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Abstract

Evangelical Protestants are an influential force in the world of politics, particularly in bringing debates over family values to the forefront of public life within the last thirty years. Their perspectives on gender have become a central point of contention in the so-called "culture wars" in American society. Recent research shows that the majority of evangelicals do not embody gender roles that fit within traditional, patriarchal, and gender essentialist models once central to evangelical thought on family life. Evangelicals live out their everyday family lives in much the same way as non-evangelicals and non-religious Americans. Research on evangelicals and subcultural identity theories is here placed within the context of individual and collective narrative identity formation to demonstrate how the fusion between the gender essentialist symbols that persist in evangelical perspectives on the family and the everyday tasks encountered in family life assists evangelicals in fulfilling the biblical mandate to be "in" the world but remain not "of " it. Evangelicals' negotiations of gender roles have taken place through debates both within the subculture and within mainstream American culture and have led to the construction of a dominant form of evangelical gender practice that combines gender essentialist notions and the egalitarian treatment of both sexes in marital and familial relationships. This "symbolic traditionalism and practical egalitarianism" (Gallagher 2003), and the debates on gender in evangelicalism in general, demonstrate the role of evangelical agency in assessing both the biblical validity of various perspectives on gender and the efficacy of employing these gender views in their own lives.

KEYWORDS: evangelicals, family life, gender roles, identity

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