Book: Body Talk and Cultural Identity in the African World
Chapter: 10. Embodying Holiness: Gender, Sex and Bodies in a Neo- Pentecostal Church in Kenya
Based on ethnographic research carried out in the Repentance and Holiness Ministry (RHM), a Neo-Pentecostal Church founded by self-proclaimed Prophet, Dr David Edward Owour, this paper examines Neo-Pentecostal practices and discourses on gender, sex and women bodies in Kenya. In this ministry women are taught to embody holiness through a unique dress code supposedly designed to materialise and enflesh holiness, piety, chastity and modesty. As if feminising holiness as “women-only virtue”, this ministry teaches that women’s bodies are ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’ and through dressing in specific ways women must frame purity so as not to tempt men/brothers into ‘sexual immorality’. Sexual sins are also framed as “sin against the Holy Spirit, the unforgiveable sin to be dreaded at all cost. As sources of ritual impurity, contamination and danger, but also as saved daughters and holy women’, women are prohibited by church teaching from wearing ‘trousers, mini-skirts, short dresses, spaghetti tops, sleeveless shirts or tops and skirts with a cut/slit. This paper argues that the discourse of holiness and purity as well as dress code for the female body are a pointer not only of how women’s bodies are perceived, constructed and understood but also how gendered connotations of women’s dressing and bodies become sites of debates and discourses about moral decay in Africa and how women bodies are purveyors of social and moral lapses. Through a critical analysis of women’s dress codes and the doctrines attaching to this in RHM, the paper seeks to ethnographically illustrate how women bodies are constructed and their sexualities negotiated, controlled and navigated in Pentecostal churches in Kenya. The paper concludes that the discourse and praxis of female dress code as illustrated in RHM reinforce gender roles and patriarchal dominance over women’s bodies and sexualities and in turn create negative views and images of women’s sexual health and bodies.