Famous early 20th century women evangelists and church leaders - what happened?

PomonaPomona Shipmate
edited April 17 in Purgatory
I hope this is not a DH subject by default, as I'm not looking to discuss the rights and wrongs of women's ordination and ministry - I'm simply interested in the history here and how/why things changed. Hopefully it helps that within the denominations being discussed, women's ordination has been generally accepted for a long time and there are no current controversies afaik. However of course if it needs moving, it needs moving.

I recently was looking up the history of Alma as a name and discovered a prominent early 20th century Wesleyan evangelist and church leader named Alma Bridwell White. Interestingly, it seems that she was quite the nemesis of the renowned Pentecostal preacher, and founder of the Foursquare Church, Aimee Semple McPherson. McPherson seems like a rather nicer person! But it seems like there were quite a number of formidable women leaders in churches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries - so what happened? Many of these denominations had women in leadership from the start, particularly the Wesleyan/Wesleyan derived ones. Why did famous women leaders and evangelists, even in denominations where that wasn't controversial, become less of a thing? Was it the second world war, or something else? It seems odd that Pentecostalism, even in churches that on paper accept women in leadership, does not have a 21st century Aimee Semple McPherson (and I daresay they could use one).

Comments

  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    Not to mention Mary Baker Eddy who founded an entire sect.

    Mr F, who was brought up in Christian Science, was remarking the other day on how, if there are two presenters on a TV news programme, the man is usually on the left of the screen, the woman on the right. As our culture reads from left to right, this makes him the more significant, senior figure. Apparently CS churches had two readers at lecterns during the service and the one on the left was always female.

    This upbringing seems to have left him with, if no religious faith, a certain optimism and absolutely no problems with female leadership.
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate
    Firenze wrote: »
    ...Mr F, who was brought up in Christian Science, was remarking the other day on how, if there are two presenters on a TV news programme, the man is usually on the left of the screen, the woman on the right. As our culture reads from left to right, this makes him the more significant, senior figure. Apparently CS churches had two readers at lecterns during the service and the one on the left was always female. ...
    Good observation. The man was always the First Reader, and the woman was always the Second Reader. (At least until a given church grew too small and ran out of men; then, reluctantly, they'd make a woman the First Reader, too.)

    Rossweisse // former Christian Science soloist

  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    As far as Aimee, there was a scandal around her. Trying to remember an old docu-drama...I think she'd been pushed into the whole thing by her very difficult mom, was very unhappy, and wound up in a secret relationship with a man. So that may have shaped some opinions.

    I liked evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman (Archive.org) very much. Her TV show was on Sunday mornings; and, if I was sick at home and couldn't go to church, I watched her.
  • Pomona wrote: »
    Why did famous women leaders and evangelists, even in denominations where that wasn't controversial, become less of a thing? Was it the second world war, or something else? It seems odd that Pentecostalism, even in churches that on paper accept women in leadership, does not have a 21st century Aimee Semple McPherson (and I daresay they could use one).

    Joyce Meyer? Oddly enough, her preaching was a decisive factor in me changing my position on women's ministry.

    I think WW2 did propel women into new positions of leadership in many places. Madeleine Blocher-Saillens (link in French) was a significant figure in French evangelicalism, appointed as a baptist pastor alongside her husband in 1929, but I think gaining more prominence during the war years.
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited April 18
    There was Ruth Lee in Watchman Nee's "Little Flock" movement in China: https://tinyurl.com/y3vd6d3c. Women were not allowed to preach to men, so on at least one occasion a curtain was stretched across the church with the men sitting invisibly behind it!

    And English Baptists pay tribute to Violet Hedger: https://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/529776/Violet_Hedger.aspx
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Epiphanies Host
    On a different tack, I think one of the changes has been the emergence of prominent female leaders of worship, particularly in charismatic evangelical circles. From the Hillsong stream, Darlene Zschech and Taya Smith, from Bethel, Jenn Johnson, from New Frontiers, Lou Fellingham. I think that in the charo/evo context, communal sung worship and the use of contemporary songs has become as least as, and maybe more, important than preaching as the attraction into joining those communities. The communal singing is to be enjoyed, and produces a good deal of community solidarity. A lot of folks I know from those communities will say privately that the the traditional long sermons are more to be endured!
  • I know it’s in the wrong century, but can I just flag up Margaret Fell, one of the founders of the Quaker movement. Whilst in jail for her religious views she wrote a piece justifying women’s ministry.
    Perhaps her most famous work is "Women's Speaking Justified", a scripture-based argument for women's ministry, and one of the major texts on women's religious leadership in the 17th century.

    In this short pamphlet, Fell bases her argument for equality of the sexes on one of the basic premises of Quakerism, namely spiritual equality. Her belief was that God created all human beings, therefore both men and women were capable of not only possessing the Inner Light but also the ability to be a prophet.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    Re women speaking in church:

    Dale Evans, actress, singer, and wife of Roy Rogers (and both of them Christians) was troubled about the verse about women not speaking in church. She spoke in churches. (Not sure if any was officially a sermon.)

    She was touring the Holy Land and at a Christian site, and the topic came up. The tour guide said that, since women and men sat separately then in church, and (IIRC) the women were seated behind and above the men, they couldn't always hear what was being said in the service. So they'd sometimes call out to their husbands, asking what was said. That was so disruptive that they were forbidden to speak in church.

    This relieved Dale, and she continued her speaking ministry.
  • I've recently been reading Vicky Beeching's book "Undivided", and she tells of the ticking-off she received in one American Fundamentalist church after her introductory comment to a song became rather more than that. She was told, in no uncertain terms, that women were not allowed to "teach" or "preach".
  • PomonaPomona Shipmate
    Golden Key wrote: »
    As far as Aimee, there was a scandal around her. Trying to remember an old docu-drama...I think she'd been pushed into the whole thing by her very difficult mom, was very unhappy, and wound up in a secret relationship with a man. So that may have shaped some opinions.

    I liked evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman (Archive.org) very much. Her TV show was on Sunday mornings; and, if I was sick at home and couldn't go to church, I watched her.

    Her 'affair' seems like it was just a scurrilous rumour going by actual sources of the time. Scandal was created because she was a woman doing good things and people just couldn't let that slide. I can't find any actual corroborated scandal.
  • PomonaPomona Shipmate
    Barnabas62 wrote: »
    On a different tack, I think one of the changes has been the emergence of prominent female leaders of worship, particularly in charismatic evangelical circles. From the Hillsong stream, Darlene Zschech and Taya Smith, from Bethel, Jenn Johnson, from New Frontiers, Lou Fellingham. I think that in the charo/evo context, communal sung worship and the use of contemporary songs has become as least as, and maybe more, important than preaching as the attraction into joining those communities. The communal singing is to be enjoyed, and produces a good deal of community solidarity. A lot of folks I know from those communities will say privately that the the traditional long sermons are more to be endured!

    I appreciate that Pentecostalism isn't the Reformed tradition when it comes to preaching. But there are just as many prominent male worship leaders/artists from the churches you mention. Perhaps the rise of the Religious Right is to blame? It just seems odd to me.
  • PomonaPomona Shipmate
    I've recently been reading Vicky Beeching's book "Undivided", and she tells of the ticking-off she received in one American Fundamentalist church after her introductory comment to a song became rather more than that. She was told, in no uncertain terms, that women were not allowed to "teach" or "preach".

    I have heard of Christian Unions in universities not allowing women to lead worship for this reason.
  • To quote a (female) friend: most of the men who get steamed up about women preaching or teaching are worried they'll be shown up; and in any case, if the women preach, who'll be making the tea :grin:
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth Mystery Worship Editor
    Pomona wrote: »
    Her [Aimee Semple McPherson's] 'affair' seems like it was just a scurrilous rumour going by actual sources of the time. Scandal was created because she was a woman doing good things and people just couldn't let that slide. I can't find any actual corroborated scandal.

    The Angelus Temple, which Sister Aimee founded, was Mystery Worshipped here: https://shipoffools.com/mystery-worshipper/angelus-temple-los-angeles-california-usa/ (sorry, but the URL button isn't working properly).

    The story is that she ran off with the Angelus Temple's radio operator and then faked a kidnapping.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Former Texas governor Ann Richards used to say, "If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman."
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    Joyce Meyer? Oddly enough, her preaching was a decisive factor in me changing my position on women's ministry. ...
    In what sense, Eutychus? She's certainly done well by it, but she's let herself open to a lot of criticism.

  • EutychusEutychus Admin
    edited April 18
    @Rossweisse: Many years ago, at a time when I'd embraced male headship ideas due to the church environment I was in (having formerly been pro-women's ministry), @EmmaJean briskly shredded my newly-learned arguments in the old Ship's Café.

    Around the same time, I was sent a couple of tapes of Meyer's preaching by some give-tapes-to-missionaries organisation.

    I didn't know anything about her apart from what I heard of her preaching on the tapes. The preaching certainly wasn't my style, but I found myself being edified by it, and I thought: "if I'm being edified by it, what difference does it make whether it's a man or a woman saying it"?

    At the end of the day I'm afraid that's how deep my theological thinking runs.
  • Sorry, not @EmmaJean. It was EmmaLouise aka TheGreenT, I don't think she came aboard the new Ship.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    I do find a lot of insight in feminist Biblical studies. They often point out things I would overlook.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Epiphanies Host
    edited April 19
    Pomona wrote: »
    Barnabas62 wrote: »
    On a different tack, I think one of the changes has been the emergence of prominent female leaders of worship, particularly in charismatic evangelical circles. From the Hillsong stream, Darlene Zschech and Taya Smith, from Bethel, Jenn Johnson, from New Frontiers, Lou Fellingham. I think that in the charo/evo context, communal sung worship and the use of contemporary songs has become as least as, and maybe more, important than preaching as the attraction into joining those communities. The communal singing is to be enjoyed, and produces a good deal of community solidarity. A lot of folks I know from those communities will say privately that the the traditional long sermons are more to be endured!

    I appreciate that Pentecostalism isn't the Reformed tradition when it comes to preaching. But there are just as many prominent male worship leaders/artists from the churches you mention. Perhaps the rise of the Religious Right is to blame? It just seems odd to me.

    Sure. I think those environments have become more of a level playing field. The rise of contemporary Christian music was accompanied initially by a greater prominence of leaders of worship; in the UK for example Graham Kendrick, Noel Richards, Dave Bilborough, Martin Smith (Delirious), Matt Redman became much more well known than most contemporary preachers. In the UK it was probably Lou Fellingham who broke the mold, with the other women I mentioned emerging over the last 20 or so years.

    I may be wrong about this but even in churches which are still theologically resistant to women preaching, there seems to be precious little objection to women leading sung worship. Perhaps it is thought to be less important, but my guess is that if you examined the musical and book collections of most Christians from the charo evo stream, you'd find they spend a lot more money on music. And that's a massive social change over the last few decades. Church leaders may not like to admit it, may still stick to the notion of preaching being the most significant activity, with communal prayer next and sung worship third. But I don't think that's the way many members of their congregations see it.
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    ...The preaching certainly wasn't my style, but I found myself being edified by it, and I thought: "if I'm being edified by it, what difference does it make whether it's a man or a woman saying it"? ...
    Fair enough. I find a woman's point of view invaluable. (But, then, I would.)


  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    Re Aimee Semple McPherson:

    What a complicated life, and complicated reactions to her.

    Looks like the alleged sex scandals (plural) never really got sorted out. And there were other sorts--mostly about the business aspect of her work.

    The Incredible Disappearing Evangelist: Aimee Semple McPherson was an American phenomenon even before she went missing for five weeks in 1926." (Smithsonian magazine)

    Aimee Semple McPherson (Wikipedia).

    {Slight tangent: Found out something cool through the Wiki article. Aimee sometimes preached at night clubs and saloons, including one run by Texas Guinan. That made me wonder if "Star Trek: TNG"'s bartender, Guinan, was named for her. I looked up Texas Guinan, and she was! :) }
Sign In or Register to comment.