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Introduction

American evangelical Protestants are a highly visible and vocal group in cultural debates concerning sexual ethics and family life in the United States. Known for their rigorous efforts toward protecting and perpetuating notions of "family values" and "pro-family" lifestyle choices, evangelicals stress the need to maintain their traditional family values for the sake of salvation and a healthy society (Gallagher 2003). Due to their strong emphasis on biblical text as the authoritative source of truth, many evangelicals believe that fulfilling and prosperous family lives are best sustained both through the practice of those values and through gender relations rooted in their understandings of the Bible.

Historically, evangelical perspectives on the family have been built upon traditional gender essentialist notions of what characterizes men and women and how these essential natures come together to form relationships and families.1 The biblical basis of gender difference and the definition and practice of proper gender roles within family life (those believed to be supported by the Bible) have been paramount concerns for evangelical Protestants throughout their history (DeBerg1990; Gallagher 2003; Bartkowski 2001); these concerns continue today, which is evident in the mobilization of evangelicals against attempts to redefine the traditional definition of marriage and other issues related to sexuality.

Conservative Protestant ideology on gender has historically lent support to gender essentialism and its institutionalization in American society (DeBerg 1990; Bendroth 1993). Given these tendencies, and the belief that evangelicals are to engage the world while remaining not of it, one might expect that evangelicals practice gender relations within the home that differ from those of their non-evangelical counterparts and those who do not profess any religious belief. One might assume that evangelicals exemplify gender roles that closely resemble the traditional and historically dominant gender essentialism in evangelical thought. This assumption would correlate with images of the evangelical male as head of house and as an authoritarian patriarch in the American social imagination (Bartkowski 2007, 155). However, as several studies report, such an image is far from reality. The everyday family practices of evangelicals closely resemble those of non-evangelical and even nonreligious Americans. This similarity, however, raises an important question, one with significant implications for the future of evangelicalism: how do evangelicals maintain the vital boundary that separates the ways of the world from an authentic bible-based way of life central to evangelical identity? To discover how evangelicals are constructing and maintaining individual and collective identities as members of the evangelical tradition amid the changes taking place in their gender relations and family lives, we must first examine the nature of evangelical thought on gender and the shifts taking place in family practice.

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