Women's Aglow Fellowship International

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Women's Aglow Fellowship International

Women's Aglow Fellowship International (hereafter "Aglow") is an interdenominational organization of Christian women centered on prayer and evangelization. Aglow was founded in 1967 as the Full Gospel Women's Fellowship, established in Seattle, Washington, by four women whose husbands were active leaders in the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship. Both groups were outgrowths of healing and charismatic movements within Protestant and Catholic churches, and they correspondingly emphasized practices and doctrines such as spirit baptism, glossolalia, prophecy, and healing prayer. After starting a highly successful quarterly magazine in 1969, spurring rapid growth of the organization throughout North America and eventually much of the world, the nonprofit women's group incorporated under its new name in 1972. Throughout its history Aglow has been held together by local worship meetings and Bible studies as well as by larger (regional, national, and even international) retreats and conferences.

Most of Aglow's American constituents in the early days were white, middle-class homemakers, and the group's published literature—a significant collection of books, audiotapes, Bible studies, and magazine issues—strongly emphasized women's domestic roles as wives and mothers. Authors frequently criticized the Women's Liberation Movement for dismantling traditional gender hierarchies and scorning the notion that women's highest vocation is in the home. Aglow writers were committed to a worldview in which women ought to be "in submission" not only to God but also to earthly male authories such as their husbands and pastors. Aglow staff member Eadie Good-boy, in her Bible study God's Daughter (1974), affirmed that Christian women must reject the "role-reversal so common in society today" so as to find "service and creativity in our God-ordained roles" as wives, mothers, and homemakers.

This message extolling wifely submission and domesticity fit well with the "family values" campaigns increasingly waged during the 1970s, supported by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, and visible in such arenas as Anita Bryant's public war against homosexuality, Jerry Falwell's powerful Moral Majority, Beverly LaHaye's Concerned Women for America, Phyllis Schlafly's battle against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and James Dobson's Focus on the Family empire. Unlike these leaders and organizations, however, Aglow was not a political organization and refrained from issuing public statements on issues such as abortion and the ERA. Nonetheless, the group experienced substantial growth during the formative years of the Christian Religious Right, and many of its members, aging along with the organization, have also been part of that movement as well.

At the same time, Aglow took an increasingly therapeutic turn during the mid-to-late 1980s, as meetings came to feel as much like recovery groups as worship meetings. Just as subjects like physical and sexual abuse and addiction received growing attention in American popular culture, so, too, such topics rose to the fore in Aglow meetings and published literature. Images of squeaky-clean families glued together by joyously submissive supermoms were replaced by dark tales of incest-ridden childhoods, alcoholic parents, and unfaithful husbands. No longer were women expected to submit cheerfully to such indignities but were urged to seek psychiatric help and, if necessary, divorce as well. Jesus, always a savior and friend to Aglow women, was increasingly imagined as a replacement father for women whose own fathers had abandoned them and as a replacement husband for divorced, widowed, or unhappily married women. Along with Bible studies, worship services, retreats, and conferences, Aglow established official support groups for women in need, promoted as Christ-centered alternatives to secular twelve-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

During the 1990s Aglow has been more successful at attracting middle-class women of color as the national leadership in Seattle has focused energy on racial reconciliation. References to homemakers have also sharply declined, as demographic shifts among their membership have made visible increasing numbers of single mothers and working women. Still, drawing in new members has proven very difficult: Unlike the early years, Aglow's potential members in the United States now have many other options, as evangelicals, inspired by the men's group Promise Keepers, have forged parallel women's groups such as Chosen Women, Promise Reapers, Praise Keepers, and Women of Faith. These newer fellowships are theologically looser than Aglow and draw a younger clientele, in part because they are not burdened by the language of wifely submission with which Aglow still contends. In recognition of Aglow's diminished appeal among younger American women, the organization's energies have shifted balance, global evangelization taking precedence over local growth. The story of Aglow's future almost certainly lies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America more than North America; but whether this global growth portends further imperialistic expansion of American Christianity or the genuine internationalization of Aglow itself remains, for now, an open question.


See alsoDobson, James; Falwell, Jerry; Focusonthe Family; Moral Majority; Promise Keepers; Religious Right.

Bibliography

Griffith, R. Marie. God's Daughters: Evangelical Womenand the Power of Submission. 1997.

Setta, Susan M. "Healing in Suburbia: The Women's Aglow Fellowship." Journal of Religious Studies 12(2) (1986):46–56

R. Marie Griffith