gender identity within the church, and resorted to anti-depressants and a recluse state. A solution I propose to this institutional gender dilemma is to welcome all forms of identity within the church, irrespective of gender. This may prove difficult as there are patriarchal standards which exist within Pentecostalism as it is a branch of Evangelical Protestantism, and therefore, possesses ontological expressions of phallocentrism.
I do realize women’s roles in the church depend on the ideological construction of the institution. This is typically governed by men as men still serve as the primary constituents of the Assemblies of God churches. This is not to say there isn’t female charismatic leadership within the Pentecostal faith. Televangelists like Joyce Meyers and Paula White are powerful communicators and charismatic religious leaders. Although both Meyers and White have been under federal investigation for tax fraud, they still maintain growing ministries. On a global level, male leaders still outnumber female leadership within the Pentecostal faith.
During my earlier years as a Pentecostal-identified woman, I never witnessed a woman exclusively lead men and women in the church. During my late teens, I attended a more modernized Pentecostal church, but women continued to restrictively lead female-only bible study, music ministry, and children’s groups.
The institutionalization of Pentecostalism has developed a marketing campaign centered on individualism, multi-culturalism, and brand evangelism. As (Berger, 2002) is cited in Discourses and Strategic Visions: The U.S. Research University as an Institutional Manifestation of Neoliberalism in a Global Era, “particular phenomena, like the increasing evangelization of Pentecostal Protestantism, bear distinctive outcomes for cultural harmonization around individualism.” The ideological concept of embracing individualism and diversity are appealing aspects to the Pentecostal faith, and intersects with concepts around globalization and neo-liberal economics.
In terms of the marketization of multi-culturalism, marginalized social groups such as women and people of color suffering from indigent political, social, and economic conditions are more likely to discover agency within the institutionalized features of Pentecostalism. When emotional, mental, economic, and social resources are lacking, people tend to find solace in institutionalized features of religion, especially if the faith is charismatic.
As Harvey Cox notes in Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Re-shaping of Religion in the 21st Century, “the focus on speaking in tongues and on spiritual gifts makes Pentecostal religious expression, and even religious authority, accessible to those at the margins of society—the illiterate, the undereducated, the poor.”
Can an institution truly be egalitarian when its marketization heavily relies on marginalized social groups to uphold its ideological foundation? Although Pentecostalism is known to take on many aspects of neo-liberal capitalism, including free-market religion, could this also have a negative impact on women? It doesn’t seem socially beneficial for marginalized target markets to adhere to the economic marketability of an institutional process that does not ontologically support its target market.
Andreea Nica is a freelance writer, scholar, egalitarian, and yogi. She holds a M.S. from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Gender, Media, and Culture Studies. Andreea also holds a B.A. in Psychology from Northern Arizona University. Currently, she is writing her memoir on transitioning from Pentecostalism, focusing on institutional power, subjectivities, and socialization. She is the Founder of OrganiCommunications, empowering startups and social enterprises in strategic and digital communication ventures. Andreea plans on pursuing doctoral study within Sociology, focusing on Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is the author of 2 blogs: OrganiCommunications and Progressive Thinking. You can find her in Seattle, WA. with her partner and kitty, probably doing yoga. @convergingearth @integratedcom