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Conclusion

As with the data contained in the studies discussed, emphasis on subcultural identity theories and the collective construction of gender by a creative mixing of both evangelical and wider cultural influences in this analysis is by no means exhaustive of the explanations available of how evangelicals are constructing and performing gender. Most notable are the considerations given to the power relations that exist between men (particularly male church leaders) and women in conservative evangelical churches and groups in the works of Brasher (1998), Griffith (1997), and Ingersoll (2003), and the role power relations (and the benefits and losses that stem from them) play in the maintenance and rejection of certain gender ideologies and practices. Ethnographic studies of women's evangelical groups provide a more complex picture of the processes by which women negotiate their religious tradition's emphasis on gender hierarchy and female submission and their own needs for personal empowerment and spiritual inspiration.

In Brasher (1998) and Griffith (1997) in particular, more restrictive understandings of female submission to the male head of the home were often stated as the Biblical ideal (as opposed to the evangelical or biblical feminist position of mutual submission). Yet for the women who embraced female submission, submission 5.1. 25-37 was not a source of disempowerment, but rather a source for creating their perception of existing power relations in a way that allowed them a greater sense of freedom and religious fulfillment. These women exemplified female submission with a twist – for them, enacting roles that were in opposition and submission to those of their male leaders provided them with a space of their own, a "women's only" enclave within church life that allowed for the comfortable and supportive exploration of their spirituality and, often, the difficulties faced in their relationships, in an environment free of men. For many in Griffith's study, submitting before their husbands and God as the ultimate male figure head and the acceptance of this gender hierarchy became an act of personal empowerment that allowed them to let go of the frustrations associated with things they could not control and move on with their lives with a renewed hope that a loving, fatherly God would provide them with what was needed. They believed that it was often not the hearts of the men in their lives that needed to change, but rather their own attitude and acceptance of these men would heal their relationships (Griffith 1997).

Evangelicals fulfill gender roles that both resemble those of many non-evangelical American families and yet are uniquely evangelical in that they are motivated by and experienced through the lens of biblical imperatives. By doing so, evangelical men and women establish narratives and strategies of action that link them to a tradition and past of biblical authenticity, and provide them with the tools they need for personal growth, empowerment, and direction. In addition, this creative and integrative process of gender construction allows them simultaneously to adhere to a conservative religious tradition while remaining fully engaged in contemporary American mainstream culture in a way that keeps them sufficiently distinct from nonevangelicals – to be in the world but not of it.

The identity and boundary work of evangelicals highlights the complexity of interactions between private, family, and public lives, and how these layers of experience alter our sense of self by providing a space and a well-spring of resources for narrative recreation. The power of religion within the personal and public narratives of contemporary persons like the evangelicals discussed here speaks to the continued importance of religion as a source for individual and collective constructions of meaning and moral direction in a complex world.

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