“… has supported my project, seeing it as an opportunity to tell their story and to document the work they have done since TFAM's formation in 2000. ”
My book is based on five years of multi-sited ethnographic research with The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries (TFAM), a coalition of churches that serves mostly African American, LGBT, and Pentecostal worshippers. TFAM is animated by a theology of "radical inclusivity," a mission to serve those at the margins of society, “especially women, same-gender-loving individuals and their allies, transgendered persons, persons in recovery, the recently incarcerated, the economically disenfranchised, and persons infected and affected by HIV/AIDS." Radical inclusivity has been expanded more recently to involve outreach to persons from diverse racial, gender/sexual, and religious identities. Founded and headed by Bishop Yvette Flunder, TFAM seeks to heal individuals who have been mistreated, isolated, and even excluded from their home churches because of non-normative gender/sexual identity, and also is committed to a wide range of progressive social justice goals and to encouraging members to seek further theological or other education.
My book documents how the intense experience of “visitation with the Holy Ghost” or “being filled with the Spirit,” often linked to the display of spiritual gifts, is fostered by particular formal features of rituals, including sermons, testimonies, the singing of hymns, and their collective reception, that deepen the efficacy of prayer on these occasions, and how the recognition of these forms (e.g., call and response, gospel music) as "old time" helps to create shared social memory. I also show how the mandate to "come out," i.e., to accept and reveal one's sexual/gender identity to others, serves the basic spiritual mission of enabling the Holy Spirit to enter the worshipper. I use the methods of narrative analysis to examine both the personal stories of TFAM leaders and lay members as well as to provide a close reading of ritual and liturgical forms.