Posted by: Apostolic Oneness Pentecostals | May 9, 2009

Day 9: The Role Of Women In The Modern Day Pentecostal Movement

Early roles

 amie-sempsonWomen were the catalyst of the early Pentecostal movement. Since Pentecostals believed in the presence and interaction of the Holy Spirit in their assemblies, and since these gifts came to both men and women, the use of spiritual gifts were encouraged in everyone. The unconventionally intense and emotional environment generated in Pentecostal meetings dually promoted, and was itself created by, other forms of participation such as personal testimony and spontaneous prayer and singing. Women did not shy away from engaging in this forum, and in the early movement the majority of converts and church-goers were female. Since the movement relied on the efforts and participation of lay members, both within the church and outside, women gained great cultural influence in Pentecostalism and helped to shape it. Women wrote religious songs, edited Pentecostal papers, and taught and ran Bible schools. The preponderance of its female adherents may stem from the availability of such opportunities to women from the start of the movement. In addition, evidence from three of the oldest Pentecostal groups—Assemblies of God, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel—shows a number of women serving as clergy and missionaries. Shortly after the Assemblies of God formed in 1914, clergy rolls show that one-third of its ministers were women. By 1925, though the number of female ministers had dropped significantly, two-thirds of its overseas missionaries were still women. When the Church of God was formed in 1906, one-third of its founders were women. When Aimee Semple McPherson started the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in 1927, single women were serving one-third of the church branches as pastors and married couples served as co-pastors to another sixteen congregations.

Other aspects of Pentecostalism also promoted the participation of women. Pointing to Peter’s proclamation of the biblical prophecy of Joel 2:28, Pentecostals focused their attention upon the end times, during which Christ would return. Given that the baptism of the Holy Spirit led to speaking in tongues, whoever was blessed with this gift would have the responsibility to use it towards the preparation for Christ’s second coming. Due to this responsibility, any restrictions that culture or other denominations placed on women were often disregarded during the early part of the movement. Joel 2:28 also specifically included females, saying that both sons and daughters and male and female servants would receive the Holy Spirit, and prophecy in the end times. Thus, the focus on spiritual gifts, the nature of the worship environment, and dispensationalist thinking all encouraged women to participate in all areas of worship.

Even before Azusa Street, women led their own revivals as a result of Agnes Ozman speaking in tongues at Parham’s Bible college. A Mrs. Waldron and aagnes_ozman Mrs. Hall, for example, brought the Pentecostal message from Kansas to Zion, Illinois, where they ministered and later invited Parham to speak. Agnes Ozman herself evangelized throughout the Midwest after leaving Kansas.When Parham moved his ministry to Houston, Texas, eight of his fifteen workers were women.

Other women who attended Bethel Bible College either invited or were sent by Parham to missions or churches, to help strengthen local revivals. Furthermore, of the twelve elders whom Parham initially appointed to go to Azusa Street, six were women. While William J. Seymour is typically regarded as the leader of the Azusa Street revival, a number of women also contributed significantly to his efforts; depending on which firsthand accounts are considered, women’s leadership in the revival is either neglected or emphasized. More historical accounts have been available from men, and these authors tend to pose William J. Seymour as the principal leader, with other men like Charles Fox Parham and Edward Lee in important supporting roles. However, women like Julia Hutchins, Lucy Farrow and Neely Terry, who were important in their own rights, were often deemphasized. On the other hand, the account of Mother Emma Cotton, pastor of a large Los Angeles Church of God in Christ congregation, reversed the relative importance of men with women. Regardless of who had the greatest share in leading the revival, it seems generally safe to conclude that the overall leadership at Azusa Street Revival was shared between women and men. One must also keep in mind that the idea of human leadership in the Pentecostal belief system is somewhat misplaced; participants considered the Holy Spirit to be the true leader, and themselves as merely the vessels through which he works.

Women, of course, also came out of the Azusa Street Revival. Florence Crawford was a prominent convert of Azusa Street. While at the Azusa Mission, she was active in The Apostolic Faith newspaper and became one the first from Azusa to evangelize, primarily through the Midwestern United States. Later, she moved to Portland where she established the Apostolic Faith Mission and ministered. Clara Lum was also a significant figure of Azusa Street. Here, she co-edited The Apostolic Faith with Seymour. Ophelia Wiley also worked for The Apostolic Faith writing articles. She preached at Azusa and then evangelized throughout the Northwestern United States. Jennie Moore was an active leader of the Azusa Street revival who married Seymour and helped lead the congregation. Abundio and Rosa Lopez were active at Azusa and later led worship in the streets of the Hispanic sections of Los Angeles.

Other evangelists and missionaries from Azusa Street include Ivey Campbell who preached throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania; Louisa Condit went to Oakland, California, and then Jerusalem; Lucy Leatherman evangelized in Israel, Egypt, Chile and Argentina; Julia Hutchins evangelized in Liberia; and G.W. and Daisy Batman were missionaries in Liberia. Overall, about half of the traveling evangelists and overseas missionaries were women.

Changes in women’s roles

Despite the leadership of women in the early movement, many were uncertain about the roles women held in this time, and thus wavered in their struggle to gauge the proper role and position of women within their Pentecostal churches. In Women in Pentecostalism, Edith Blumhofer says of women’s participation: “the pastorate, not the pulpit, has historically been the obstacle for Pentecostal women seeking full ministry recognition.”

The freedom that women had in the early Pentecostal movement to hold more authoritative or official leadership positions declined for a number of reasons. During the early movement, the restorationist ideology–the impulse Pentecostals had to restore Christianity to a New Testament setting—uggested both liberated and restricted roles for women. While restorationism emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit and Joel’s egalitarian prophecy, it also had to consider the Apostle Paul’s writings in the New Testament. In doing this, restorationism also highlighted the seemingly contradictory nature of the theology regarding women’s roles. On the one hand, Paul’s instructions on propriety of worship in 1 Corinthians 11 seemed to concede the existence of women prophesying and praying in the church. However, in other passages, namely 1 Timothy 2:12, he warned that “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”(NIV)

Thus, while the immediacy and the fervor of the initial revival atmosphere were subsiding, questions of authority and the organization of churches arose. Institutionalism took root. While it was clear that both men and women spoke in tongues, many started to see this gift as a non-intellectual one, holding that more intellectual acts, such as preaching, should be undertaken by women only in conditions controlled by male leaders. The subsiding of the early Pentecostal movement allowed a more socially-conservative approach to women to settle in, and as a result female participation was channeled into more supportive and traditionally-accepted roles. Institutionalism brought gender segregation, and the Assemblies of God along with other Pentecostal groups created auxiliary women’s organizations. At this time, women became much more likely to be evangelists and missionaries than pastors; when they were pastors, they often co-pastored with their husbands. It also became the norm for men to hold all official positions: board members, college presidents, and national administrators. While the early movement eschewed denominationalism because of the dead spirituality they saw in other Protestant sects, later Pentecostal churches began to mirror the more-traditional Evangelical community. Thus, the more democratic way of addressing others, whether male or female, lay person or leader, as either “brother” or “sister”, gave way to more regular titles like “reverend”. Today, however, some groups continue to ordain women.

Culture also contributed to the restriction of women’s roles in Pentecostal churches. The social vision of women as the moral keepers of society began to fade as flappers in the 1920’s came on to the scene, provoking suspicions about women’s morality. Since Pentecostals wanted to distance themselves as much as possible from modernity, the “new woman” was a fearful image. Thus, Pentecostals instead clung to more traditional views of women in the home and in society.

(research can be attributed to Wikipedia)


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