Review: Ye That Are Men Now Serve Him

Katherine E. Rohrer

Katherine E. Rohrer is a lecturer at the University of North Georgia.

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Katherine E. Rohrer, "Review: Ye That Are Men Now Serve Him," Journal of Southern Religion (19) (2017):

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Colin B. Chapell.  Ye That Are Men Now Serve Him: Radical Holiness Theology and Gender in the South.  Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2016.  232 pp.  ISBN 978-0-8173-1922-9.

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Colin B. Chapell offers a fascinating new study on the inextricable relationship between theology and gender construction in the New South, a crossroads period during which southerners confronted uncertainty about, and even discomfort toward, their personal identity. In Ye That Are Men Now Serve Him: Radical Holiness Theology and Gender in the South, Chapell highlights the crucial role that the Holiness movement played in molding gender roles in the South between the end of Reconstruction and the founding of the Second Ku Klux Klan in 1915. Defining the Holiness movement and its proponents was the doctrine of entire sanctification, the belief that a Christian may achieve such a superior state of holiness—meaning perfection of heart—that they cease to sin in this life. Despite the monograph’s title, Chapell also centers on the theological underpinnings of the Methodist Episcopal Church South (MECS) and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and their respective impacts on conceptions of gender. Combined, these two denominations counted the “vast majority of self-identified Christians” during the New South period. However, according to Chapell, “while the SBC and MECS provide a baseline for how faith defined personal and gender identity, the Holiness movement demonstrates how radical theology transformed ideas of gender in the South” (4). Methodologically, the author concerns himself with the perception and construction of gender more so than its expression. To do so, Chapell studies the religious authorities—for example, preachers, pastors, evangelists, college and seminary instructors—who best formulated and/or conveyed these gendered ideals throughout the Deep South. Notably, Ye That Are Men Now Serve Him places theology at the forefront of identity formulation in the New South without appreciably minimizing the roles played by race, class, and sexuality.

Part one—chapters one through five—focuses exclusively on the SBC and the MECS and their respective conceptions and expressions of gender. The former centered on individualism as a defining characteristic while the latter emphasized Jesus and conversion. According to Chapell, clergymen used such “theological streams as the basis for their ideas of manhood, womanhood and family life” (20). The idealized Baptist New-South woman was selfless and pure, faithfully serving her family in all Christian and domestic aspects, yet she was civic minded enough to minister to the outside world through such organizations as the Woman’s Missionary Union. Likewise, Chapell reveals that the consummate Baptist man exhibited mastery in all aspects of life, for example, control over his emotions, control over sinful tendencies, and control over other people.

Masculine Methodist men in the New South emulated those figures they most admired: Jesus Christ and Jefferson Davis, men who were both conquering crusaders and gentle shepherds. In Chapell’s words, “while many encouraged their parishioners to uphold a model of martial aggressive masculinity tempered with Christian character, Methodist leaders also envisioned that their congregants would be affectionate fathers and husbands” (70). Similarly, the ideal MECS woman devoted herself to evangelizing others as much, and as publicly, as any Methodist man did. To showcase this, Chapell centers on the gendered implications of women’s work in home missionary activities.

Part two—chapters six through eight—explores the ways the Holiness movement of the early twentieth century challenged, perhaps even transformed, southerners’ conceptions of gender identity. Significantly, followers of the Holiness movement believed that biological sex was irrelevant compared to a sanctified heart. Quite simply, the movement vehemently promoted the idea of spiritual equality, which, in turn, shaped the confines of femininity. Consequently, some leaders in the Movement, for example Mary Lee Cagle, contended that “men and women could hold equal positions of authority in the church” (117). According to Chapell, this viewpoint revised women’s roles in Protestant churches. Nevertheless, the monograph asserts that while Holiness movement women enjoyed spiritual equality, they did not always receive equal treatment within the household. One may conclude that the followers of the Movement were not ready to completely discard mainstream ideas about gender roles in the New South. In his final chapter, Chapell argues that the Holiness movement also affected followers’ conceptions of masculinity in important ways. The idealized sanctified man fused affection, holiness, and devotion with courage and fearlessness. Such a man was “strong and physically commanding” and used hyper-masculine, martial language and, at the same time, felt comfortable expressing his platonic homosocial love.

Ye That Are Men Now Serve Him challenges scholars—even those whose scholarship does not focus on religion—to appreciate fully the role that theology plays in the construction of personal identity. Chapell’s analysis is fresh, innovative, and thought-provoking, especially in Part II. Nevertheless, a few realities detract from the author’s otherwise impressive first book. First, the title of the monograph is misleading or, at a minimum, incomplete. In particular, it doesn't indicate that five out of eight body chapters do not directly study the Holiness movement. Second, while Chapell effectively uses the gendered theology of the SBC and MECS as a foil to the southern Holiness movement, he is less effectual articulating the similarities and differences between the former. While the author may not have intended to do so, it is curious that there is not more comparison between these two denominations, considering the place they played in the New South and in this book. Finally, Chapell’s prose can be stilted and repetitive. Despite any criticism, Ye That Are Men Now Serve Him is a significant contribution by an emerging scholar who has convincingly conveyed the relevance of his topic to the role that faith played in identity construction in the twenty-century South.