Printer Friendly

On being the Pentecostal church: Pentecostal women's voices and visions.

I have deliberately used the word Pentecostal twice in my title to provoke an opening awareness that when we speak of church our conception of church must include an acknowledgment that this "church" is not restricted to the member churches of the World Council of Churches. If we want to listen to women's voices and see their visions of being church, then we need to listen to all the women's voices and see all the women's visions who belong to all the churches--and not simply those churches which happen to belong to a particular conciliar body. This is even more particularly true if we want to talk about the church in Africa, which I would argue is much more Pentecostal than we might imagine.

The Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women ended in 1998, yet some churches were not even aware that such a decade existed. Notwithstanding that there might be legitimate and sincere reasons on both sides for the ecumenical/evangelical or Pentecostal divide, this article is an attempt to move the voices of Pentecostal women into the circle of this conversation so that women might begin to define a new ecumenical space for themselves. In other words, this paper is an attempt to widen "the circle in the round". (1) In November 1994 the WCC hosted a Latin American Pentecostal consultation where the buzzword was "ecumenism of the Spirit". It is in this spirit (excuse the pun) that the following article is presented. In other words, I am inviting us to consider Aruna Gnanadason's suggestion (2) that "the multiple ways in which women experience being church need now to be shared, explored and reflected upon", and I would push her suggestion further to include not just the WCC member churches but all those women who are a part of the church. Having made these opening arguments for listening to the voices and visions of Pentecostal women, I now invite us to share, explore and reflect upon the voices and visions of Pentecostal women from the South African Indian community. My assumption is that we wish to hear women's voices and visions of being church so that we can affirm those aspects of the church which women find liberating, but also so that we may engage and address those aspects which women find oppressive. In other words, my assumption is that we support a hermeneutic of liberation for women, whether we choose to call that hermeneutic "feminist" or not. My own position can perhaps be described as a womanist-activist position. In other words, my position takes seriously the issue of transformation not just with regard to gender, but with regard to ethnicity and class as well.

The reflections about the women's positions in the church that I provide in this article have been gleaned from two principal sources. The first is personal, unstructured interviews with women in leadership roles in the Full Gospel Church of God in Southern Africa (henceforth FGC) and with some men in key leadership roles in the church as well. (3) In addition to the interviews, I took as my starting point my own experience as one who belonged to the FGC for eighteen years. (4) In line with recent feminist and womanist research methodologies, I reject the notion of a "disinterested objective researcher" in favour of a post-modernist and 2subjective approach, contending that neither the process of writing nor interpretation is neutral. Rather, both are motivated by the writer or reader or researcher's ideological location. As David Walker has written:
 [T]he observer is not objective but "paradigmative". All searchers
 and researchers work with points of view and vested interests which
 influence what they see and what they discover. The best image for
 gaining knowledge is not "dredging up facts by the bucketful", (5)


Walker goes on to use West's idea of the searchlight to make the point more clearly. The searchlight, West says, is "inevitably directed from a point of view ... and what it illuminates is determined as much by this as by what there is for it to shine upon". (6)

In what follows, then, I obviously choose to place in the foreground those issues which are most significant to my gender transformation commitment. By highlighting my "self-interested" role as researcher, I admit to my own locatedness in re-presenting this community of women to the reader. I do not make any claims of objectivity or distance.

This principle is significant for my research as I conceptualize myself as not just an outsider peering into a community of women, wanting to report on their struggles with the church or with scripture. Having grown up in the church and being intimately aware of the oppression of women within this church lends a different slant to the way in which I conducted my research. Hence, although I will be attempting to sketch the background of the faith community and the women within the community, I do so analytically rather than descriptively. The specifics with which I work are obviously filtered through my womanist grid. The way in which I describe the FGC is with the purpose of demonstrating why a critical liberation hermeneutic is needed if women within this church are to be fully affirmed in their roles.

Introduction to the Full Gospel Church

Ara-panahy are Malagasy words which translate into the phrase "according to the Spirit!" (7) In Madagascar people understand this term as encompassing ecstatic worship and praise, evangelization, speaking in tongues, laying-on of hands and exorcising of demons. In their world-view any problem can be solved ara-panaby. Hence, it is not surprising that the church believes that it should deal only with matters "spiritual" - and matters "spiritual'; are confined to the above definition. The term ara panaby with all its related associations aptly capture the way in which the presence of the Spirit is understood in the FGC in South Africa, too. Within the FGC it seems that the presence of the Spirit is felt most acutely only within the confines of the church in practices of ecstatic worship and speaking in tongues that emphasize the vertical relationship between people and God. The roles that South African Indian women have played, and continue to play, within the church, are intricately connected to this understanding of spirituality. Understanding the multiple statuses of women within this church will help us understand why a more holistic understanding of their emancipation is necessary.

I wish now to give a very brief account of Bethesdaland, the name given to the previously all-Indian groups of Full Gospel Churches in Southern Africa. Indians first came to South Africa in 1860, as indentured labourers, and the vast majority of them were Hindus from the lower castes of Indian society. Only 5 percent were Christians. The Pentecostal movement took root mainly among poor, ex-indentured Indians. (8) Subsequently, a considerable number of members have become fairly affluent, especially in the last ten years or so.

Bethesda was founded on 11 October 1931 by Pastor J.F. Rowlands. Although he was an Englishman, he did stress cultural continuity with the Indian tradition and often "emptied" Hindu concepts and practices of their religious content and "baptized" them with Christian meaning. In recent years much of this cultural continuity has been broken and the emphasis is on an iconoclastic, non-ritualistic form of worship. In fact, anything that is foreign to an American Western form of Pentecostalism is deemed "demonic" or "evil". Many other aspects of the kind of Pentecostalism that RoMan& advocated have changed drastically since his death. Irvine Cherty notes that
 the death of Rowlands provided the space for "typical" Pentecostal
 and also unique practices to emerge in the life of Bethesda under
 the "freedom" of the Pentecostal umbrella of the FGC. The "brakes"
 that Rowlands put on emotionalism was now disengaged. His "middle
 path" between the formalism of the established churches and the
 fanaticism of Pentecostals was jettisoned for 'classical'
 Pentecostal beliefs. (9)


Emotionalism (loud wailing, "laughing in the Spirit", (10) etc.) has become, in recent years, a hallmark of Indian Pentecostatism. We can sum up the characteristics of the Indian FGCs as follows. They started off with an emphasis on cultural continuity but as the years progressed that emphasis was lost. The emphasis, at present, is very much on emotionalism and the more emotional one is the more spiritual one is deemed to be--speaking in tongues and ecstatic outbursts are regarded as signs of a higher spiritual level.

Women within the church

The roles that South African Indian women have played in these churches have changed significantly over the years. From occupying submissive and silent positions within the church, they now occupy ordained ministerial positions. However, women in the ministry are few and far between, and the issues run much deeper than merely a change in the constitution of the church to allow for the ordination of women. The way in which women view themselves, and the way in which men view women--both in the home and the church--dictates the extent and levels to which women are willing (or allowed) to advance in the church. Although women's domestic roles are transposed into the church, their emancipated ones are not. By this I mean that although many women work outside the home in professional jobs, their roles within the church and the home are still confined to the domestic sphere. In these churches very few women are elected onto the councils and even fewer serve in sacramental duties.

There is also an essential discrepancy between legality and reality. Legally (i.e. according to the Full Gospel constitution) women are now allowed to participate fully in the church, even to be ordained. In fact, according to the moderator of the denomination, the constitution never "disallowed" women from being ordained. It was just silent on the issue. However, the fact that up to the 1980s women were allowed to train for two years only, while men were allowed, to train for the full duration required for ordination, certainly suggests that there was an implicit discrimination against women. The fact that they could not complete their full tenure at the college obviously meant that they could not be ordained. Presently, according to the moderator, women can participate fully in the church and may proceed to the level of ordination if they so desire. However, the reality is that they do not. They are still relegated to what has been considered traditional tasks for women (e.g. making the tea, being in charge of the Sunday school, helping with the "sisters' meetings", etc.), and they very rarely take up leadership positions.

Besides being previously constrained by the church, it is also true that the Indian culture has played a role in the way in which women view their own capabilities. Culture is an undeniably strong influence in most Indian lives. Hence, one cannot speak about faith and spirituality without engaging with some discourse concerning culture. Many of the practices that Indian women have adopted in South Africa, both within the church and in secular life, are largely due to the unconscious appropriation of various discriminatory cultural ideas that prevail in India even today. Such cultural ideas find roots in ancient Hindu scriptures, and also in folklore and mythology. (11) Even though Indians in South Africa outwardly seem to abandon Hinduism once they become Christian, the fact is that the cultural ideas found in Hinduism still impact on men's perceptions of women and on women's perceptions of themselves. However, the issue is not as simple as an uncritical appropriation of Hindu cultural practices. The fact that Christian scripture (especially the Jewish law codes and some of Paul's writings) finds continuity with the Indian culture is also a significant contributing factor, as pointed out by some of the women in the interviews.

When exploring how women function in and out of the FGC, cognizance has to be taken of the various levels with which one is dealing. At least three levels are operative. The first is that of the all-American Pentecostalism that is diligently followed and imitated. (12) This means that even those conservative American Pentecostal views on the roles of women, which mostly originate from the conservative "Bible belt" in the USA, are uncritically appropriated. The second level is the level of the culture of Hinduism from which most Indian Pentecostals have emerged. (13) And finally, there are the Christian scriptures whose comments regarding women connect well with the way in which Indian women are seen in their own culture. Although the factors of American forms of Pentecostalism and Indian culture are significant in the oppression of women, I would argue that the most limiting notion of spirituality is grounded in an understanding of the Bible as the indisputable, infallible word of God. As McClintock-Fulkerson notes:
 Pentecostal beliefs in the infallibility of the entire canon have
 important implications for the rules of reading. They implicitly
 require that all scriptures that refer to women must be obeyed. (14)


The subsequent interpretation of the Bible as normative and authoritative contributes to the discrimination against women with regard to various issues that prevent them from enjoying a fullness of humanity equal to that of the men within the church. (15) Some of the areas wherein this inequality is played out are in issues of ordination, divorce, dress codes--and as I was told recently by an ordained minister, even issues of salary.

This idea of the Bible as the indisputable word of God, which has no need of critical or contextual interpretation, is directly linked to the idea that the Spirit enables interpretation, and that the interpreter is simply an innocent unmediated voice of the Spirit. "I try to give them the Bible, not just what I think," is a typical statement made by Pentecostal preachers. (16) Hence, in sermons or Bible studies, very little additional material apart from the Bible itself is used. Mclintock-Fulkerson notes:
 They do not use scholarly commentaries to prepare their sermons;
 when they use anything other than scripture they are likely to use
 church literature. Their primary biblical practices are ordered by
 prayer, fasting, much time spent reading the Bible, and trust in
 the Holy Spirit, whose anointing they understand to be essential to
 the success of their preaching. (17)


My experience has been that this one-dimensional understanding of the role of the Spirit restricts the church from engaging with pressing social concerns such as the emancipation of women. At the same time, however, one cannot dismiss the role of the Spirit in the interpretations of the Bible nor in their daily lives. It would be unwise and perhaps a bit arrogant for those armed with a liberation hermeneutic to downplay the role of the Spirit. Rather, it is within this framework of understanding that one should approach the issue of women's oppression in the church. In other words, one has to find ways not of just understanding these values inherent in Pentecostals' views, but of positioning one's liberation hermeneutic within this framework of understanding. As Abrahams has argued concerning the activist-womanist stance:
 This follows naturally from an activist position: when you strive to
 change the world, you need to work with people. In order to do so
 successfully, you need to understand them and speak their language.
 (18)


What I attempt to do in what follows, then, is to suggest ways in which women's liberation can be possible while still articulating it within Pentecostal categories of interpretation. In other words, I want to demonstrate that a critical view of the Spirit's role in the church can help to contribute towards gender transformation.

The first step is to acknowledge the limited nature of the Pentecostal understanding of scripture, with regard to the emancipation of women. Next, if this limited understanding of the work of the Spirit in our community has proven to be inadequate for the emancipation of women, as I am arguing, the question remains as to what should constitute a more holistic understanding of the Spirit. In other words, what considerations are necessary to enable a hermeneutics of liberation, while still taking seriously the role of the Spirit in interpretation?

I use three scholars (Sue Rakoczy, Stephen Fowl and David Walker) to propose three suggestions. Although these scholars are not Pentecostal themselves, I think that their categories and concepts, besides bearing useful resonances with Pentecostal categories of interpretation, I would argue, help enrich and elucidate Pentecostal understandings of the work of the Spirit.

Firstly, a more holistic understanding of the Spirit is one that takes into consideration the full humanity of all people, including both women and men. Any kind of spirituality that denies the full humanity of women is one that is deficient. Secondly, the spiritual realm must be seen in a complementary and enriching relationship with the physical or material realm, and not in a polarized or dichotomous way. And finally, as Fowl argues, we need to read the Spirit and read with the Spirit, in order that our biblical interpretations are empowering rather than oppressive. (19) In discussing these proposals I also cite examples of women's oppression in the church. The examples range from matters that might seem rather innocuous to matters that actually relate to life and death. I have deliberately chosen to embed these examples within three categories that relate to the Spirit, in order to articulate my points within the spiritual focus of Pentecostalism.

Spirituality for life

Comblin describes the presence of the Spirit in five ways. (20) He says that the Spirit should produce life, freedom, speech, community and action. Sue Rakoczy maintains that "each of these experiences can testify to the authenticity of the Spirit and are important foundations for discernment". (21) One of the most important questions we can ask in regard to these criteria for discernment is, "Are people more free, liberated from interior and exterior enslavement, free to grow as their best selves in God?" The fact that women were denied ordination in the FGC for so long implies most certainly that they were not free to "grow as their best selves in God". (22) In fact, they were actively restricted from such growth, given that they were denied the complete tenure required by the seminary for ordination: Every woman is called to the "fullness of life" as expressed in ,John 10:10. The fact that they are denied this fullness of life in the ministry questions whether the spirituality that the church is espousing is a spirituality for life or one that denies the full humanity of women. Discerning the life-giving aspect of the Spirit and allowing for that life-giving aspect to permeate every aspect of our lives is a difficult process, especially for women in the FGC as in so many other churches around the world.

This is because, as Rakoczy asserts,
 There are so many forces which oppose life: structures which
 dehumanize women ... which use culture as an excuse to discriminate,
 which demean their dignity in large and small ways. (23)


The challenge for women in these situations is to find alternative and freer ways of discerning the presence and manifestation of the Spirit, other than those confining ways which the church dictates.

Dispelling the dichotomy of spiritual and physical

My research has also shown that the church teaches that there is an essential difference between the spiritual and the physical and that the spiritual is more important than the physical. In other words, even though a substantial number of women are constantly faced with issues of abuse, poverty and economic dependence, the Spirit seems unable to deal with. these issues. So, the women are encouraged to forget about their real problems and focus on matters that are "spiritual" such as speaking in tongues. It is believed that life is divided into matter and Spirit, body and soul, and these two aspects can be kept separate. Paget-Wilkes notes the danger of such a dualism when he argues that,
 Such a division leads to inadequate interpretations of the gospel.
 For as long as faith can be divorced from reality the demand for the
 church to face the facts of human existence is unheard. (24)


At the same time the women themselves report that they are the happiest when they are in church, since the ecstatic experience provides a form of escape for a little while, from the reality of their oppression. The Spirit manifestations in the FGC provides temporary relief for the suffering woman, but the next step of dealing with the reality of her oppression, by empowering her, is never realized because according to the FGC's understanding of spirituality, that would mean stepping out of the realm of the "spiritual" or as one pastor describes it the "anointing realm".

Sugden describes this dualistic understanding in terms of inner and outer realms. He says that the "inner realm is the locus of the vertical relationship with God ... a realm of unchanging spiritual realities", and "the outer realm is the locus of horizontal relationships ... of physical and material existence." (25) Walker argues, "the effect of this form of thought is to move material, social, and political aspects of life out of the orbit of God's influence". (26) Therefore, even though gross inequalities might exist in the material and physical world, it is of little consequence, as long as the vertical relationship between God and oneself is "correct". In other words the focus is on personal piety. Once again it is clear that this predominant focus on the vertical and personal relationship with God is what causes a lack of social engagement on the part of the FGC especially with regard to gender concerns. "As long as concerns for the healing of society can be kept separate from a primary mission of soul saving it is possible to relegate these interests to the sidelines. (27) It seems like this is exactly where women's issues are relegated to--the sidelines. Even those women who are ordained as ministers find it difficult to bring issues of gender into their sermons since they are accused of becoming "worldly" in their interests, and thereby deviating from the "spiritual".

Understanding this problem from a race perspective might also throw some light on the gender effects of this dualistic understanding. Morran and Schlemmer conducted a study of predominantly white charismatic and Pentecostal churches in South Africa a decade before the democratic elections in 1994. They found that there had been a great exodus of people from mainline churches to the Pentecostal and charismatic churches, during this period. When questioned as to why they had joined these churches, a typical response was that they liked what they heard at these churches--"there was no social gospel--it was the word of God". (28) The typical teachings that came from the pulpits of these churches at the time were: "Be concerned about yourself, rather than everyone else around you. If you have Jesus he will take care of others as he sees fit." (29) This focus on the "spiritual" to the exclusion of those painful aspects of the racially oppressive reality can be applied to the painful aspects of gender inequality within the FGC as well. During my interviews one male pastor said to me, "You should not be fighting for these things [meaning gender equality], since when you do that you downplay the role of the Spirit and begin to fight in the flesh. The Spirit will allow these things to happen in his [sic] time, in the same way that racial liberation was gained in this country."

His statement clearly indicates that he thought that the Spirit had brought about liberation and that this Spirit operated separately from the material and physical liberation struggle, fought by, among others, clergy persons like Desmond Tutu and Frank Chikane. This clear dichotomy that is set up between the work of the Spirit and issues of justice, specifically gender justice, is one of the factors preventing women from being truly emancipated within this church. I argue along with Sandra Schneiders therefore for
 re-integration of what has been dichotomized, the empowerment of
 that which has been marginalized and abused, the liberation of that
 which has been enslaved. (30)


Interpretations of scripture: "How the spirit reads/how to read the Spirit"

The first two proposals which I have made deal with the issue of Pentecostals' understanding of the Spirit. In my final proposal, I want to deal with Pentecostals' perceptions of the Bible, particularly in the way in which it is used to discriminate against women, or prevent them from enjoying a fullness of life. The questions that I want to raise here are: Can the way in which the Bible is used to discriminate against women be described as Spirit-inspired interpretation, and what defines Spirit-inspired interpretation? Stephen Fowl asserts that in order to understand how to read the Spirit within scripture, we need to understand first how the Spirit reads scripture. (31) In other words, it is only when we understand how the Spirit reads that the Spirit will be able effectively to guide us in our interpretations. Of course, several questions arise when we think of the Spirit's role in interpretation in this way, the most significant of which Fowl raises, "Are there ways of talking about the hermeneutical significance of the Spirit that do more in practice than pay lip-service to the role of the Spirit and then continue as normal?" (32)

He goes on to suggest that "over time one could distinguish Spirit-inspired interpretation and practice by its effects" (my own emphasis). I agree, but what may be judged as good effects for male interpreters are not always regarded as good effects for female interpreters. In fact, many of the interpretations offered by male interpreters within the church have been blatantly oppressive to women. It would seem to me then that before the importance of the effects of the interpretation are highlighted, the method of interpretation needs to be considered. I contend that a critical contextual interpretation that focuses not only on the context of the text but our own context as well is crucial to the process of attaining love, peace and justice (which should be the goal of any Spirit-inspired interpretation). Fowl hints at this kind of interpretation when he suggests that
 the Spirit's role is to guide and direct the process of continual
 change in order to enable communities to "abide in the true vine",
 in the various contexts in which they find themselves. (33)


I found that this process of continual change is not possible in the FGC, because ironically their interpretations of scripture prevent it. I will cite some examples to demonstrate this point.

In South Africa domestic violence is an extremely common phenomenon. It is estimated that one out of every six women is assaulted by her husband or partner. (34) Women in the Indian Full Gospel Church, unfortunately, are not exempt from being a part of the alarming statistic. A detailed study by Isabel Phiri was carried out in Phoenix on domestic violence in (Pentecostal) Indian Christian homes. (35) Fully 84 percent of the 25 women who were interviewed admitted to having experienced domestic violence. They were also all wives of leaders in the church. Her study concluded that it was biblical beliefs, such as those on submission, which made these women stay in abusive relationships. McClintock Fulkerson also makes a similar point about the role of the "discourse of submission" when she asserts,
 One of the most prominent oppressive outcomes of such discourse is
 the Willingness of women to stay in battering situations. Women's
 willingness to be battered is often linked to the kind of
 ecclesiastically supported languages of submission that appear in
 Pentecostal women's stories. (36)


In my own research, I have asked several of the people (both men and women) whom I interviewed how they deal with cases where the wife is being abused, especially physically, since this is quite a common occurrence in the community. All the people I interviewed, except two, said that they would first investigate why the beating occurred since in most cases "when a man hits his wife, it is because of something she has done". A senior lecturer at the Bethesda Bible College, where almost all the ministers in this denomination are trained, argued that in most cases that he has dealt with when a man has beaten his wife it is simply because she has "irritated" him. What he (and other ministers he knows too) does in cases like these is to bring the woman in and counsel her from the word of God as to how she should behave towards her husband ("since there cannot be two captains in a ship") and then send her home. In other words, according to this pastor, in every case of wife-beating there is always a reason behind it and most times "it is the woman's fault", according to his experience. The most common response from ministers when approached by women who are being physically abused by their partners is that they should go back home and persevere in prayer for their husbands and the Spirit will eventually speak to them (their husbands) and convict them of their wrongdoing. Even when the victim has decided that she can no longer tolerate the abuse and wants to leave the marriage, she is actively dissuaded by the church from doing so. The most common reason provided is that divorce is wrong according to the Bible and the scripture reference quoted is Matthew 6: 31-32. The other reason is that the church's constitution does not permit divorce, except in cases of marital infidelity and even in those cases every effort must be made to reconcile the couple. (37)

Given the relationship that the FGC has to the Bible as normative for the way in which its members are to live their lives, it is not surprising that women in this church are oppressed. This is because the Bible is taken as normative without the acknowledgment that it is a patriarchal document. It is understood as being completely Spirit-inspired, therefore even passages concerning divorce are taken literally. So women are discouraged from divorcing abusive husbands. They are told instead to pray for their husbands. It is not surprising that many women die at the hands of their partners, while waiting for the "Spirit to speak to him so that he will change his ways" or while they are "persevering in prayer" for him.

I return to Fowl's argument that in order to understand the role of the Spirit in interpretation we should first know how the Spirit reads scripture. The question is: Can an interpretation that results in the deaths of women who are already victims of abuse, be an interpretation of the Spirit? I suggest not. If we are truly to understand the passage quoted in its own context, the context of the Jewish laws concerning divorce, and our own context, then any law passed by the church saying that a victim of abuse is not allowed to leave her husband, "because the Bible says so", cannot testify to the work of the Spirit. The Spirit that gives life surely cannot read the text in a way that leads to destruction, and surely we cannot read the Spirit as One who creates death rather than life.

Thus far I have shown the need for a reinterpretation of the Spirit in the process of emancipation of women. But it is also true that Pentecostal women have resources (probably that mainline groups do not have) that can actually advance the roles of women. McClintock-Fulkerson points some of these out:
 First, their community [Pentecostals] is characterized by rules for
 reading that are famous for their openness on who can read. The
 answer is not gendered, nor is it limited to the "professional"--the
 academically trained ... Second, the Pentecostal set of rules
 removed class restrictions as well. An important feature of the
 rules for reading was the avoidance of critical disciplines that
 were taught in mainstream educational institutions. (38)


McClintock-Fulkerson is suggesting that inherent in the Pentecostals own system of beliefs lies the power to transform and liberate biblical interpretation regarding women, firstly because they do actually allow women to read, and secondly because they are not constrained by historical-critical and other mainstream training that might actually oppress. However, these are not opportunities in and of themselves. As Phiri and McClintock Fulkerson herself have shown, the women, although having access to this space where the Spirit is "democratic", do not always take full advantage of it, and hence remain in abusive marriages as they are caught between this "democratic" space and their "theological space" which argues that the Bible is the word of God. So McClintock-Fulkerson's arguments about the resources that Pentecostal women have for liberation (the way they stand at the moment) are only potential opportunities which can only be unlocked with a hermeneutic of liberation.

Conclusion

In this paper I have attempted to reflect on some aspects of oppression which Pentecostal women experience. I have argued that the limited understanding of the spiritual and the subsequent limited interpretations of the Bible are contributing factors to the oppression of women in this church. I have also argued that there is a need to move beyond a one-dimensional understanding of the Spirit and that the Spirit can be felt in multi-faceted ways with an over-riding concern for the preservation of life. This Spirit that empowers us and calls us to life, Elizabeth Johnson aptly names as "Spirit Sophia". (39)

Sue Rakoczy concludes
 A Christian feminist spirituality for our South African context is
 an approach to life which seeks and finds God in all the
 circumstances of life, affirms life and growth in others, works with
 others to bring a greater fullness of life (wholeness and right
 relationships) into every situation and structure of culture and
 society, including the church. (40)


I have tried to demonstrate that as long as the spiritual remains separate from the physical, women can never be truly and fully emancipated. One way of enabling the emancipation of women, I propose, is to find more holistic ways of engaging with the tradition from which the women articulate their theologies. I have tried to demonstrate in this paper that it is possible to stay within the Pentecostal framework of the work of the Spirit in interpretation, while at the same time ensuring a more holistic and liberating understanding of the role of the Spirit. This, I believe, can contribute in some way towards the liberation and empowerment of women within the FGC.

(1) Letty M. Russell, Church in the Round: Feminist Interpretation of the Church, Louisville, Westminster John Knox, 1993.

(2) Aruna Gnanadason, "Editorial: On Being Church, Women's Voices and Visions", in The Ecumenical Review, vol. 53, 2001, pp.1-4.

(3) This research was conducted in October 2000 as part of a larger project on women and spirituality in post-apartheid South Africa. I interviewed not only Indian women in the FGC, but the moderator of the FGC and the principal of the Bible college where all the Indian FGC pastors are trained. Both the moderator and the principal were male. After interviewing them, I interviewed six other women, three of whom were ordained ministers, and three of whom had key leadership roles in the women's department in the church. Although I wanted to gain insights about the way the women felt about their roles in the church, I also thought that it was important to hear how the male leadership perceived the roles of women in the church.

(4) It should be noted also that apart from the work done by Oosthiuzen (1976) and more recently Pillay (1994), very little other extensive academic research has been documented on the South African Indian Full Gospel Church.

(5) Thomas Kuhn cited in David S. Walker, Challenging Evangelicalism, Pietermaritzburg, Cluster, 1993, p.185.

(6) Gerald O. West, Biblical Hermeneutics of Liberation: Modes of Reading the Bible in the South African Context, Pietermaritzburg, Cluster, 1991, pp. 11-12.

(7) I first heard this term being used by Cynthia Holder Rich, a doctoral student working on development issues in Madagascar at a doctoral seminar at the school of theology, University of Natal. She was describing the way in which the Malagasy people divide life into "matters spiritual" and matters "not spiritual". I decided to use the same term to describe Full Gospel spirituality because I think that the term aptly captures the essence of Full Gospel spirituality.

(8) Gerald J. Pillay, Religion at the Limits? Pentecostalism among the Indian South Africans, Pretoria, Univ. of South Africa, Institute for Theological Research, 1994.

(9) Irvine Chetty, "The Making of an Indigenous Clergy within the Indian Community--The Case of the Bethesda Churches", in P Denis ed., The Making of an Indigenous Clergy in Southern Africa, pp. 149-160, Pietermaritzburg, Cluster, 1995.

(10) This practice has a particular history--the so-called "Toronto blessing"--and was common to many Pentecostals and charismatics in the early to late 1990s, though its popularity has decreased somewhat in the last few years.

(11) K. Padma Rao, "Patriarchal System--Status of Women", in P. Kumarl ed., Gender in Contemporary India, Madras, Gurukul, 1998, pp.71-87.

(12) Gabriel Naidoo notes this aspect of Indian Pentecostalism: "To a great extent, the church programmes were almost totally influenced by Western theology and teachings. Soon, Indian Christian leaders were imitating the Western way of preaching. Role models like T.L Osborn, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, Kenneth Hagan, Jimmy Swaggart and Benny Hinn were imitated by many." He then adds, almost sarcastically: "The distinctive twang in their new-found language is still evidenced today. South African Christians of Indian origin became 'copy cats' of Western Christianity." Gabriel Naidoo, Pioneers of Destiny: Capturing HIS Story amongst South African of Indian Or(gin 1652-1999, Chatsworth, Kah-os Media Group, 200].

(13) See Padma Rao for a detailed account of how patriarchy operates within Hindu religion and culture.

(14) Mary McClintock-Fulkerson, Changing the Subject: Women's Discourses and Feminist Theology, Minneapolis, Fortress, 1994, p.254.

(15) Itumeleng Mosala makes the same point about the use of the Bible as the word of God in black theology. He argues: "An approach to the study of the Bible as the word of God, therefore, presupposes a hermeneutical epistemology for which truth is not historical, cultural, or economic. For such an epistemology of the word of God is pre-established. Its relevance does not issue out of its character as a historical, cultural, political, or economic product. " In other words, the Bible is perceived as being beyond history, literature, culture and Economics. Itumeleng J. Mosala, Biblical Hermeneutics and Black Theology in South Africa, Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 1989, pp. 19-20.

(16) McClintock-Fulkerson, Changing the Subject, p.280.

(17) Ibid.

(18) Yvette Abrahams, "Learning by Doing: Notes towards the Practice of Womanist Principles in the 'New' South Africa", in Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity--African Feminisms, 2001, 1, 50, p.73.

(19) Stephen E. Fowl. Engaging Scripture--A Model for Theological Interpretation, Massachusetts and Oxford, Blackwell, 1998, pp.97-127.

(20) J. Comblin, The Holy Spirit and Liberation, New York, Orbis 1989, p.61.

(21) Susan Rakoczy, "Living Life to the Full: Reflections on Feminist Spirituality", in C. Kourie and L. Kretzschmar eds, Christian Spirituality in South Africa, Pietermaritzburg, Cluster, 2000, pp.69-91.

(22) Although women within the FGC did not struggle for ordination in the same way that their Anglican sisters did (Denise Ackermann and Jonathan Draper et al. eds, Women Hold up Half the Sky: Women in the Church in Southern Africa, Pietermaritzburg, Cluster, 1991), my research has shown that the women did express a dissatisfaction with the fact that even when the Bible college allowed women to study for the full term required for ordination, once they completed their studies they were not ordained as pastors in their own right, but were simply labelled "missionaries" in the church (see Sarojini Nadar, "Journeying in Faith: The Stories of Two Ordained Indian Women in the Anglican and Full Gospel Churches in South Africa", in I.A.Phiri., D.B.Govinden and S. Nadar eds, Her-Stories, Hidden Histories of Women of Faith in Africa, Pietermaritzburg Cluster, 2002 p. 149.

(23) Rakoczy, "Living Life to the Full", p.87.

(24) M. Paget-Wilkes, Poverty, Revolution and the Church, Exeter, Paternoster, 1981, pp.44-45 cited in Walker, Challenging Evangelicalism, p. 185.

(25) C. Sugden, "A Critical and Comparative Study of the Practice and Theology of Christian Social Witness in Indonesia and India between 1974 and 1983 with Special Reference to the Work of Wayan Mastra in the Protestant Christian Church of Bali and of Vinay Samuel in the Church of South India". Unpublished PhD thesis, Westminster College, Oxford, 1988, p.352.

(26) Walker, Challenging Evangelicalism, p. 185.

(27) Ibid., p.184.

(28) E.S. Morran and L. Schlemmer, Faith for the Fearful, Centre for Applied Social Sciences, Univ. of Natal, Durban, 1984, p.149.

(29) Ibid., p. 182.

(30) Sandra M. Schneiders, "Feminist Spirituality: Christian Alternative or Alternative to Christianity?" in J.W. Conn, Women's Spirituality: Resource, for Christian Development, 2nd ed. New York, Paulist, 1996, p.43.

(31) Engaging Scripture, p.100.

(32) Ibid.

(33) Ibid.

(34) "Domestic Violence: Part 1--Wife Abuse," PACSA Factsheet, no.45 [November 1998], pl.

(35) Isabel A. Phiri, "Domestic Violence in Christian Homes: A Durban Case Study", in Journal of Constructive Theology 2000, vol. 6, no. 2, pp.85-110.

(36) Changing the Subject, p.296.

(37) In fact one pastor who counsels married couples, as part of his calling to the ministry, said to me that even in cases of marital infidelity on the part of the husband, the woman still needed counselling because his theory was "if you don't feed your dog, it will rummage in your neighbour's rubbish bin".

(38) Changing the Subject, pp.287-88.

(39) Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is, New York, Crossroads, 1992, pp.124-149.

(40) Rakoczy, Spirituality for Life, p.70.

Sarojini Nadar lectures in biblical studies at the University of Natal, South Africa. This paper was developed for a consultation, based on the author's research and her previously published work. See Sarojini Nadar, "Living in Two Worlds: The Changing Role of South African Indian Women in the Full Gospel Church" in Women's Spirituality in the Transformation of South Africa, New York, Munchen/Berlin, Waxmann, 2001, pp. 73-83.
COPYRIGHT 2004 World Council of Churches
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Nadar, Sarojini
Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:7048
Previous Article:Transformation in another key: reconfiguring the World Council of Churches.
Next Article:Ecumenical chronicle.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |