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Pioneer Women of Pentecostal Revivals

Leah Payne speaks with about her book, Gender and Pentecostal Revivalism. For your book, Gender and Pentecostal Revivalism, why did you concentrate on the ministry of two revivalists?

Leah Payne, Gender and Pentecostal Revivalism: Making a Female Ministry in the Early Twentieth Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), xii+223 pages.
From the Publisher’s page: This innovative volume provides an interdisciplinary, theoretically innovative answer to an enduring question for Pentecostal/charismatic Christianities: how do women lead churches? This study fills this lacuna by examining the leadership and legacy of two architects of the Pentecostal movement – Maria Woodworth-Etter and Aimee Semple McPherson.

Leah Payne: I wanted to explore how gender (as well as race and class) shaped Pentecostal Revivalism over time, so I chose revivalists who were powerful and influential representatives of the first two generations of the movement. Maria Woodworth-Etter is an example of how Pentecostal revivalism originated in holiness revival circles and then morphed into its own distinct set of practices and theologies. A generation later, Aimee Semple McPherson represented a shift in Pentecostal revivalism from its rural, tent-revival practices into the middleclass mainstream of American evangelicalism. Both revivalists toured extensively, wrote prolifically, pastored mega-churches, had many imitators, and used mass media to distribute their messages. Thus, they are ideal subjects to study the formation and reformation of the movement over the years. How would you introduce Maria Woodworth-Etter and Aimee Semple McPherson to someone who is not familiar with their stories?

Leah Payne: Good question!  Woodworth-Etter and McPherson were two of the most influential and innovative revivalist ministers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Like a lot of powerful revivalists, they were famous for their preaching and infamous for their ministry careers and personal lives. Like a lot of celebrity pastors, they had sex and money scandals. What makes them especially interesting to me is that they created and maintained authority as celebrity ministers in an era when the categories of “woman” and “minister” were perceived to be discreet. How they negotiated those two identities, how and why Pentecostals accepted them, and how their careers shaped the movement is the focus of Gender and Pentecostal Revivalism. Others often refer to your two primary subjects as Sister Etter and Sister Aimee. Has it been a conscious decision to refer to these pioneers as Woodworth-Etter and McPherson instead?

Leah Payne: Most people (including many historians) refer to Woodworth-Etter and McPherson by their “churchy” names like Mother Etter or Sister McPherson. For example, Edith Blumhofer’s excellent biography of Aimee Semple McPherson, Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody’s Sister does this in part to demonstrate the warmth and feelings of intimacy that McPherson evoked from her followers. I choose to refer to them the way academics & theologians typically refer to important thinkers/activists: by their last name. I do this because I want to give them credit for being architects of Pentecostal theology and practice. I want these women to be talked about alongside other important Pentecostal-Charismatic theologians and practitioners like Whitefield, Wesley, etc. Referring to them in this way is my way of recognizing their accomplishments.

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Category: Church History, Summer 2016

About the Author: Leah Payne, Ph.D. (Vanderbilt University, 2013), is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at George Fox University. Leah serves on the Foursquare Church Education Commission and she is the author of Gender and Pentecostal Revivalism: Making a Female Ministry in the Early Twentieth Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). Visit her blog on religion & popular culture: Faculty Page Twitter: @ProfLeahPayne

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