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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2005, Vol. 5 No. 1 .

Changing Women, Changing Worlds: Evangelical Women in Church, Community and Politics
Fran Porter

Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 2002
254 pp PB 9.90 ISBN 0-85640-717-8.

The book is based on extensive interviews with 70 women and 10 men from evangelical Protestantism who are active in Northern Ireland church, community and politics. It explores the question of women and women?s participation, inclusion, difference, authority, domestic challenges and priority. It examines these questions and considers their implications for women themselves, for men, churches, evangelicalism and civic society, and incorporates the voices of the interviewees by way of illustration and argument. Indeed, ?in a country where Christian faith has had such enormous influence? it remains to be seen if women will be able to nudge the church out of the ?museum culture? (Elaine Storkey, forward) and ?evangelical cocoon? (p.203).

Unfortunately the current status quo within evangelicalism towards the question of women is ?almost a hush-hush thing, and women are very much still in the background? (female respondent, p.209) and this is one of the main reasons why this book is of such importance to bring these matters to light. Another female respondent states that ?a lot of the objections to women taking up positions in the church are not theological, they are psychological? (p.151). This indeed does place a damper on the potential difference that women may bring, including an attitude of care, in the peace process and community conflict (pp.1, 8, 92, 94, 97).

Areas of activity for 26 of the women interviewed centres around responding to the needs of victims of the conflict and involvement with schools (p.25). For those readers ?who envision a community of women and men in the church and society that is both a critique and positive alternative to the current state of affairs? (p. 223) this book may be disappointing. The research in this book shows a picture and response that is fractured, confused in places, and hostile in others. I agree with Fran that it ?is not a revolution; it is not conscious or self-aware enough. It has the potential to be disruptive of evangelical norms and practices, but due to its fractured nature and hesitant demeanour, it is highly doubtful that it will be? (p.223, also see p.5).

A contributory factor to the above is that the ?emerging women?s movement in Northern Ireland was hindered by ongoing sectarian conflict with its violence and divisive nature? (p.17). Therefore, it shows that even though several women support feminist ideas, ?they distance themselves from the term itself because the negative perception of feminism is so pervasive? (p.9). Finally, I support Fran?s hope that this book ?will be of interest and value not only for the evangelical community both in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, but for all who seek a better understanding of gender relations operating in society and church? (acknowledgements).

Marlene de Beer, INCORE Associate, PhD Candidate UNESCO Centre, University of Ulster; Research Associate, Institute of Child Care Research, Queens University Belfast.

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