This article examines the gendered implications of healing theologies in black South African pentecostal churches dealing with the HIV/AIDS crisis. Lived theologies of healing enhance women’s flourishing by providing or encouraging medical, social, and psychological support. However, pentecostal theologies of healing can impede women’s flourishing by creating a burdensome sense of responsibility in which women blame themselves for not being healed. More disturbingly, many women consider prayer as the most faithful or most feasible strategy for HIV prevention. This article identifies women’s constrained choices as a theological imperative for Pentecostalism to address gender inequality.
In2011an estimated 34 million people were living with HIV/AIDS around the globe; also in 2011 approximately 2.5 million people became infected with HIV and 1.7 million people died of AIDS-related causes. This is 0.8 percent of adults between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide [UNAIDSGlobal AIDS Report: UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic (Geneva: Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS 2012) 8].
In2008South African women comprised 3.2 million of South Africa’s 4.6 million infected adults. UNAIDSReport on the Global AIDS Epidemic (Geneva: Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS 2008) 32.
Ibid.3. The Pew study also cites South Africa’s 2001 census data according to which 7.6 percent of South Africans are pentecostal and 31.8 percent belong to African Independent Churches (Spirit and Power 87). The terminological distinctions within South African Christianity are imprecise: African Independent Churches or AICs (churches founded by Africans) are often pentecostal or charismatic in practice and some scholars debate whether to include them as part of the African pentecostal/charismatic movement (Ogbu Kalu African Pentecostalism: An Introduction [New York: Oxford University Press 2008]: 66). I encountered contestation around the term as well: one pastor considered his (formerly AFM) church to be an African Independent Church despite its continued similarity to AFM beliefs and practices. This was somewhat confusing because the church was not affiliated with the major AICs in South Africa such as the Zion Christian Church or the Ethiopian churches and in fact it did not consider members of these AICs churches to be “born again.” Likewise Kalu notes “the demonization of the AICs in Pentecostal rhetoric as unadulterated cults” (Kalu African Pentecostalism 66).
Allan AndersonAn Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity (New York: Cambridge University Press2004) 30. Candy Gunther Brown (“Introduction: Pentecostalism and the Globalization of Illness and Healing” in Global Pentecostalism and Charismatic Healing ed. Candy Gunther Brown [Oxford: Oxford University Press 2011] 3–26 at 3) argues that divine healing “is the single most important category—more significant than glossolalia or prosperity—for understanding the global expansion of pentecostal Christianity.” Brown’s edited volume contains a host of case studies that associate conversion and church membership with divine healing. For example Michael Bergunder’s study of South Indian Pentecostals (“Miracle Healing and Exorcism in South Indian Pentecostalism” in Global Pentecostalism and Charismatic Healing 287–306) showed that church members primarily connected with the church by way of healings or exorcisms. R. Andrew Chesnut (“Exorcising the Demons of Deprivation: Divine Healing and Conversion in Brazilian Pentecostalism” in Global Pentecostalism and Charismatic Healing 169–186) found in fieldwork in Brazil that fewer than half of his participants spoke in tongues whereas a large majority said they had experienced divine healing.
Miroslav Volf“Materiality of Salvation: An Investigation in the Soteriologies of Liberation and Pentecostal Theologies,”Journal of Ecumenical Studies26 no. 3 (1989): 447–467at 448 italics in the original.