“Women’s Experiences” And “Power”

“Women’s Experiences” And “Power”

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Pneuma 35 (2013) 9-23

Toward Useable Categories of “Women’s Experiences”

and “Power”: A Canadian Feminist Pentecostal

Considers the Work of Margaret Kamitsuka

and Kwok Pui-lan

Pamela M. S. Holmes

School of Religion, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6



This article explores the potential of, and problems associated with, the use of the concept of “women’s experiences” within feminist Pentecostalism, including the ways in which “power” is being exercised by, for, and against Pentecostal women. The exploration unfolds in dialogue with Margaret D. Kamitsuka’s Feminist Theology and the Challenge of Difference, which utilizes poststructuralist theory and Foucault’s work to demonstrate the potential of difference, and Kwok Pui-lan’s Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology, which highlights the realities that many majority-world feminists face as they seek to address their own realities using the category of “strategic essentialism.” As the argument unfolds, Caucasian, first-world feminist Pentecostals are encouraged to make it explicit within their work that no one particular, located subset of Pentecostal women and their experiences can be generalized to speak for all. Rather, more privileged feminist Pentecostal theologians are encouraged to intentionally include diverse Pentecostal women’s voices in their scholarship.


power, strategic essentialism, women’s experiences


I am a Ukrainian-Canadian, Caucasian, working-class, heterosexual, socially progressive, Pentecostal, feminist, ordained minister and systematic theolo- gian. And all of this self-identification, and more, matters. I have been working on the development of a critical feminist Pentecostal theology of liberation in the hopes of furthering the interests of Pentecostal women as subjects of theology and agents of transformation, not occasions for theological debate. The latter has been much more common than the former within Canadian

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2013 DOI: 10.1163/15700747-12341272



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Pentecostalism, such as in discussions regarding “the role of women” within the movement.

I have been puzzling, however, over a methodological approach that might be suitable when drawing upon Canadian and global Pentecostal women’s experiences without essentializing or universalizing either the women or their experiences. Therefore, this article will discuss select themes drawn from Margaret D. Kamitsuka’s Feminist Theology and the Challenge of Difference and Kwok Pui-lan’s Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology in the hope of discerning how I and other feminist Pentecostals might utilize the concept of “women’s experiences” in order to advocate for Pentecostal women without misusing or abusing their power and privilege.

“Women’s Experiences”

Although there is a great deal of diversity within and among the various Pente- costal groups, the word experience is mentioned over and over again in Pentecostal circles, both in worship contexts and in academic writings. The Trinitarian Pentecostals, with whom I am most familiar, claim to experience the Spirit who reveals Jesus Christ, the self-revelation of God, actively involved in the reconciliation of all. While in need of careful examination in order to determine the various ways in which the word experience is being defined and used, this repeated appeal to experience is an indication of the importance that Pentecostals place on those experiences they have interpreted as being of the Spirit or of God. While classical, orthodox statements along with biblical references are together adopted to define what is meant by “Spirit,” “experi- ence” remains relatively undefined.

The appeal to experience, however, including that of women’s experiences common in feminist theology, remains problematic and contested. This is par- ticularly true when such experience is universalized or understood as provid- ing some sort of unique access to truth or reality or God. Sheila Greeve Davaney’s 1987 essay, “The Limits of the Appeal to Women’s Experience,” soundly critiqued the practice of a feminist appeal to women’s experience as a source and norm for theology and theory, as it was based on an unsound assumption. To assume that there existed somewhere some feminist reality that was more accurate than male ones was erroneous.1 At the same time

1 Sheila Greeve Davaney, “The Limits of the Appeal to Women’s Experience,” Shaping New Vision: Gender and Values in American Culture, ed. Clarissa W. Atkinson, Constance H. Buchanan, and Margaret R. Miles (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1987), 31-50, 42, 45, 47. Margaret D.


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feminist theologians were pointing out that male experience was not norma- tive for all of humankind, they were proceeding on the basis that one particular type of women’s experience — Western, Caucasian, middle- and upper-class, heterosexual — was normative for all women. Kamitsuka problematizes this definition of the concept of “women’s experiences” by inserting race, queer, and poststructural perspectives into the discussion. She thereby subverts the tendency to work from a binary (male or female) construction of gender, which assumes that gender is fixed and stable and that gender oppression is the pri- mary problem women face.

Kwok moves the critique beyond the sexuality of the female subject “assert- ing her own individualist sexuality or sexual freedom as found in white bour- geois culture” to the communal struggle for survival that seeks to create “social networks and organizations” in order that the subject and “her community can be healed and flourish.”2 In her postcolonial perspective, as far as Kwok is con- cerned, gender is understood to be “only one of the problems of Christian imperialism.”3 While this makes the concept of “women’s experiences” more ambiguous and seemingly impossible to utilize, it is also a far broader and more fluid concept. Within the Pentecostal community, recognition and use of this broader and more fluid concept may be appropriate due to the various contexts within which Pentecostal women find themselves and to the broad and fluid nature of pneumatology within the global movement.

The question of the use of power must enter into the discussion, however.



According to Kamitsuka, poststructuralism is a theory of power that avoids individualistic approaches to power by situating all selves and their identities within socially embodied discursive relationships.4 Poststructuralism focuses on the discursive relationships between people and their various contexts within this world in which meaning is made and reproduced. Rather than

Kamitsuka, Feminist Theology and the Challenge of Difference (New York: Oxford University Press, 2997), 52.

2 Kwok Pui-lan, Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 37.

3 Ibid., 129-30.

4 Kamitsuka, Feminist Theology,72.



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subscribe to dualistic understandings of power relationships, such as liberating versus oppressive or institutional versus the individual or male versus female, Kamitsuka utilizes Michel Foucault’s work. Foucault explores how selves and communities are constituted and regulated through the apparatuses of truth- conveying and disciplinary discursive regimes — what he calls “power/knowl- edge.” Based on his vast historical investigations of power structures, or what has technically been labelled “genealogies,” Foucault concludes that rather than “power” being monolithic and centralized, it is a network of apparatuses marked by “faults, fissures and heterogeneous layers” that can be exploited.5 Using examples such as the Protestant Reformation, Foucault demonstrates how marginalized discourses within history, rather than remaining repressed, have emerged and resisted the dominating power of their time, such as the medieval Roman Catholic Church.6 He calls this the “insurrection of subju- gated knowledge.”7

According to Foucault, power is not possessed by any one person or group. Rather, as a relation relative to another, power always circulates and must be analyzed accordingly. Within this schema individuals are both acted upon and actors who exercise power. As a result, marginalized groups and the knowl- edge they possess are always in a position to resist the imposition of the dominant culture’s discourses. Such a concept of power allows the platitude “everyone is to some extent both oppressor and oppressed” to be used in such a manner that degrees of oppressions can be acknowledged. The reality is that oppressed people are always agents and also possess power as well as the oppressors. At the same time, not all oppressions are equal. Nor can the unre- lenting oppression of institutional structures be ignored.8

Kamitsuka uses Foucaldian categories not only to call for the complication of the concept of women’s experience primarily by decentering the privileges “of whiteness and heterosexuality in feminist theology,” but also to demon- strate how these and other privileges continue to function — albeit subtly and oftentimes unnoticed — within the dominant discourses of feminist theolo- gies, even though they attempt to attend to difference. Kamitsuka attempts to

5 Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, trans. Donald Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977), 146.

6 Ibid.

7 Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon, 1972), 81.

8 Kamitsuka, Feminist Theology, 73, 89-94. Here she is referring to Foucault’s Power/Knowl- edge. See Foucault, Power/Knowledge, 74, 93, 98, 81.


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navigate a position between what she considers to be “two extremes poles — the pole of oppressive victimization, suggesting virtually no agency, and the pole of utopian sisterhood, suggesting almost unlimited agency.”9 Both of these poles essentialize women and their experiences. Kamitsuka then asks, “How should we theorize the nature of power and women’s selfhood so as to insist on women’s moral accountability and encourage diverse resistance prac- tices, without sacrifices to attentiveness to difference?”10 Her answer is to bring poststructuralism and postcolonialism to bear on this question.

Within Christianity, individuals and groups negotiate with the disciplinary power of its creeds, practices, interpretation of Scriptures, and doctrines in both compliant and subversive performances.11 Rather than power being invested in any one charismatic leader or within hierarchically arranged offices within an institution, utilizing the Foucauldian category of “power circulating” both explains and affirms Pentecostal understandings of the movement of the Spirit within its collective and communal midst, anointing and empowering individuals and groups. The category also provides a solid foundation from which to critically discern its use.

Pentecostals understand this idea of “power circulating,” although they are more apt to assign that “power” to the Holy Spirit. For example, in its relatively egalitarian and inclusive beginnings at Azusa Street, the early Pentecostal movement understood itself to be representative of a “full” gospel. This “full” gospel not only emphasized experiences of the Spirit as part of a fivefold gos- pel, but also included the understanding that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was good news not only for a privileged few but for all people of all nations: male, female, black, white, young, old, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, whomever.12 This preunderstanding was then taken to the Bible and affirmation was found there in such passages as Acts 2:17, 18. Passages such as this one with an inclu- sive theme were emphasized as they were understood to be more in line with the “full” gospel than such passages as 1 Corinthians 14:34 (“Let your women keep silence in the churches . . . ”) or Ephesians 6:5 (“Slaves, be obedient to them that are your masters . . . ”), which were not stressed. The preunderstand- ing of what constituted the “full” gospel and the “plain, literal” sense of the Bible were brought together in order to discern what God was saying in and

9 Kamitsuka, Feminist Theology, 28.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., 87.

12 C. M. Robeck, Jr., “Azusa Street Revival,” in Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Move- ments, ed. Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee (Grand Rapid, MI: Zondervan, 1988), 34-36; Apostolic Faith 1, no. 1 (Sept. 1906): 2.



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through the Scriptures. These early Pentecostals were moving from their own experiences (including experiences of life — such as being looked down upon by more privileged folk — and experiences interpreted as being of the Spirit — such as women being called and anointed to preach by the Spirit) to the Spirit-inspired and illumined Scriptures, which were interpreted in light of the preunderstanding of what constituted the “full” gospel within a communal context, through oral testifying and preaching, so that the community could evaluate the interpretations and add an “amen.” The process was as multidi- mensional and complex as the sentence describing it. It was also powerful, accountable, and dependent upon the ongoing activity of the Spirit within their midst empowering the various parts of the process. Power circulated with the movement of the Spirit. Several aspects of these Pentecostal practices of interpretation, which would most likely not qualify as meeting the criterion of “objectivity,” continue today in Pentecostal corporate worship services and have not yet been completely evaluated for their promise and problems. This includes an adequate assessment of what constitutes the “full” gospel, the experiential aspects, the part played by the community, and the Spirit’s involve- ment in the whole dialectical and dialogical process in empowering the various elements.


Kwok, however, adds another element that a feminist Pentecostal needs to keep in mind. In her work, Kwok brings together colonialism, gender, and reli- gion to demonstrate and deconstruct the power these three elements have in sustaining ideologies of colonization.13 As Kwok has pointed out in relation to Edward Said’s work, rather than speaking of postcolonial critique, it is very possible that colonialism has not in fact died out but rather become neocolo- nialism. Many scholars use the term postcolonial politically to denote a “read- ing strategy and discourse practice.”14 This highlights the reality that temporal colonialism may be finished but the “devastation they left behind,” including “colonial epistemological frameworks,” “Eurocentric logics,” and “stereotypical cultural representations” is still being lived.15 Kwok herself utilizes the phrase postcolonial imagination to refer to “a desire, a determination and a process of disengagement from the whole colonial syndrome which takes many forms

13 Kwok, Postcolonial Imagination 14 Ibid., 2.

15 Ibid.



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and guises.”16 As a result, Kwok focuses on the “interdependence of the cultural terrain” between colonizers and colonized as well as on deconstructing Euro- centric power and privilege that remain long after the colonizers have left. At the same time, the addition of the word imagination to the phrase indicates that “something is not fitting, to search for new images, and to arrive at new patterns of meaning and interpretation.”17

Kwok avoids reconstructing the imagining subject as some sort of “transcen- dental I” as sometimes occurs within the liberal project. As a result, she exploits what she calls “the cracks, the fissures, and the openings, which refuse to be shaped into any framework, and which are often consigned to the periphery.”18 As these cracks and fissures “staunchly refuse to follow the set pattern, the established episteme, the overall design,” they are able to “point to another path, to signal radically new possibilities.”19 It is upon these new paths and pos- sibilities that Kwok focuses.

According to Kwok, Edward Said in his book Orientalism utilized Foucault’s work to argue that knowledge is not objective and neutral. Rather, knowledge is intimately related to power in that supposedly objective, scholarly knowl- edge legitimated the interests and hegemony of the colonizers from the white, Christian West. This “Christian West” regularly labelled subjects “the natives,” while assuming the authority to describe and generalize the experiences of these “natives.” As a result, Kwok insists on the recognition of the limits of any governmental policy involving the affirmation of cultural diversity. In her opinion, any approach that assumes that different cultures can interact and compete on an equal public footing is an illusion. Rather, such forms of multi- culturalism mask the reality of the dominant white culture’s power. This power “set the rules of the game” by defining, appropriating, and assimilating minor- ity and less powerful cultures.20 Kwok states:

. . . the development of modern theology took place in the cultural and social space defined by the Enlightenment on the one hand and political expansion of Europe on the other. In 1815 Western powers held approximately 35 percent of the earth’s surface; by 1914 Europe controlled a total of roughly 85 percent of the earth as colonies, protec- torates, dependencies, and commonwealths. Today, the United States has superseded the former empires to become the world’s sole superpower, with President George W. Bush invoking unabashedly biblical images and Christian rhetoric to justify his global

16 Ibid. 17 Ibid. 18 Ibid., 19. 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid., 42.



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“war against terrorism.” In the midst of the ascendancy of American imperialism, the lack of self-reflexivity among theologians may be taken as an indicator of the degree to which theological institutions and scholarship have been enmeshed in the neolib- eral economy and right-leaning politics. Even progressive theologians in the United States — feminist, liberationist, and racial minorities among them — who have cham- pioned the use of critical categories such as gender, class, and race in their works, have not sufficiently addressed theology’s collusion with colonialism in their theoretical frameworks.21

As a result, Kwok warns that in order to avoid furthering the cause of the “Pax Americana,” “scholars need to first recognize that religion, including Christianity, has — and in my opinion, still does — function as the ‘original globalizer’ working hand-in-hand as a ‘natural accompaniment of conquest and colonization.’ ”22 Therefore, “postcolonial intellectuals need to be vigilant about the deep-seated layers of colonialist patterns of thinking” in their work.23 As many Pentecostal women and their experiences are located in the major- ity world with the largest percentage of feminist Pentecostal thinking being written in English in Europe and the United States, this vigilance must be intentionally highlighted and continuously scrutinized. More bluntly, Cauca- sian, upper- and middle-class, heterosexual, feminist Pentecostal women whose heritages hail from Western Europe, Canada, or the United States must acknowledge the power their privilege affords them and, thus, turn the herme- neutic of suspicion on themselves in order to weed out neocolonial assump- tions and practices and to allow power to circulate.

Kwok finds the attempts of many feminist theologians seriously to take into account the differences being lived out by colonized peoples to be inadequate. For example, while she applauds Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza for moving beyond gender dualism to her concept of “kyriarchy” to signify the multiplica- tive and interlocking forms of oppression experienced by women, Kwok never- theless argues that a much more complicated model is required to describe the situation within a colonial context in which a “foreign kyriarchy” is “superim- posed on and intersecting with the local one.”24 As Kwok explains, in such situ- ations “the people of the colonizing nation, including the rich and the poor, men and women, dominate and exert control over the colonized people by

21 Ibid., 6-7. She is drawing upon Edward W. Said’s Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1979), 41. 22 Kwok, Postcolonial Imagination,187, 207.

23 Ibid.,3-5. See also Edward W. Said, “Yeats and Decolonization,” in Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature, ed. Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, and Edward W. Said (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), 72; idem, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1979), 17-28, 132-48. 24 Kwok, Postcolonial Imagination,14.


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imposing their systems of powers.”25 An example of this would be Caucasian women enjoying more freedom and power than they might at home when vis- iting what Kwok calls “the colonies.”26 In addition, Kwok argues, the universal- izing tendency of some feminist thinking whereby the concept of a “generic woman” sometimes functions similar to the concept of the “generic man,” even as the former concept attempts to deconstruct the latter, is deeply “rooted in the complex social and material contexts” — such as capitalism — “of the expansion of the West and the superimposition of Western cultures onto other peoples.”27 For people in the Western world, the West is the norm. Therefore, Kwok insists that similar to the way in which “white women in North America have to investigate how their gendered selves are also racialized, European women have to ask how their construction of gender is affected by their experi- ence of colonizing others.”28

I want to take this statement further and suggest that feminist Pentecostals located within Canada and the United States whose ancestors can be traced to Western Europe need to ask how this colonizing activity is influencing their scholarship. More specifically, how regularly have the experiences of people, including women, within the Pentecostal groups such as the Assemblies of God in the United States and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada with their predominantly Caucasian populations been universalized as the norm for all of Pentecostalism seemingly without any awareness that this is occurring? For instance, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) has recently pub- lished a collection of essays written by its “Theological Studies Commission.” While wanting to applaud the PAOC for its openness to discuss theology, nev- ertheless, the title that they have given this publication is definitely problem- atic. In huge letters across the top third of the cover are the title words AUTHENTICALLY PENTECOSTAL followed by a much smaller script in the right hand corner: Here’s What WE See — A Conversation.29 That the PAOC intentionally assumes the power and right to universalize its experiences not only to the rest of Canada but to all of Classical Pentecostalism is quite clear on its website, which openly states:

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid., 56.

28 Ibid.

29 Testimony Magazine: Where Our Story Intersects Faith and Culture, November 2011, vol. 92, no. 9: 25.



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With over 1,100 churches, at least 3,000 pastors and more than 250,000 adherents covering a wide demographic spectrum from sea to sea, the PAOC is well positioned to serve as the lead voice for the Pentecostal spirituality within Canada. No other move- ment, denomination, group of churches or even a single church has a comparable national voice. Ours is the voice of classical Pentecostal spirituality. If we don’t speak, who will?30

While the obvious answer to the question is, “the rest of the various Pentecos- tal communities around the world,” as a Canadian feminist Pentecostal who has drawn upon the experiences of ministering women within the history of the PAOC, the question that I constantly wrestle with is whether or not remem- bering and writing about these women can be done in such a manner as not to universalize their experiences to the global movement. How can a feminist Pentecostal with limited resources access the experiences of other Pentecostal peoples throughout the world? While a daunting task, it must be done. As Kwok so succinctly states, “We cannot understand ourselves without listening to others, especially to those we have oppressed or have the potential to oppress. Such critical engagement is the beginning of solidarity.”31 These oth- ers have been called “subaltern” and defined by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak to indicate those voices arising from “nonelite or subordinate social groups.” Kwok insists that “female subalterns,” who “experience the intersection of oppressions in the most immediate and brutal way,” must have “epistemologi- cal privileges.”32 For those feminist Pentecostals working from within the so- called Western world, “Our privilege is our loss.”33

From its earliest days, some Pentecostals have a diasporic vantage point from which contemporary feminist Pentecostals can glean perspectives. One of the corporate mythologies of Pentecostalism involves the events of the 1906 Azusa Street Revival, which for many, although definitely not all, is looked upon as the beginning of the movements. The Pentecostal movement began in a stable in Azusa Street with a black pastor whose parents were ex-slaves and a congregation made up of people from various ethnic groups. Themes of power and its use were familiar to these people, who were attempting to create a life for themselves in the midst of Jim Crow laws and racial segregation. As many Pentecostals not only live in the Majority World but have immigrated

30 Pentecostal Initiatives in Canada. Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada website. http://www .paoc.org/resources/pentecostal-initiatives-in-canada. Accessed September 12, 2011. 31 Kwok, Postcolonial Imagination , 60.

32 Ibid., 127.

33 Ibid.,75.


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to Canada and the United States, being diasporic is a familiar experience. Expe- riences of being diasporic are part of our corporate experiences. The question is how to access these experiences appropriately.

Strategic Essentialism

Those feminists, Pentecostal or otherwise, who wish to utilize the concept of “women’s experiences” as a source or resource find themselves faced with a quandary. With the multiplicity of women’s experiences, how can or should feminists proceed even while recognizing the power and privilege that we have? Kamitsuka and Kwok do not leave feminist theories and theologians in a quagmire of relativity whereby nothing can be said about women and their experiences. Rather, they make some suggestions about how to proceed that feminist Pentecostals, as well as others, may find useful.

Kamitsuka suggests the use of Spivak’s category of “strategic essentializa- tion” to move forward. Such a category recognizes the reality that advocacy positions are oftentimes politically necessary, particularly in those cases involv- ing subalterns. (Un)fortunately, being subaltern is a familiar experience for many Pentecostals. Since its emergence, Pentecostals have been subaltern to the rest of churches, effectively ignored until recently in spite of its burgeoning membership; until the last few decades, the Spirit has been subaltern within theology as the “Cinderella of the Trinity”; and women have been subaltern to men within patriarchal churches and cultures. In addition, within global Pentecostalism many of its members come from the Majority World and are still dealing with the effects of colonialization — some as colonizers, some as colonized, and some as a mixture of both. It is time that the experiences and accounts of many of these Pentecostal peoples are “read against the grain” in order to deconstruct their essentialization and to allow the emergence of their complex agency and discourses.

Strategic essentialization is “a strategic use of positive essentialism in a scru- pulously visible political interest.”34 It is an interventionist advocacy method- ology that allows for subalterns to be recognized as subjects of history whose involvement in the circulation of power may be minimal. This “strategic essen- tialism” acknowledges that what is being presented is a snapshot of particular women’s experiences that provisionally essentializes for concrete purposes.

34 Kamitsuka, Feminist Theology, 94-97. Here she is referring to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography,” in The Spivak Reader, ed. Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean (New York: Routledge, 1997), 204, 211, 213, 217, 220.



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One such purpose could be to discern and give voice to what the various Pen- tecostal women and their experiences around the world believe. However, elite, Caucasian Pentecostals in Canada and the United States must heed the caution of Spivak, who argues that first-world, white feminists have been guilty of appropriating Majority World women’s experiences and essentializing these experiences by disconnecting them from their contexts and then linking them to their first-world context through a romantic recolonization.35 If Western, Caucasian, heterosexual feminist Pentecostals want to advocate for subaltern voices by using “strategic essentialization,” which can be a useful methodology, it must be done explicitly and provisionally and be politically well defined. Kamitsuka is convinced that “the more feminist theologians can deepen their understanding and appreciation of difference and continually interrogate new forms of privilege, the more enriching and enlivening our discourse and practice will become.”36 The path forward is fraught with dangers, however. There is the temptation, often unrecognized, for those of us who are more priv- ileged to disrespectfully appropriate the beliefs, practices, and experiences of those who may be among the subaltern. And as we sift through materials, our own perspectives and preunderstandings coupled with our power can become hegemonic.37 Adding other voices, including subaltern ones, is in order. We must, however, do so carefully. As American Pentecostal scholar Frank Mac- chia has explained in a work dealing with global Pentecostalism,

within Anglo-American Pentecostalism with its concern to remain acceptable to Chris- tian Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, systematic theology has been equated with scripturally supported doctrines which summarize Pentecostal beliefs. As a result, dia- logical, contextual, critical and creative reflection on those beliefs and their implica- tions for social and cultural issues has been lacking and needs to be encouraged.38

Nevertheless, Macchia continues,

Afro-American, marginalized Pentecostals in the United States and Two Thirds World Pentecostals have focused on “experience” validated only by the “text of Scriptures and the experience of the Spirit in the daily lives of those searching to be faithful to Jesus

35 Kamitsuka, Feminist Theology, 94-97.

36 Ibid., 137.

37 Ibid., 144-46.

38 Frank Macchia, “The Struggle for Global Witness: Shifting Paradigms in Pentecostal Theol- ogy,” in The Globalization of Pentecostalism: A Religion Made to Travel, ed. Murray W. Dempster, Byron D. Klaus, and Douglas Petersen (Carlisle, CA: Regnum Books, 1999), 8-29.


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Christ.” As a result, some “theological creativity” has emerged and is reflected in preach- ing, various publications and “non-official expressions of church life.”39

According to Macchia, a “paradigm shift” is occurring within Pentecostal theol- ogy from a theology of “Bible doctrines” to the “rise of critical theology” pro- phetically concerned for personal and social liberation.40 As Macchia has rightly pointed out, however,

If Pentecostal spirituality is to become identified with liberating praxis, an ongoing discernment of the forces of deception and their ideological defences utilized by corpo- rate power to maintain the status quo will need to be utilized by Pentecostal communi- ties of faith.41

Pentecostals are intensely interested in liberation, in life abundant for all. There is an underlying, emancipatory impulse in Pentecostalism dating back to Azusa Street. Today we more privileged Pentecostals need to reclaim this liberative stance and explicitly and intentionally reapply such a stance to all those within our own midst who are experiencing oppression, not only at the hands of others, but also as a result of our unacknowledged harmful presup- positions and our practices. Pentecostal scholar Stephen E. Parker has an insightful study that has brought together, among others, Freud42 and Tillich43 and Pentecostal congregational practices. This study makes suggestions for discernment and decision making. Parker insists that Pentecostals need to read Scriptures and examine diverse experiences more discerningly and inten- tionally. While exegetical and historical approaches to Scriptures are impor- tant, so also is an emphasis on the role and authority of experience.44 This experience includes insights gleaned from the experiences of women and other subalterns. These often overlooked experiences would assist in recognizing and interpreting passages with oppressive frameworks. The goal is to truly make the gospel “good news” for all. As the Spirit is understood to be constantly moving, different people and biblical texts are constantly being authorized and

39 Ibid., 10-11. Macchia draws on the work of another Pentecostal scholar, Russ Spittler. 40 Ibid., 8-13.

41 Ibid.

42 Stephen E. Parker, Led by the Spirit: Toward a Practical Theology of Pentecostal Discernment and Decision Making, Journal of Pentecostal Theology Supplement Series 7, ed. John Christopher Thomas, Rickie D. Moore, and Steven J. Land (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 117-44.

43 Ibid., 145-73.

44 Ibid., 10.



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empowered. Authority shifts as the Spirit moves. Power circulates. To statically locate authority within one book, office, or person is to undermine the Spirit’s authority and independent agency. The Spirit blows where She wills.


Feminist Pentecostals within privileged contexts have the capacity to draw upon various women’s experiences within the global movement in order to retrieve the resources we need as long as we remain intentionally self-reflective and critical. By utilizing a methodological approach that involves strategic essentialism while recognizing our own power, we may be able to identify and analyze further those aspects of our movement which hold emancipatory potential, those aspects which are oppressive, and those which are a mixture of both.

Feminist Pentecostals must also begin to acknowledge explicitly that there is no such thing as a “typical” Pentecostal, including ourselves. Pentecostalism globally is noticeably diverse. According to the New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, in the year 2000 there were approxi- mately 523 million Pentecostals and Charismatics in the world, 71 percent of whom were people of color (29 percent Caucasian), 66 percent of whom were in the Majority World (32 percent in the Western world; it doesn’t say where the other 2 percent are!), and 87 percent of whom live in poverty (13 percent affluence). Most of these members are women and children who live in cities. This movement continues to grow at a rate of 25,000 per day in spite of the fact that “Pentecostals/charismatics are more harassed, persecuted, suffering, and martyred than perhaps any other Christian tradition in recent history.”45

Within Canada, Pentecostalism is also multifaceted, becoming more so each year as new waves of immigrants arrive in Canada bringing with them their version of Pentecostal spirituality. The sooner we acknowledge our diversity along with our particularity as being people who focus on the Spirit, the better it will be for those peoples within our midst who are being dominated, even if unconsciously, by elite, Caucasian Pentecostals. While some Pentecostals may wish to identify themselves as also being Fundamentalist or Evangelical or Catholic or Latin American or not Pentecostal at all, such as in some of the African Initiated Churches and some of the house church movements in China,

45 D. B. Barrett and T. J. Johnson, “Global Statistics,” in the New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, rev. exp. ed., ed. Stanley M. Burgess and Eduard M. van der Maas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002, 2003), 283-302.


P. M. S. Holmes / Pneuma 35 (2013) 9-23


the point is that there is no such thing as a typical Pentecostal. Diversity is the norm. The only thing that that Pentecostals have in common is that they all emphasize experiences of the Spirit, and even that is understood in many dif- ferent ways, which sometimes creates problems within their midst, such as the ongoing division between Oneness and Trinitarian Pentecostals. Pentecostals are people who claim to have experiences of the Spirit who blows where She will, which is non-determinable. Our identity beyond that resides in the parts of the concept “Pentecostal” into which Pentecostals do not fit. That is both part of Pentecostalism’s strength and its weakness. Pentecostalism is easily adaptable to various contexts, has the potential to influence many peoples, is always in flux and transformation, is not easily pigeon-holed or analyzed, has the potential to remain radical and countercultural, and is not easily controlled, except by an exceptionally charismatic figure.

Fortunately, as feminist Pentecostal theology is relatively new, rather than deconstruct later, feminist Pentecostal theologians and theorists can, right at the beginning, make it explicit within their work that no one particular, located subset of Pentecostal women and their experiences can be generalized to speak for all. Rather, more privileged feminist Pentecostal theologians must inten- tionally include diverse Pentecostal women’s voices, not as adjectives describ- ing a particular feminist Pentecostal such as “Irish feminist Pentecostal theology” or “Korean feminist Pentecostal theology” — unless the persons themselves self-define as such — but rather as all and each being representa- tive of “feminist Pentecostal theology” in its diversity without generalization. Therefore, a Korean (re)presents feminist Pentecostal theology just as much as a Caucasian, Trinitarian, heterosexual, American of Western European descent. Eurocentrism in its patriarchal and patrilineal Canadian and Ameri- can form must be explicitly recognized and shunned rather than duplicated by those who benefit from its existence. In short, Caucasian, English-speaking feminist Pentecostals living in Canada and the United States may have to learn to “speak in many tongues” in order to hear the majority of their sisters in the Spirit.


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