To Every Creature: Language, Law, and Masculinity in U.S. Street Preaching

“Among street preachers, the Christian imperative to preach the gospel to every creature resonates with a particularly aggressive style of U.S. free speech masculinity, highlighting the complicated relationships among gender, religion, and nationalism in the practice of street preaching and Christian evangelism more broadly. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Kyle Byron University of Toronto Contact Me

About this dissertation fellowship

My project is an ethnography of street preaching grounded in two years of fieldwork with communities of street preachers in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as broader national and transnational street preaching networks. I chose San Francisco as an ethnographic site both because the city is home to one of the oldest street preaching ministries in the U.S., and because it looms large in conservative Christian imaginations of the U.S. as a chosen—yet fallen—nation. My project centers around three keywords: language, law, and masculinity. I bring these keywords together to describe how the Christian imperative to preach the gospel to every creature resonates with a long history of U.S. free speech masculinity, that is, a style of masculinity characterized by the imagined capacity to speak without restriction and remain unharmed by the speech of others. For street preachers, this style of masculinity is performed through aggressive forms of public evangelism in places perceived as hostile to Christianity. Drawing on gendered metaphors of heteronormative familial kinship and agricultural reproduction, street preachers understand this style of evangelism as a form of “spiritual reproduction” in which the seed of the Word is scattered into the world, birthing spiritual children. An ethnography of street preaching, I argue, helps us understand how dynamics of speech, authority, and masculinity in the practice of evangelism relate to the broader sanction and support of men’s voices in certain forms of North American Christianity at the expense of others.