“Have You Ever Been Told That God Loves You?”

Conjugality, Celibacy, and the Heterosexual Division of Religious Labour in an Istanbul Mixed Pentecostal Church

In: Social Sciences and Missions
Armand Aupiais University of Paris France Paris
Galatasaray University Turkey Istanbul

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This article focuses on the division of religious labour according to both gender and marital situation, based on an ethnographic survey in a Pentecostal church with a mixed membership in Istanbul (Turkey). Following the description of religious labour throughout its six areas, this research shows that celibacy is made relatively invisible inside the church, where the emphasis is on conjugality and family, while the latter bonds are de-emphasised in the outside world, where singles are at the forefront. “Love” appears as a multifaceted reality, encompassing not only justifications but the very output of religious labour, inside and outside the faith community.


Cet article s’ intéresse à la division du travail religieux selon le genre et la situation conjugale, à partir d’ une enquête ethnographique menée dans une église pentecôtiste socialement “mixte” située à Istanbul (Turquie). À travers la description du travail religieux dans les six principales aires où il se déploie, cette recherche montre que le célibat est relativement invisibilisé au sein de l’ église, où l’ accent est mis sur la conjugalité et la famille, tandis que ces liens perdent en importance à l’ extérieur de l’ église, où les célibataires sont au premier plan. “L’ amour” apparaît comme une réalité multiple, qui non seulement justifie les modalités du travail religieux, mais est aussi le produit de ce travail, à l’ intérieur et vers l’ extérieur de la communauté de foi.

1 Introduction: Streams of The Waterfall

This article presents an ethnography of an ethnically and gender mixed church located in Turkey: the Waterfall at Istanbul Church.1 The Waterfall is linked upstream to a Pentecostal organisation based in Florida, and participates downstream and sideways in the expansion and relocation of its specific trends. The Florida headquarters is led by a major revivalist of a Pentecostal movement often considered to derive from the “Toronto blessing” – a sequence of supernatural manifestations that occurred during a religious service at the Airport Vineyard Church, Toronto, in 1994. Many among the Toronto movement’s founding pastors, which Margaret Poloma has brilliantly termed “Mainstreet Mystics”, are based in Florida, where Stephen Hunt later spoke of an “outpouring revival”.2 The Waterfall has its centre in Tampa, comprising a mother church and a Biblical Institute, both established in the late 1990s. Some students of the Institute end up setting up international branches of the Waterfall. Today it forms a “negotiated transnational religious organisation”,3 not centralised but rooted within strong local hierarchies.

Today, Istanbul is home to more than 40 “Turkish” Protestant Evangelical churches, i.e. faith communities founded, led and attended essentially by Turkish Muslims who have converted to Christianity; and at least 15 “immigrant” Protestant Evangelical churches, i.e. those established, led and attended by Global Southern Christian immigrants.4 All are outsider churches compared with Western (American and European) and minority (Armenian and Syriac) churches, which are more established and institutionalised. But these boundaries can be blurred, as the example of the Waterfall’s Turkish branch illustrates better than any other, with its unique position in Istanbul’s Evangelical configuration. It was established in Istanbul in 1999 by Yiğit Jeffrey Ariç (Jeffrey in what follows), a Turkish-American immigrant who grew up with his parents in Florida, where they all converted to Christianity. His wife Buket Daisy Ariç (Daisy in what follows) is Turkish and had lived and converted to Christianity in South Korea. They received training together at the Waterfall Biblical Institute in Tampa, before founding Istanbul’s branch in 1999.

Although it is part of an American denomination, the Waterfall could locally be described, given its history and the composition of its membership and leadership, as a “Turkish-Nigerian” initiative: not only does the community have a Turkish leadership and membership drawn from the tiny population of Turkish converts to Christianity, but many Nigerians have actively participated in building and growing it from its earliest years. Between 2013 and 2017, it had fewer than 100 regular members, mainly from two marginal and transversal Evangelical populations: converted Turks and Global Southern Christian immigrants. The present inquiry thus enables a joint discussion of two major mobility trends associated with Evangelicalism in Turkey: the switch to Christianity of Turkish citizens of Muslim background, and the long-term settlement of Global Southern Christian immigrants. It helps to articulate these phenomena, usually considered separately from each other, and to shed light on the interaction between actors involved in complex mobilities.

Some churchgoers, of whom at least two thirds hailed from English-speaking African countries (mainly Nigeria), but also Asia (Philippines) and Europe (Great Britain and Netherlands for instance), attended English language services on Sunday mornings. Turkish converts, as well as Iranian and Syrian members5 from a Muslim background, or born-again Christians, attended Turkish language services in the afternoons. It was not possible to isolate a specific underlying criteria to account for this distribution, partly due to the presence of Iranian Azeris and Syrians with Turkish language skills, and to the relatively long-standing and structured “African” membership around the Nigerian assistant pastor whom we shall introduce later. If both Turkish converts and Christian immigrants may be considered to have all been “reborn” in Christ from a Pentecostal perspective, the morning English service was mainly attended by born-again Christians and the afternoon Turkish service by Christian converts. More significant is the fact that a large number of members, the core of the community, attended both.

Membership as a whole was relatively mixed, composed of Turks and foreigners, international students, immigrant workers, asylum seekers, internal migrants and local Istanbul residents. The diversity of administrative and economic status was remarkable, ranging from migrants without a residence permit, proletarianised in the informal industrial and service economy, to indigenous business leaders and more or less wealthy immigrant traders, some of whom have obtained Turkish nationality. Finally, gender balance was remarkably equal, and the congregation was mixed in terms of marital status, composed both of many (heterosexual) couples and many singles. The presence of the latter seems to run counter to the dominant Evangelical Protestant conjugal models, where married heterosexual couples with children remain the norm. I will attempt, in what follows, to describe religious labour on the basis of empirical descriptions of the distribution of tasks, highlighting the role of singles in an organisation that nevertheless values conjugality. Indeed, activities required for the functioning of the place of worship and missionary endeavours of the organisation have proven to be an ideal locus for observing both sex and marital status differentiation and for addressing these questions.

2 Redefining Religious Labour

In his early theoretical comments on the sociology of religions, Pierre Bourdieu introduced the notion of “religious labour”, associated with personal or institutional power, within a religious field of production and consumption of the “salvation goods”. He called for the study of “the distribution of religious competence according to sex, age, social rank, technical specialisation”, and of a division of religious labour that opposed the producers (the prophets) to the reproducers (the churches) of “worldview and existential view”.6 Even though Bourdieu’s approach to religion as a “form of the division of labour” had earlier been highlighted, and the notion of religious labour could be considered his only significant addition to Weberian formulations,7 later commentaries have tended to ignore it.8 In his work, religious labour was explicitly reduced to sacralisation procedures carried out by “specialists of the sacred”,9 leaving in the shadows almost all the tasks that enable the functioning of religious organisations. While abstractly alluding to an “anonymous and collective work”,10 he did not suggest that religious labour carried out by believers could be expropriated from them and appropriated by religious hierarchies. Contemporary surveys in Francophone sociology have made a step forward, highlighting inequalities produced by the gendered division of ritual labour and religious authority in monotheist organisations.11

Most religious activities cannot in fact be considered as sacred, and in order to describe the division of religious labour we must move from the question of the unequal distribution of the ritualised sacralisation procedures to look at the entire range of tasks involved and required to support a religious organisation, whether they display or not an apparent sacredness. The very notion of religious labour may be broadened to include all the tasks that make up Evangelical religiosity, even though many do not have any specifically religious “value”. Such redefinition is sustained by a critique of the distinction between “productive labour”, conducive to the formation of an exchange value, and “reproductive labour” that merely regenerates the productive labour force. This distinction has undergone an essential shift under the effects of feminist studies stressing the general invisibilisation and non-recognition especially of domestic labour, but more generally of any labour undertaken by women, whether it is “productive” or “reproductive”.

This article is inspired by the groundwork of materialist feminists who focus, as Nicole-Claude Mathieu defined in a pioneering text, on “sexes as social products of social relations”.12 It takes up Gayle Rubin’s initial analyses of the division of labour as a condition for the creation, not only of men and women as social classes and sexually differentiated beings, but also of their (hetero)sexuality, i.e. a process instituted in kinship systems, guaranteeing men rights to and control over women.13 Within this framework, heterosexuality is neither the sexual “preference” of which homosexuality would be the opposite, nor a set of sexual norms to which people should conform, but rather a social institution or a political regime14 that operates on all subjectivities and burdens every women, regardless of their sexual orientation or marital status. Some lesbian feminists have also pointed out the problematic inclusion of “heterosexual celibacy” within lesbianism15 and showed that heterosexuality produces not only couples, but also singles. Such categorisation echoes with my findings, in that it sheds light on religious trajectories that do not lead to conjugality. Heterosexuality here is not set against homosexual conjugality, virtually non-existent in an Evangelical context, but rather breaks down into (heterosexual) conjugality and celibacy as two types of trajectory for believers as religious labourers. The notion of a “heterosexual division of labour” therefore makes it possible to articulate the division of labour between men and women with the division of labour between singles and couples.

I rely on an understanding of the heterosexual division of labour by religious institutions as a collective form of the appropriation of women, their bodies and the products of their bodies, as Nicole Laurin and Danielle Juteau have convincingly demonstrated as part of an inquiry into Quebec’s Catholic establishments.16 The authors reflected upon the status of a female labour force that were neither assigned to unpaid family maintenance at home, nor remunerated for measured and quantified work outside the home. Nuns’ unpaid and unquantified labour, performed in the name of a “mystical love” and in the absence of men, allowed them to empirically integrate both collective and individual forms of women’s appropriation, defined by Colette Guillaumin.17 As for the symbolic outcome of such an appropriation, Diane Bell also pointed out that nuns did not “violate the principle that all women are either daughters or wives, that is, women under the control of a male. At the head of the church is the ‘Father’, the nuns themselves are ‘the brides of Christ’, chaste wives whose sexuality poses no threat”.18

These conclusions may be developed by considering not only the “work of nuns” in secularised and non-mixed public establishments, but the whole gender division of religious labour in mixed-gender private organisations. For, if Bourdieu ignored the non-sacralised religious labour carried out by women, Juteau and Laurin did not sufficiently stress the properly religious labour, i.e. activities that are directly or indirectly tied to supporting the worship activities of a faith community, and/or seeking to increase it through missionary recruitment. In other words, when Bourdieu overemphasised the work upon religious symbols, Juteau & Laurin failed to explain the content of the “mystical love” that they present as a (mere) tool that legitimises the oppression of nuns.

The work of Barbara M. Cooper on Evangelical missions to Niger makes an important step towards visibilising the manifold division of religious labour in its amplitude and diversity. Cooper insists on “the ongoing labour of unnamed women that sustains the Christian community”, of “white female volunteers, many of whom were single”, and of “African evangelists, who often worked without pay or recognition”.19 Defining “religious labour” from such a perspective means considering the uneven sharing and unequal valuation of the tasks that are necessary for the functioning of a given religious organisation. Division of labour is the preferred site for observing the differentiation between sex classes (women and men) and marital status groups (singles and couples). The analysis of some dimensions of religiosities as “unpaid labour” seems heuristic, precisely because it is the subject of a “denial of work”,20 and raises the problem of the recognition of an activity as labour.

3 Methodology

The extensive ethnographic sample of my PhD research includes 127 visits and 26 interviews in about 30 Evangelical communities of faith in Istanbul. Within this set, 39 visits to the Waterfall and 10 interviews with its members or former members provide the material for this intensive inquiry. Between October 2013 and December 2017 I attended Sunday services, Youth Group meetings, Wednesday services and Thursday prayer meetings at the church building, special services in a hotel, a day of classes at the Biblical Institute, and “outreach” sessions in the street. All interviewees were or had been very active members and leaders. Observation methodology combined a mimetic praxis and self-presentation as an “interested” student and researcher. Although I participated in the songs and prayers and once yielded to formally “accept Jesus” on the prompting of a street evangelisation team with which I happened to cross paths, I was never fully considered a member of the community.

Pentecostalism is a religious movement in which conversion is theoretically accompanied by direct involvement in the place of worship and missionary endeavour to the outside world. In this paper these two dimensions of individual commitment to the faith community are referred to as “worship labour”, carried out in the church building,21 and “missionary labour”, carried out in the outside world. Further, I consider each of the two spheres of religious labour to involve more or less ritualised tasks, depending on the space and time in which they take place, and accordingly refer to the “ritual” versus “daily” areas. I investigated the tasks carried out by the believers that were necessary to the exercise of religious activities in the church building and in the outside world. I assume that the missionary labour carried out by the organisation is better understood by reference to the worship labour which constitutes its core activity. In the next sections, I will discuss all of these activities based on the six main areas in which they take place: the backstage, the atrium, and the altar for worship labour inside church; the personal networks, the Biblical Institute, and the street for missionary labour outside church.


Figure 1

Religious labour areas according to time and place

Citation: Social Sciences and Missions 34, 1-2 (2021) ; 10.1163/18748945-bja10014

4 The Backstage: Sex-Segregated Labourers

The Waterfall’s place of worship is located in a commercial building in the Osmanbey district, 1.5 km from Taksim Square in the heart of modern Istanbul. In addition to the hall of worship, church members have created an office in which members of the hierarchy gather before and after the meetings, and a room that serves as a nursery during worship. These two rooms, together with a small kitchen, a dressing room, the toilets, and the control desk, form what I refer to as the “backstage”. Religious labour performed there, whether daily or ritual, is part of what Erving Goffman calls “backstage activity, namely, action occurring before and after the scene or behind it that is relevant to it and at the same time (in all likelihood) incompatible with it”.22 At the Waterfall, it is relevant and necessary because the visible part of worship activity is based on daily care of the place of worship, but incompatible and invisible, in the sense that the fulfilment of these relatively imperceptible tasks does not correspond to any official level in the formal hierarchy. Such activities, even when carried out in the place of worship and during the time of the ceremony, are not part of in situ worship and sanctification operations, but they are an essential aid to the proper conduct of all ritual and daily activities.

Maintenance of the premises includes daily cleaning of the hall of worship, office, nursery, kitchen and toilets. The church also provides an early years childcare service for members and visitors during the service. These duties are usually carried out by Global Southern immigrant women, often “young” and single, some of whom work as nurses outside the church. Childcare services, rarely present on this scale in other immigrant and Turkish churches, makes it easier for married couples with children to participate, an essential matter for the staging and image of the church as a “family”. Equipment is constantly serviced or renewed, providing an ideal setting for worshipping and preaching activities. For instance, about 15 neon lights – half of which are concentrated above the pastor’s lectern – diffuse a white light that generates the bright atmosphere of the service and promotes the sharpness of its live and deferred transmission on online TV. During the 29 meetings I attended in the church, none of these neon lights were ever defective. Thick grey curtains completely cut off daylight, and red and blue LED lamps were later fixed to the rods, helping to reinforce the light frame of the altar. The musical instruments (drum, piano, guitars) always look brand new and the Plexiglas lectern, perfectly polished and decorated with perennial flowers, helps the pastor to literally shine.

The church’s media labour cuts across the different times and spaces of religious labour at the Waterfall, a particularly “extroverted” church, as stated by Dorothea Nold.23 It includes the capture, recording and retransmission of images and sounds as both films and photographs. A camera is located at the back of the church, fixed on top of a perch facing the central corridor, next to a sound and video control desk equipped with several computers and mixing consoles. There is always someone sitting on a high chair behind the camera, framing and zooming for a better focus on the action around the altar. At least two persons work at the control desk adjusting the volume of the musicians, the stand microphones and the in-ear microphones. At first sight, the media area is a world of men, often “young” and single. In short, in the backstage, single women and men are assigned unpaid labour in relatively segregated spaces – kitchen, nursery and toilets for females; office, control desk and camera for males – another reminder of the labour-based co-construction of the opposition man/woman and nature/culture.

Data obtained in previous work show how Pentecostal women, assigned to repetitive and seemingly unpleasant cleaning tasks in the church, might reinterpret this labour and associate it with a mystical experience. One single female respondent declared of toilet cleaning: “Nobody earns for this. We do it for love. (…) And when I do it, He [my Lord] keeps talking to me”.24 At the Waterfall, as in many Pentecostal contexts, any task may be associated with a “gift” and informally recognised as a “ministry”, as the leaders tend to institute as a ministry any labour that is supposed to correspond to the skills of each believer, allowing everyone to commit themselves to the organisation.25 During the day of classes I attended at the Biblical Institute (March 2015), Pastor Jeffrey stressed the need to keep the “local churches” alive, through the participation of everyone “at a different level”. Early on, at a special gathering (December 2013), he had ordained several pastoral couples, who were beginning to exercise their ministry, a ceremony that consecrated the pastoral couple as an elevated model in the formal hierarchy of the church, and which gave only marginal recognition to a figure of female celibacy in the informal (unpaid) hierarchy of religious labour.

After voicing a solemn prayer, Jeffrey proclaimed the strength of the couples’ ministries and issued them with pastoral licenses. He then issued a license to a single Turkish woman, Ms Belgin, who had served as a teacher of the Biblical Institute, an organiser of women’s meetings, and a helpful woman in all kind of tasks related to the care of the church since its foundation 13 years earlier. A few years later, Ms Belgin was ordained a pastor, which made her the only resident female pastor who was not married to a male pastor. The Waterfall does indeed recognise the status of “pastor” for women, but here as in many contexts, enabling the ordination of women is generally the symbol of a denominational identity rather than the sign of a gender-balanced authority.26 In Istanbul, this formal standing contrasts with most other Turkish Charismatic churches as well as Nigerian Pentecostal churches.

At the height of my fieldwork, four single women, friends with each other, were assigned to the different tasks of welcoming and caring for the believers: a Ugandan student, a Moldovan student, a Kenyan worker, and a Filipino asylum seeker turned immigrant worker. At least three had worked as babysitters or maids in wealthy families in the city, i.e. they used their labour qualifications within the church. In addition, the trajectory of the last one, who we will call Jamie, illustrates how sexuality and celibacy embeds within religious conversion and migration experiences. Jamie was born in the early 1980s to a modest rural Catholic family in the Philippines. In 2003, committed to her female partner, she first migrated to Taiwan and worked in a factory to earn enough money to finance medically assisted reproduction when she went back. As her partner cheated on her while she was away, she gave up on their parenting plan and built a house with the sum she had saved, then joined her sister who had already migrated to Turkey in order to repay the loan.

Jamie arrived in Istanbul in 2007 where she worked as a childcare and domestic helper. In July 2010, going through a depression after unsuccessfully “struggling” against her homosexual “feelings”, she attempted to commit suicide, and was sleeping in a park where her conversion milestone took place. On that day, Jamie called upon God shouting: “Lord, my life is Yours. I know that You have a plan for me. So let Your will be done. Here I am. Use me”. On the same day, she was taken in by Filipino Evangelicals holding a prayer cell in their apartment, and a few weeks later she “accepted Jesus” at their side. “Since that day, I have been changed. I started to hear His voice. I felt the love.” Jamie joined the Waterfall in 2011; there she has been doing substantial religious labour, spending at least 20 hours a week in the church, and carrying out outreach sessions in the street once or twice a week. In 2015, she claimed to be “healed” of homosexuality. She abandoned the asylum and resettlement application she had initiated a few months earlier with the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) – responsible for refugee resettlement applications to the United States – on the basis of possible persecution in the Philippines.

By renouncing refugee status and resettlement in a third country she gave up the international protection system to reintegrate into the conventional migration system. She consequently became “illegal” again and officially renounced her homosexuality. Jamie’s social experience looks like one of a lesbian single woman, who, by the strength of her conversion, has become a heterosexual single, i.e. not redirecting her desire towards the correct sexual object, but completely repressing it. The repression of her desire, rather than its reorientation, frees her from possible conjugal obligations and allows her to invest herself more in both missionary and worship labour, particularly in the atrium, as we shall discuss now.

5 The Atrium: A Pool of Trust

Unlike the sexually segregated space of the backstage, in the atrium and at the margins of the altar men and women, whether single or not, work side by side on different tasks. The church occupies the space of the apartment in such a way that when attendees cross the threshold, they stand in the central area, as if they were immersed in an intense interactional pool – the worship group starts playing and singing about an hour before the sermon begins – halfway between the altar and the control desk. They are greeted by a member assigned to open the door and place people in the atrium, welcoming being one of the many tasks related to the reception and care of the believers. During my fieldwork, a Turkish man named Fatih usually took care of it.

Caring for worshippers in trance is the main task to be accomplished in the atrium and at the border of the altar, due to systematic “breakthroughs” of the Holy Spirit also referred to as “fire”. In the wake of the “Toronto Blessing” and “Florida Outpouring revival”, the church has erected as orthopraxy the collective expression of the “fire of the Holy Spirit” during services, which results, among other things, in believers laughing to the point of losing control, followed by laying down on the floor.27 Unlike early years childcare performed by single women in the backstage, caring for “touched” people featured a substantial involvement of male members and was carried out in full view of all.

Typically, laughter begins during the pastor’s preaching, when he brings humorous elements into his sermon, often by looking straight into the eyes of or explicitly addressing one or more people in the audience. Afterward, the duration and intensity of the laughter can vary from a simple grin to the loudest outburst. In the latter case, the pastor approaches the person and encourages the trance dynamic that has already been set in motion. The person can be “touched” while sitting or invited by the pastor to stand up and come to the central aisle, or to the altar, from where he or she will eventually be laid down. Laying down also takes place as part of a collective “altar call”,28 a ritual address urging people to come and pray at the end of a service. Those who answer gather at the altar, close their eyes and lower their heads while the pastor prays for them. Thereafter, they line up and are “touched” one by one, again through the mediation of the pastor, most often using glossolalia, while the whole assembly closes their eyes and prays individually in a low voice. In all cases, the pastor makes a gesture at each person to be touched by the Spirit: a placing of hands on or above the head or chest. Sometimes there is just a simple throwing movement with the hand, without contact, along with the word “Fire!”. Meanwhile, a man stands by behind the believer and asks her/him to let her/himself fall straight back without resisting. The believer leans backwards with eyes closed, knowing that the man will catch and place her/him on the floor. At this point, a woman promptly covers the body with a satin blanket.

The laying-down process, seen as a ritual labour, relies on the body strength of male and female members, usually single and almost always students of the Biblical Institute. Carrying adult bodies in a state of abandonment may appear to require more physical strength, whereas covering bodies with a blanket might seem less physical, but the event is based on an ability to make the trancing subject feel that he/she is being cared for. The whole process requires an attitude of surrender and results in the establishment of a trusting relationship between believing subjects and ritual labourers, following their roles at this point. The ritual emotional effervescence in the assembly is indispensable to the manifestation of the Holy Spirit and must be considered also as a performance and a part of the ritual labour continuum. Not surprisingly it is usually core members who engage in long, intense, and seemingly spontaneous manifestations of the ‘fire’ of the Spirit, especially in the form of uncontrollable laughter that puzzles most visitors. These are the same ones who step forward themselves when no one takes the altar call, making possible a sequence that brings the service to a ritual climax, their participation in the dramatic and emotional progression of the service being therefore a crucial component of the ritual worship labour.

The expression of trust at moments of relaxation and physical vulnerability is rightly emphasised by the hierarchy as an expression of both God’s power and the strength of family ties. During a service in which six women had strongly expressed “fire”, Pastor Jeffrey declared that “Everyone react[ed] differently” to the Holy Spirit, and added: “When you are touched, your family comes to you” (June 2015). He then surprisingly evoked his grandmother, who had not converted to Christianity but was said to have declared to Jeffrey’s father on her deathbed, “You are the only one that I trust”. In other words, besides being a specific feature of the Florida “outpouring” revival, “fire” can provide a rational connection for reaffirming the “family” dimension of the Waterfall faith community, an aspect that we deal with in more detail below. Despite these proclamations, the church leaves little community space and time conducive to the development of networked solidarity: the absence of shared meals after services, a constant feature in a dozen Turkish Evangelical churches I have visited, is highly unusual. In this context, the ritual performance of a trusting relationship helps to understand the adhesion of certain members, like Joe, a young single Iraqi man who explicitly confessed to me that he did not feel welcome when he came to the church, and promptly added: “I come more for the love” (March 2015).

People assigned to ritual worship labour in the atrium are the most active members outside the formal hierarchy and the same people working backstage. Immigrant single women like Jamie alternately babysit at the nursery and later come to the atrium to cover the bodies, while Turkish single men like Fatih maintain the equipment on a daily basis and welcome the believers during services. Walking around the atrium and taking photos of people worshipping to be posted on the Waterfall web pages (at least ten per service) is exclusive to committed members, most often Western women married to a male missionary pastor. Mediatisation labour thus seems relevant to a control and compliance mechanism over the image of the church, a potential means of vertical supervision for the advisory board in Florida as well as a tool for horizontal transnationalisation to other countries where the organisation is established.

Sunday English services are filmed, broadcast live, recorded and uploaded onto the church website, and left freely and indefinitely available. The Waterfall at Istanbul website is hosted independently of the mother church’s site, and the whole labour of web design and maintenance is enacted by religious labourers in the monitoring room and at the nearby Biblical Institute. Ahead of allowing the strengthening of transnational bonds, the quality of recording and post-production is effective in situ: the camera acts as a medium with which the pastor interacts, especially when the participation of congregants via the Internet is invoked. One day Jeffrey asked the assembly for a strong prayer to save a sick baby who, according to the request sent by the parents by instant messaging, could not breathe correctly (February 2015). Such a call, relatively rare back then – it has been systematised with the wave of digitalisation induced by the current pandemic – gives a physical and sensible reality to the church’s transnational bonds.

Finally, the way seats are distributed in the atrium refers to positions in informal hierarchies. The most prominent members of the church sit in a square on the right in front of the altar, where the chair backs are covered with a cloth marked “reserved”. Several ethnically mixed married couples with children sit there, including African men (from Cameroon and Nigeria) married to Middle Eastern or Euro-American women (from Turkey, Brazil, the United States); these run successful businesses or work in skilled jobs. Pictures of them worshipping are put on the church’s web pages, a daily labour that contributes to conveying a cosmopolitan image of the church, as it emphasises photos featuring diverse ‘racial’ appearance. Marriage and long-term establishment is therefore associated with visibility and promotion in the church, and having spoken extensively about the singles’ activities, we must go up to the altar to discuss conjugality and familiality as central features of religious labour.

6 The Altar: Families on Stage

The altar was not designed as an elevated area above the atrium where the assembly sits, yet it is equipped with a large amount of lighting, and furnished with a lectern, musical instruments and a very wide screen showing the lyrics of the gospel songs in different languages, along with visuals promoting the many components and events of the church. Although the supremacy of the altar is not explicitly stated, a number of elements contribute to it, starting with the cross drawn on the front of the lectern and the Bible placed on the top of it. It is also, as we have just seen, the place at the edge of which the actions of the Holy Spirit are systematically expressed. The confined space of the apartment where the church is located gives a fluidity to the pastor’s movements. The latter, equipped with a wireless micro-earphone, frequently moves away from his lectern while he preaches the sermon and walks in the central aisle separating the two rows of chairs, sometimes spreading, as mentioned before, “fire” over the audience.

A previous work attempted to capture how pastoral couples were sacralised as unions between a “man of God” and a “woman of God” in a Pentecostal church.29 Unequal complementarities within the pastoral couple seemed to extend women’s private appropriation by their husbands throughout the religious sphere, while ritual narratives echoed by all believers underlined the compulsory importance for every “strong man” to have a woman “behind” him. In recording the spatial division between the “sacred spaces” of the altar and the atrium in the same denomination, Jacqueline Moraes Texeira has noted that this overlapped with a division of status in the hierarchy, and that marriage with a pastor represented the only way for women to access the altar and preaching.30 But at the Waterfall, marriage also represents a rare chance for both women and men, Turkish or immigrants, to gain access to international mobility. Indeed, promotion to the formal hierarchy of members hitherto confined to informal or lower hierarchical layers is preceded by the courting of a young man and woman, formalised by their engagement, and marriage. Afterward, marriage coincides with members’ – especially those trained at the Biblical Institute – international missionary mobility.

As in almost all Turkish Evangelical churches, the Waterfall is ministered by a male, married pastor with children. The entire church hierarchy revolves around and beneath the couple formed by founding pastors Jeffrey and Daisy. But the formal hierarchy unfolds on at least three more levels, where each position is embodied by another couple or series of couples: senior pastors, assistant pastors, and missionary pastors. Indeed, one of the specific features of this ministry is the emphasis not only on the founding pastoral couple formed by Jeffrey and Daisy, but also on two other “resident” pastoral couples: senior pastors Vehbi and Aynur Ariç (Jeffrey’s parents) who also converted to Christianity in the United States; and assistant pastors Destiny and Rebecca Ajibulu, both immigrants from Nigeria where they had frequented Catholic and Pentecostal churches, before becoming among the first members of the Waterfall, where they met and got married. Added to these are some younger Western pastoral couples staying in the church for longer or shorter terms of internship.

The core hierarchy thus designs a network of couples ritually occurring as conjugal actors. Their unions are constantly recalled and performed, whether or not both members of the couple are present, a conjugal dramaturgy that exemplifies Goffman’s insight when he pointed out how marital bonding resulted in “more or less permanently attaching an audience directly to each performer, so that wherever the male or female goes, an appropriate other will be alongside to reciprocate the enactment of gender expressions”.31 This is particularly true of Pastor Daisy, whose preaching is often accompanied, in Jeffrey’s absence, by a male assistant pastor.

A Congolese pastor trained at the Waterfall at the end of the 2000s and who left the church to form his own congregation, Léon, vigorously denounced this conjugal and familial hierarchy during our interview: “You cannot work at the Waterfall. If the visionary son is not there, it is the father [who preaches]. If the father isn’t there, it is the wife, or the mother. And the Africans are in the background” (June 2015). Although he publicly claims to be a husband and a father, Léon lived alone in Istanbul while his family is said to reside in France, a marital situation that does not suit the implicit imperatives of the Waterfall.

Authority over the congregation comes through the staging of conjugal and filial bonds and ends with the enhancement of a familialist image for the church, inscribed by means of both ritual and daily media labour. Families’ pre-eminence and promotion relies on the production of images and the imprinting of believers’ imagination, since everyone I have talked to spontaneously and outspokenly perceived the church as a “family”. The pastor often called on the childminders to bring the children to the altar at the end of the service so that he can say a special prayer for them in front of the assembly and under the camera lens. This ritual device strengthens a familialist aesthetic that is specific to the Waterfall.

Every year Jeffrey and Daisy celebrate their marriage with the assembly. In 2016, at the end of the Sunday English service, Jeffrey offered Daisy a bunch of flowers and announced to the audience that it was their wedding anniversary. Destiny took the floor and declared: “We just want to let them know that we love them. We appreciate them, not just their ministry but their marriage”. Destiny’s wife Rebecca also joined the altar and congratulated Daisy on behalf of the women’s ministry, quoting the adage: “Behind every successful man, there is always a woman. Not just a woman, but a strong woman”. She added: “We have been blessed by your marriage”, and finally decorated Daisy with a lapel pin. At this point a video greeting recorded in the United States was projected on the big screen upon the altar. We could see Jeffrey’s parents sitting together with the younger American pastoral couple Jacob and Laura, who had resided in Istanbul for the previous three years, together with their newborn baby. The elders congratulated Jeffrey and Daisy, and waved the baby’s arm, as grandparents may do with their grandson, I thought. Afterwards, everyone lined up and came one by one to the front to embrace the couple.

Their daughter, a teenager at the time, also had public birthday celebrations at the end of the service, participating directly in the staging of family bonds in front of the assembly. Compulsory warm (but restrained) reaction by the whole audience in these contexts tends to endow worship interactions with a shared emotion, which opens onto the conjugal and family private space of the church’s core couples. Exposed on the altar, not only are family members associated with gestures of sacralisation (as singles are), but family is sacralised itself and functions as a ritual mediator par excellence.

Pastors rarely affirm any moral orthodoxies during services, on the altar, where they rather condemn the “World System” in a generic conspiracy-theory manner. Yet, anti-homosexual statements sometimes give them an opportunity to affirm Waterfall’s kinship with classical Pentecostal ideals of keeping the “world” apart and to claim their distinction from larger and allegedly corrupted American Evangelical denominations. One day when Jeffrey criticised American “megachurches”, he gave the example of a pastor claiming in a TV show that he accepted homosexuality in the name of God’s love. He rejected this idea: “We know that God loves everybody. But He hates sin!” He consecutively insinuated that a “Spirit of divorce” could be transmitted by such a pastor through the imposition of hands, adversely affecting believers’ sentiments, and jokingly projected what his own reaction would be, in a direct style: “Don’t touch me! I love my wife!” (February 2015).

The hierarchical structure of the Waterfall, articulated in the imperative of heterosexual conjugality and the assignment of singles to unpaid labour, is reproduced in parallel hierarchies and in the lower hierarchical layers of the organisation. Between 2012 and 2015, the Waterfall hosted an autonomous Iranian faith community led by Pastor Ahmad, an Iranian Azeri Pentecostal preacher and Jeffrey’s personal friend. Although not an official member of the organisation, he was part of its network and was sometimes invited to preach during Sunday English services, being a “guest” at his own church building. Pastor Ahmad was the head of a “parallel hierarchy” over another faith community sharing the same place of worship, but his two sons, aged 15 and 20, were directly and intensively employed in the worship and missionary labour of the Waterfall. Similarly, Pastor Destiny’s adopted son Ilan, about 20 years old, was the most visible and active unmarried labourer at the altar, chiefly as the pastor Jeffrey’s interpreter (from English to Turkish). The presence of these young men struck me from my first visits as they apparently performed unpaid but central religious labour, on the margins of the altar, as closely as possible to the pastor, conditioning the ritual process. In sum, multi-level and multi-sided hierarchy was a way of channelling the pastors’ children labour, a key aspect of its patriarchal functioning. We will see below that conjugal and familial relations, so central in the worship labour inside church, are only a less visible facet of missionary labour outside.

7 Personal Networks: Mixed Missionary Paths

Due to their historical development and current situation, Turkish Protestants have been the object of political mistrust and have inspired the revival of an old rhetoric against missionaries. In December 2001, the Turkish National Security Council (Milli Güvenlik Kurulu) stated that “missionary activity constituted a threat to national security and that these groups must be combated”.32 Public discourses have flourished in the following years, spread by conservative circles which reaffirmed Turkey’s Muslim identity and accused “missionaries” of trying to infiltrate and Christianise the Turkish Republic. These were accompanied by the perpetration of numerous acts of violence against Christians, culminating in the assassination of three evangelical Protestants in Malatya (Eastern Anatolia) in 2007.33

The Evangelical duty to make a missionary out of every believer is thus played down among Turkish converts, and it is common to encounter married men and fathers who converted to Evangelical Protestantism and attend church without their wives or children. These conversions of men alone, without their families, contrast with evangelisation patterns previously developed elsewhere in the world, and helps in shading theories established from contexts where the evangelisation of domestic groups was mediated through women, as in Latin America, where the conversion of wives and mothers often took precedence over that of their husbands and children.34 I have previously recorded the possibility of women being brought to conversion by their children in a Pentecostal diasporic context.35 Such apparent gender and generational reversals in contemporary missionary behaviour illustrates how Pentecostalism shifts according to specific contexts and suggest demographic changes and a diversification of evangelisation strategies at the global level, whilst confirming the lesser labour pressure placed on male as compared to female believers.

But missionary labour starts with a reflexive effort of the subjects upon themselves, hinged afterwards to an attempt to evangelise those around them, individual conversions implying a certain calling to evangelise in the private sphere, on a conjugal, family or affinity level. Waterfall members’ activity in the new media participates in publishing widely in immigrant or Turkish circles the testimony of “giving one’s life to Jesus” and “accepting Him as one’s Lord and Saviour”. Many couples in the church, who often met within the Biblical Institute, upload pictures of themselves on social media, looking smooth, smiling and hugging, with their children if they have them, often inside the church building. Pictures of weddings demonstrate the participation of many church members in their organisation and celebration, reinforcing the community’s dedication to displaying conjugal and filial love.

Single religious labourers are not left out with regard to sentimentality. They rather put forward their personal relationship with Jesus in such a way that it is hard to discern between mystical and romantic love. The case of Fatih, a single Turkish man over 50 years old, who converted and has been particularly active in the church for at least seven years, is exemplary. In two years the latter has changed his Facebook profile picture no less than 198 times, showing a ritual practice or Christian message 169 times, including 114 filters declaring “I ♥ Jesus”, attached to a picture of himself. This constant public demonstration of “falling in love” is part of a Christian learning process highlighted by Tanya Luhrmann. Here an “emotional state” rather than a “general way of being in the world”,36 may be invested as a missionary practice in an unfriendly environment, which is also reminiscent of the work of Gertrud Hüwelmeier, who stated that, “performing intimacy with God in Pentecostal churches [was] directly linked to the use of new media”.37

Church leaders also evangelise through social networks, on the borderline between daily and ritualised missionary labour, as two pastors of the church reported. Jacob, the leading pastor of the Youth Group, mentioned informal evangelisation, considering as “the highlight of [his] week [in Istanbul] the chance to go to university [where Youth Group members are enrolled as students] and to meet their friends” (March 2015). Destiny, the assistant pastor of the church and a nodal actor in the international textile suitcase trade, explains that any time he visited merchants and clients he would take the opportunity to “outreach” them. Destiny had come from Nigeria to Turkey in 1997 with the intention of joining a professional football team, spent a probationary period with a club and abandoned this project to work in a spare parts factory in Istanbul, where he joined the nascent Waterfall and met his wife Rebecca. The latter had settled in Turkey earlier in 1993 and was already engaged in the international textile trade between Turkey and Nigeria. Later on, the couple became prominent in this business. Such missionary practice is thus deployed by means of the couples’ commercial networks, first developed and maintained by Rebecca from an earlier period when Destiny was not or only slightly involved in trading.

In sum, a US American male pastor browses networks tied by Global Southern single international students, while a Nigerian male pastor benefits from networks built with (and primarily by) the immigrant trader woman to whom he is married. These practices follow the paths of both single and married people, reinvesting their social capital to the benefit of the church as a whole, through daily missionary labour. By marrying Rebecca and adopting her son Ilan, Destiny indeed attained the status of a husband and father, which is practically a prerequisite for a pastor to minister in the church. Moreover, his adopted son is an absolutely essential actor for the church. The stakes are very clearly expressed by the secessionist pastor Léon who, in an informal interview, right after he blamed Destiny for seeking “the monopoly of the relationship with the Africans”, claims that Ilan is the “creature” of the hierarchically marginalised Africans men who trained him, as he did (January 2016). Ilan grew up both within Istanbul’s Nigerian diaspora and Waterfall community since its inception. He attended Turkish public schools, and had never travelled abroad. Ilan’s mother tongue is English but he also speaks fluent Turkish and is perfectly aware of the national cultural codes. The prominence of the Ajibulu family also lies in the fact that part of Ilan’s religious labour is paid, as we are about to see.

8 The Biblical Institute: Making Heterosexual Hierarchies

The Waterfall Biblical Institute, founded in 1999 at the same time as the church, is located close to the place of worship, within a 500-metre radius Evangelical “patch”38 that includes at least ten other churches and another Bible school. It operates on the model of the Tampa institute, founded in 1997 and intended to “train up revivalists for the 21st Century” (website). Again, this follows the logic of an open networked transnational organisation in that the school trains pastors and evangelists who then develop their ministries within other countries and denominations. The training is paid for and lasts three years: two years for theoretical studies and one for an internship in the church. Intellectual labour carried out by students in the context of the classes, in particular their presentations of the many theology books they study, constitutes a first-rate missionary labour, a central element for the class, which is rewarded by a diploma that some graduates may benefit from in other Pentecostal denominations.

We might call this unremunerated labour a “voluntary service” and compare it with the general internship system, since a candidate wishing to obtain formal and paid employment within the church have a “limited amount of time to prove himself and give the best of himself”39 at this point. During the 2017 graduation ceremony, Pastor Jeffrey made it clear, somewhat sarcastically, that the trainees received “no salary” during internship. Worship and missionary labour carried out by students counts as the formal part of unpaid religious labour on behalf of the organisation.

Marion Aubrée has identified an “informal” religious hierarchy in Pentecostalism, “based on the granting, to simple believers, of gifts of the Holy Spirit particularly sought after”.40 At the Waterfall, gifts of the Holy Spirit as defined by Paul the Apostle,41 are rarely mentioned. Rather, access to the informal hierarchy is granted through the recognition of a relatively invisible daily “ministry”, as mentioned above. On the other hand, a great theological emphasis is placed on the “fivefold ministry”, that is, an understanding of the statutes and responsibilities arising from the five main “gifts” underlined by Paul: apostle, prophet, pastor, evangelist, and teacher.42 Three of these gifts are represented in the formal, visible and remunerated hierarchy of the church: apostles (Jeffrey and Daisy), pastors (Vehbi and Aynur, Destiny and Rebecca, plus guest or resident pastors), and teachers (Belgin). The latter was the only teacher not to be ordained as a pastor, and the fact that “apostles” and “pastors” also taught obviously makes her “teacher” status a lower one.

Mediatisation of the worship activities not only includes ritual labour in the backstage (sound engineering, recording) and in the atrium (photography), but requires a daily missionary labour (editing, publishing, webmastering) done in a multimedia studio located at the Biblical Institute. Moreover, it is in the studio of the institute that Waterfall TV programmes are recorded and broadcast on one of Turkey’s two Christian cable channels. Extensive fieldwork in other groups reveals that Christians in Turkey (essentially Armenians and Syriacs) happen to know about the leading pastors of the Waterfall through these programmes. Media labour thus not only places the Waterfall on a transnational setting, but also gives it visibility on the national Christian scene.

Publicising worship activities is a daily task consequential to religious services. Mondays are entirely devoted, for Ilan, to editing and online publishing of the videos of the Sunday services. When I interviewed him, he was the “head of the church media”, i.e. an official employee of the organisation (February 2014) and a member of its formal hierarchy, even though not rewarded with any of the five ministries. Pentecostalism has a capacity to “convert pre-existing social and cultural capital into ‘spiritual gifts’ and subvert social hierarchies through the constitution of a specifically religious capital”,43 that can in turn be converted into cultural, social, and even economic capital – in trade, business, or employment. As part of his remunerated labour at the church, Ilan has been trained in publishing, website management, sound engineering and filmmaking. In addition, he has de facto become a professional language interpreter, performer and musician (drummer, pianist, guitarist, bassist, singer) and in 2014, aged 19, was working full-time for the church while considering a career as a musician or athlete. Four years later, he was less invested in the unpaid activities of the church and earned a living as a private music teacher, while his younger sister (Destiny and Rebecca’s biological daughter) had taken over the worship translations.

The fact that student couples were ordained pastors by Jeffrey in Istanbul in 2013 (seen above) illustrates his central place and the significance of the Istanbul branch as part of the Waterfall worldwide network. Much of this importance lies in the activities of the Biblical Institute, a structuring element of Pentecostalism in Istanbul. All the couples involved in religious labour that I have met had previously studied, or were currently studying, together in a Waterfall Biblical Institute, in Tampa or Istanbul, the only and notable exception being the founder’s parents, Aynur and Vehbi Ariç. Most of the students enrolled were 20–35 year old singles. Participation in the Youth Group contributes to formally defining the “youth” of a member – the group is closed to people over 30 years of age – while the number of semesters of enrolment at the Biblical Institute defines students’ advancement.

Ismail, a Syrian fellow from a Presbyterian background, and Joe, an Iraqi fellow from an Assyrian-Chaldean background, both of whom entered the service of the church in 2014, did not exclude the possibility of continuing their theological training in North America as early as 2015. Incidentally, Joe got married to a very active member of the church, a Turkish-US citizen, with whom he studied at the Biblical Institute in Istanbul. This constitutes a limitation to the approach in terms of social networks, and encourages institutional analysis: while the Waterfall offers relatively few shared spaces and little time, for the believers and newcomers, the multiple small groups or ministries of the church, especially the Youth Group, favour the encounter and formation of missionary conjugal unions.

Observations at the Institute show the ideological form taken by the practical promotion of both marriage and celibacy among religious labourers. In a lecture before all students, Pastor Destiny defined marriage as an “institution” requiring spiritual and physical preparation. Wives had a “sexual responsibility” related to men’s “biggest need”: sex; while husbands must respond “as men” to the women’s “biggest need”: security. In a “spiritual warfare”44 fashion, the pastor declared that the “sexual issue ha[d] to come to light” against the “Master of Darkness”. Sexuality would be “the first area that the Devil attacks in the marriage”, to break “unity” between spouses and “sexual intimacy”, which he compared to “spiritual intimacy with God”, verging on an analogy between mystical love and a sexual relationship.

Destiny defined sex as “designed only inside marriage” and sent a balanced message to the students: “Don’t rush. The time will come. (…) Marriage is not only about sex. (…) There is absolutely nothing wrong with the desire. God put the desire inside”. More dramatically, he declared that, after they got married, husbands and wives did not have sole control over their bodies anymore, as it must be dedicated to sexual service. He specified that a wife may refuse her body to her husband in two circumstances only: either following a collective decision to concentrate on prayer, to “see” God better; or in the case of illness, in order to recover. Otherwise, he continued, access to her sexuality is not a “privilege” that a woman gives her husband in order to “manipulate” him, but her “duty” as a wife. “It is not about being in the mood. It has nothing to do with your mood”. In this discourse justifying women’s appropriation and control over their sexuality – sexual intercourse between a woman and her husband being explicitly described as religiously connoted labour – the quest for mystical experience appeared as a denial of unlimited and unconditional access.

Celibacy was another option that gives this exemption a permanent character. Indeed, Pastor Destiny specified, following Paul (1 Cor: 7,8), that “not everyone will be married”, and deplored that “so many Christians [were] under pressure today” and got married to meet parental wishes. Yet, the unmarried “gives himself a hundred per cent to the Lord”. Hearing this, several male students let out a nervous laugh, ostensibly finding it hard to acknowledge celibacy as a positive outcome, while others remained serious, showing approval of the pastor’s message, until a witty aside from him – “No hangout for married people” – provoked collective laughter. Ultimately, Destiny encouraged men to stay calm and not force their wives to have sex when they didn’t want to: “She should not treat you like this. But relax, just hold up!”

This contrasts with observations made by Jeanne Rey in African diasporic spaces, where “long-lasting single life [was] perceived as an abnormal status” which “impedes [one] from meeting the gendered ideal of masculinity or femininity in Pentecostal terms”.45 It sheds new light on Afe Adogame’s observation in a related context, a declaration that gave his article such an evocative title – “I am married to Jesus”46 – and that he had identified as the expression of a religious commitment and of an empowered single parentage. Not only does the idea of a “marriage” to Jesus express commitment and empowerment, but it may correspond to a requirement of the religious organisations. And as we will see, singles are particularly mobilised in the street, as part of a ritualised missionary labour that gives the church its signature.

9 The Street: Singles at the Front Line

Ritualised missionary labour mainly consists of street evangelisation, known as “outreach” sessions, by groups of church members. This practice is a sensitive issue in Turkey, especially when it comes with the distribution of copies of the New Testament (İncil) translated into Turkish.47 Missionary endeavour is very limited in all Turkish churches I visited in Istanbul, except for the Waterfall. Still, pastors are very unlikely to express openly the need to invite new people to the church. Police repression is occasionally recalled in the sermons and during our interviews, but in 2017 the most recent problems had taken place at the end of 2008, when the distribution of leaflets advertising the projection of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ (2004) inside church was prevented by policemen.

Unlike worship labour, which is largely daily, most missionary labour is carried out in the ritualised time of street evangelisation. In addition to daily evangelisation in private spaces and at the Institute, ritualised outreach sessions are mainly carried out by single people from the informal hierarchy and students of the Biblical Institute. Outreach involve teams of two to ten believers, often divided into sub-groups that walk around a given neighbourhood, meeting people that they identify as targets. They operate in defined territories and engage people chosen on account of their supposed ethnicities, such as Arabs or Africans. In 2015, I participated in four sessions: with a group of Syrian men and women, targeting Turkish Assyrians; with a Cameroonian and a Congolese man, targeting Africans; and with two ethnically mixed groups targeting a wide range of people. In all these sessions I noted the prevalence of single people, and above all, the complete absence of couples: married or engaged people may participate in the sessions, but were never accompanied by their partner.

Outreach consists in approaching passersby on the street and addressing them with two questions: “Have you ever been told that God loves you and that He has a plan for your life?” and “If you were to die at this moment, are you sure you would be saved?” Thereafter, the missionary offers to pray for the person they have approached and/or get them to “accept” Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. People who are “saved” during these sessions are counted and reported to the rest of the assembly during the Sunday service. This assessment of the street evangelisation comes after the 45 minutes of praise sung at the beginning of the ceremony.

Missionary labour performed by small groups in the public space, which distinguishes the Waterfall from its Turkish competitors, is done mainly by the same single persons mentioned as religious labourers backstage and in the atrium. In other words, single members perform the less visible worship labour on a daily basis. This contributes to a transgressive image of the church, also based on the fact of young and single women (Turkish or immigrant) approaching strangers on the street to address apparently private and politically sensitive issues. Such affinity between female celibacy and public evangelisation challenges both the taboo that surrounds Christian “missionary” practices – those which usually result in a strategy of invisibilisation from the perspective of Turkish Christians – with the stigma that targets apparently single women in the street.

A recent study by Ceren Lordoğlu shows that being a woman identified as single in Istanbul’s public space raises questions of security. Her survey, based on interviews with single women, all from Turkey, in three districts of Istanbul reveals that, regardless of the residential area and social profile, single women are all “afraid for their physical safety in urban public space”.48 Ezgi Çakmak’s research on the perception of immigrant and racialised women’s bodies in the cityscape, widens this theory by adding factors of race and social condition. The latter argues that black immigrant women in Turkey have an “experience of the city that lies somewhere between visibility and indifference”.49 Most of the women employed in the Waterfall’s ritual missionary labour are Global Southern immigrant workers or students, and their experience of public spaces does not differ from the latter contention. The young women performing backstage labour to whom I referred above, originally from Kenya, Moldova, the Philippines and Uganda, are likely to be labelled as sex workers in their daily life.50 In my extensive fieldwork immigrant women reported, sometimes in the frame of Pentecostal services in church, an intertwined experience of racialisation and sexualisation at their workplaces and/or in the public space.

In this context, ritual actions may serve in the same way as bell hooks depicted home-place activities for African-American women, i.e. a “private world” of “intimate relationships” expected to “restore to them their sense of power”.51 The comparison has to be nuanced, given the institutional subjugation and appropriation of religious labour that is mainly or entirely unrecognised, at the Waterfall. But church buildings and their ritual extensions may be described as a “site of resistance”,52 in the sense that minoritised women possibly value within ritual spaces (the worship place) and times (the outreach sessions) activities systematically devalued otherwise, in the outside world.

Helen, a Ugandan student from a wealthy background, who arrived in 2009 in Istanbul, was a very active outreach labourer at the Waterfall. During our interview, she reported stigmatisation based on colour in the public space: “Sometimes you are on the street, someone just looks at you, and laughs. I don’t know what’s so funny. Is this skin colour funny?” During our interview, the procedures of converting to Pentecostalism and receiving a call to missionary labour overlapped. Her description testified to the process of socialisation into missionary labour, and offers a narrative that matches the transition to Evangelical activism with personal extroversion, first imposed by street outreach sessions she had to do as a “requirement” for her Bible Institute classes. She then emphasised her joy in sharing laughter with people in the street and Turkish believers at church – thus the narrative switches from stigmatising external to communal shared laughter – and declares that, having found a “family” in the Waterfall, she “love[d]” Turkey and would be ready to settle there permanently. The same can be said of Jamie, who, having slept on the street while she was going through a heavy depression, ended up investing most of her missionary energy in the street.

10 Conclusion

Describing religious labour through six areas located inside (worship labour) and outside (missionary labour) the church building indicates the degrees of visibility to which male, female, single and married members of the church are exposed. Roughly speaking, while singles generally do the most secluded daily worship labour in the backstage, they do the most visible and ritualised missionary labour in the street. On the contrary, married couples perform the most visible and ritualised worship labour at the altar, and participate in less visible missionary labour browsing members’ personal networks. The atrium is the most mixed space, where one sees men and women, single and married, and the Biblical Institute offers a transitory space where couples are formed and religious careers are affirmed. The observation of all the tasks performed for the organisation shows that it accommodates quite well the presence of single religious labourers at the bottom of the formal hierarchy, and the international circulation of pastoral couples at the top, illustrating an actualisation of the heterosexual institution into both performed conjugality and discreet celibacy.

The Waterfall is ruled by a mode of patriarchal domination, under the leadership of a man assisted by his parents, his wife, and other pastor couples and their children, forming a resident minor hierarchy and several ephemeral outsider hierarchies. The Pentecostal tendency to multiply unofficial ministries is also reminiscent of the “infinite number of statutes and ordinances, whose stipulations often had an accidental origin”, characteristic of the patrimonial mode of domination defined by Max Weber,53 rather than an ill-defined “charismatic” type, particularly confusing when it comes to the study of Charismatic Christianity. Moreover, considering how conjugality and filiality are essential resources to religious labour, it is appropriate to speak of a family mode of production, as coined by Christine Delphy and Diana Leonard, where “the worker’s whole work capacity is appropriated”.54

Marriage and parenthood indeed seem more obviously affective than friendship and illustrate a private appropriation of the wife’s social capital which is made possible by a loving relationship between spouses. But Pastor Jacob too declares that he loves his Youth Group “brothers and sisters” during their meetings. It seems accurate to redefine “love” not as a mere legitimation for the free provision of religious labour force, but as a relational operator between worship (inwards) and missionary (outwards) areas of religious labour, and between its daily and ritual modalities. Further afield, “love” appears as a religious labour outcome: it is said to be experienced alone in the backstage, communally expressed in the atrium, performed by families at the altar, published through members’ personal networks, learned and lived by the Institute’s fellows, and spread by groups of believers in the street.

Since many Waterfall members are inter-religious converts and/or international immigrants in uncertain and unstable situations, one may consider “love” as a stabilising resource, which gives meaning to their worship activities and missionary action. But we have stressed the lack of communitarian arrangements in the church, notwithstanding the multitude of tiny social bonds that the believers form. The maintenance of a certain form of Evangelical celibacy emerges as an important feature of religious labour, one that has not been extensively discussed before, perhaps because scholars of Evangelicalism do not consider the ideological glorification of the marriage alongside the reality of religious labour. Love between religious labourers is very unevenly displayed, and the “Love of God” (nor God itself) may not be considered a unified experience, insofar as it is mediated by religious labour relationships.

Love depends, inter alia, on gender positions and marital situations related to a way of working inside and outside churches. It legitimates the exploitation of wives, children and single women (and some men) by the hierarchy, but also appears as a basis for self-reappropriation of the body and one’s own strength. Love remains at stake, and as the missionary ritornello indicates, one always has to recall others and to be reminded that God loves them too.


I would like to thank all the field respondents, readers of the AYAK group, editors, reviewers, and above all Lydia Zeghmar for her inestimable help.


Names of the church, its related entities, and all the persons mentioned in this article have been changed.


Poloma (2003) puts emphasis on pilgrimages to Toronto. Hunt (2009) situates the prominence of Florida’s revivalists and churches in the movement.


Levitt (2003), pp. 857–858.


There is no room for this debate, but I shall put forth that it is not relevant to me to discern Evangelical Protestants from Protestants in these configurations, and it is more appropriate to refer to them all as “Evangelicals”.


For earlier accounts on the conversion to Christianity of Afghan and Iranian asylum seekers in Istanbul, see Köşer Akçapar (2006), and Fine (2013).


Bourdieu (1991 [1971]), p. 12 & (1971), p. 11.


Maduro (1977), Oliveira (2007).


Strangely enough, Terry Rey’s wide review (2014 [2007]) of Bourdieu’s sociological theory of religion hardly mentions “religious labour” or “religious work”, nor does it directly address the question or give any definition of it.


Arribas (2012).


Bourdieu (1991 [1971]), p. 3.


See, for instance, Boubekeur (2004) on the confinement of Muslim religious professionals to an unofficial market; Béraud (2008) on the over-representation of women in assistance work to the formal Catholic hierarchy; Malogne-Fer (2011) on the marginalisation of women’s ministries in Protestantism; and de Gasquet (2016) on the attribution of the most prestigious ritual honours to men in Judaism.


Mathieu (1978 [1973]).


Rubin (2011 [1975]).


Rich (1980); Wittig (1992 [1989]).


Gonda (1998), p. 117.


Juteau & Laurin (1997). See in English Juteau & Laurin (1989).


Guillaumin (1995 [1978]), pp. 176–238.


Bell (1988).


Cooper (2006), pp. 28, 86, 170.


Krinsky & Simonet (2012).


In order not to confuse “church” as an organised community and “church” as a place of worship, I often use the expression church building.


Goffman (1975), p. 216.


“Evangelicals circulation and mediatization in Istanbul” (with Armand Aupiais), paper presented at the conference (De-)Secularization and New Religiosities through the Prism of the Turkish Case, Final Symposium of the ANR-DFG Neoreligitur Research Program, 30th–31st October 2017, EHESS, Paris.


Aupiais-L’ homme (2015).


Fer (2005), p. 266.


de Gasquet (2010), pp. e22–e39.


On the diversity of these “manifestations” of the Holy Spirit, see Poloma (2003).


Regarding the altar call, a tradition common to many Pentecostals in both Florida and Nigeria, see Marshall (2009), pp. 147–150.


Aupiais-L’ homme (2015).


Texeira (2015).


Goffman (1977), p. 321.


Quoted in “A threat” or Under Threat? Legal and Social Problems of Protestants in Turkey, 2010, report by the Association of Protestant Churches (Protestan Kiliseler Derneği), Izmir, Turkey, p. 9.


About the Malatya killings see Hürtaş (2013). Concerning the literature on missionaries in Turkey, see Yetkiner (2014). Interestingly enough, the Waterfall was quoted in a successful essay against missionaries, written by a former employee of the intelligence directorate.


On Pentecostalism as a “female collective action” in Colombia, see Brusco (1995), p. 135 et seq. On the role of women as mediators between the church and their homes, see Birman (1996).


Aupiais-L’ homme (2015).


Luhrmann (2004), p. 523.


Hüwelmeier (2014).


On the notion of urban “patch”, see Magnani (2005).


Krinsky & Simonet (2012), p. XVI.


Aubrée (1999).


These gifts, with numbers ranging from seven to nine, are listed by Paul in his letters to the churches of Rome (Rom. 12:6–8) and Corinth (1 Cor. 12:8–10; 1 Cor. 12:28).


These five gifts are listed by Paul in his letter to the church of Ephesus (Eph. 4:11).


Fer (2010).


Regarding spiritual warfare as a well-established theology in both North American and West African Charismatic contexts, see Währisch-Oblau (2009), pp. 271–301.


Rey (2013), pp. 69 & 72.


Adogame (2008), p. 130.


During the “Missionaries as Experts” workshop, organised by MisSMO program in Istanbul in October 2018, Claudio Monge, a Catholic priest in Istanbul, said he had been visited several times by the police accusing him of distributing Bibles on İstiklal Avenue. This curious anecdote, from a priest of limited missionary activities, is informative regarding the security conception of the use of the Bible as a disturbance of public order.


Lordoğlu (2018), p. 229.


Çakmak (2015), p. 173.


About the stigmatisation of immigrant women as prostitutes, particularly in relation to African women, see Coşkun (2018). As for the “Natasha” stigma and sexual harassment of blond foreign-looking women in Turkey, see Gülçür & İlkkaracan (2002).


hooks (1984), p. 121.


hooks (2015 [1990]), pp. 76–88.


Weber (1978 [1913]), p. 1062.


Delphy & Leonard (1992), p. 159.


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