The gender of spiritual gifts in the evangelical tradition: How women narrate their role in the church

Elaine S Schnabel, Purdue University


Evangelical churches in the United States are often portrayed as misogynistic due to their adherence to traditional gender roles. However, previous research shows that Evangelicals have a variety of different gender ideologies, and even conservative Evangelicals do not often practice the strict gender roles they preach in their marriages. However, Evangelical churches remained highly dominated by male leaders. This study performed case studies in three large Evangelical churches in the Midwest with disparate gender ideologies. In each church, a pastor was interviewed which allowed the researcher to examine each church’s organizational narrative in regards to gender roles and to examine the dialectical tensions apparent within them. The impacts of tensions on Evangelical women were explored through focus groups with female congregants at each church. By applying structuration theory to the narratives of women, this study examines the organizational identities Evangelical women construct, how those identities interact with the church’s gender ideology, and how that identity impacts what resources are available to them within their specific church context. Two card sorts about spiritual gifts were used to understand the attitudes and beliefs participants had about gender and roles in the church. Participants were first asked to sort a list of nine spiritual gifts so that they labeled three gifts as “high” or valuable gifts and three gifts as “low” or more disposable gifts. In the second card sort they sorted the gifts by gender, labeling each gift as either masculine, feminine, or gender neutral. Women in this study identified themselves as church servants, whose central resources are their relationships with others, the needs of the church, and “right” gifts, as defined differently by each church. The paper ends with a discussion on the impacts of a church’s gender ideology on men and women’s church participation, as well as recommendations for Evangelical churches interested in gender equality.




Boyd, Purdue University.

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