1 ROUNDING UP CHRISTIAN COWBOYS: MYTH, MASCULINITY AND IDENTITY IN TWO TEXAS CONGREGATIONS By SARAH MOCZYGEMBA A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENT S FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2013
2 2013 Sarah Moczygemba
3 To my parents
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS My sincerest thanks go out to all the people who helped me complete my fieldwork and this thesis. First, I would like to thank the pastors of Big Bend Cowbo y Church and Cowboy Fellowship who warmly welcomed me into their congregations and wonderful and open c ongregants who welcomed me into their homes and pastures for interviews and glimpses into their lives. They trul y helped me understand what the cowboy church movement is all about. The guidance of my advisors was critical to the writing of this thesis. I w ant to thank Dr. David Hackett for the hours of advice, edits, and constructive criticism that helped shape this project from the beginning. Additionally, I am also beholden to Dr. Whitney Sanford for all the help she gave me which shaped how I thought abo ut and conducted my fieldwork. Both Dr. Hackett and Dr. Sanford invariably pushed me to think in new ways and to be able to rationali ze all aspects of this project. I also want to acknowledge the support of my colleagues and friends who were always availab le to bounce ideas off of. I especially want to thank Morgan and Molly, who kept me grounded during the times I was under the most pressure. me completely while I worked on this project. Their support has allowed me to follow my dreams. I want to thank my dad for all of our family trips to West Texas where I first encountered cowboy churches, and for suggesting that I should study th em. He was the inspiration behind this proj ect. My highest praises go to my mother, who painstakingly copy edited this thesis, for all her support and for always finding the time to talk. Thank you
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 7 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION: ROUNDING UP CHRISTIAN COWBOYS ................................ ... 8 Literatur e Review ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 10 Theory ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 14 Method ................................ ................................ ................................ .................... 18 Fieldwork ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 19 Autobiography ................................ ................................ ................................ ......... 21 Thesis and Argument ................................ ................................ .............................. 22 Chapter Outline ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 23 2 THE HISTORY OF COWBOY CHURCHES ................................ ........................... 26 Where is the West? ................................ ................................ ................................ 26 What is a Cowboy? ................................ ................................ ................................ 30 Cowboy Religion ................................ ................................ ................................ ..... 35 Cowboy Churches Today ................................ ................................ ........................ 42 Ron Nolan and the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches ....................... 43 Purpose of the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches .............................. 47 What is the Role of Local AFCC Churches? ................................ ..................... 48 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 52 3 FIELDWORK AND ETHNOGRAPHY ................................ ................................ ..... 53 The Story of Cowboy Fellowship ................................ ................................ ............ 53 The Story of Big Bend Cowboy Church ................................ ................................ .. 60 Similarities among Cowboy Churches ................................ ................................ .... 64 Material Culture ................................ ................................ ................................ 64 Dress ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 65 Church Building and Decoration ................................ ................................ ....... 67 Myth and Culture ................................ ................................ .............................. 69 Music, Arenas, and More ................................ ................................ .................. 74 Masculinity ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 78 Differences ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 84 Size ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 84 Staff ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 85 Ministries ................................ ................................ ................................ .......... 86 Definition of Western Heritage ................................ ................................ .......... 89
6 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 91 4 THEORIZING COWBOY CHURCH CULTURE ................................ ...................... 92 Myth ................................ ................................ ................................ ........................ 92 Masculinity ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 97 Identity Construction and the Contemporar y Cowboy ................................ ........... 104 Model Of and Model For ................................ ................................ ................. 105 Hybrid Spaces ................................ ................................ ................................ 108 Simulacra and the Hyperreal ................................ ................................ .......... 112 Hybridity and Media ................................ ................................ ........................ 116 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 118 5 CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH ................................ ....................... 119 Introduction and Summary ................................ ................................ .................... 119 Shaping the Field ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 122 Future Directions ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 124 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................. 127 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ .......................... 137
7 Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts ROUNDING UP CHRISTIAN COWBOYS: MYTH, MASCULINITY AND IDENTITY IN TWO TEXAS CONGREGATIONS By Sarah Moczygemba May 2013 Chair: David Ha ckett Cochair: Whitney Sanford Major: Religion The contemporary cowboy church movement is an American Protestant missionary effort devoted to reach ing people who are attracted to the aura of cowboy identity and culture. This ethnographic study focuses on myth, masculinity, and identity formation in two Texas congregations. Using theoretical ideas from religious and cultural studies, this thesis attempts to understand how these churches function, how they attract members, and why individuals choose to atten d them. This work argues that the success of the contemporary cowboy church movement can be explained by the hybridization of historical conceptions of the cowboy, popular culture, and evangelical Protestantism.
8 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION: ROUNDING UP CHRIST IAN COWBOYS Thirty five men and women sit mounted on horseback, surrounded by forty others, in a large pasture near Alpine, Texas. Sitting astride a horse in front of them, next to another man holding a large American flag, is their Pastor Wendell Elliot. He reads to them from the Bible of the wondrous changes brought by the Lord and then invites them to church the next day. The pasture roping hosted by the Big Bend Cowboy Church is now underway. Big Bend Cowboy Church is one of 208 churches associated wit h the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches (AFCC), an affiliate of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT). 1 The churches host rodeo events that reach out to members of the community who identify with western culture. emove as many of the barriers as possible that might be found in the more traditional church setting and offer a more relaxed come as you are atmosphere where everyone is 2 I ndividuals are encouraged to come, even if their spurs and chaps are ca ked with mud and manure. Sermons are simple and biblical. Pastors preach moral living as outlined by a fairly literal reading of the Bible. They call on masculine images such as having a car breakdown or killing a rattlesnake. Although some Christian group s have focused on reaching out to cowboys since at least 1890, the contemporary 1 Data reflects document posted on August 2, 2012. The AFCC updates their church directory on an ip of Cowboy Churches. Accessed September 17, 2012 http://www.americanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=2088 2 17, 2012. http://www.americanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=200
9 cowboy church movement is a more recent development. 3 During the 1970 s, non denominational organizations promoting a Christian message associated with the cowboy/rodeo/Western heritage lifestyle began to dot the American landscape. 4 This thesis argues that the success of the contemporary cowboy church movement can be explained by the hybridization of historical conceptions of the cowboy, popular culture, and evangelical Protesta ntism. Until now, most discussions of cowboy churches have taken place in newspapers and popular magazines. Only one scholar, Katy Williams, has attempted an analysis of this movement. Her research to argu e that cowboy churches offer an affinity between cowboy culture and evangelical Protestantism. 5 Why and how this has occurred is left unexplored. Through an analysis of the available literature and ethnographic research into the lived experience of congreg ants in two Texas cowboy churches, my intention is to advance our understanding of this little researched phenomena in contemporary American religious culture in order to discuss masculinity and identity formation. I will begin this effort by first briefly locating this study in the 3 Deborah Bloys Hardin. "Bloys Camp Meeting," Handbook of Texas Online Accessed March 25, 2012. http://www.ts haonline.org/handbook/online/articles/iyb01 4 These organizations include Cowboys for Christ, which is from Ft. Worth, Texas and the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys based in Canon, CO. 5 In his analysis on the subject, Richard Herbert Howe points ou Thus, history would be a logical chaos were it not for an order in the universe of the meanings to which those actors orient their actions. That order is to be found in the elective affinities of words, the greater or lesser extents to which they p ossess inner affinity through the intersections of their meanings. It is this order in the universe of possible actions, which makes his social science possible. The actors' choices of possible actions are given by the elective affinities of their universe of meanings. The order of the actual, the course of history Max of Sociology Vol. 84, No. 2 (Sep., 1978), 382 Meeting, Corpus Christi, Texas, February 6 Feb ruary 8, 2011) 5 Grant Mission and the Cowboy Church: Diffusing University University, 2011).
10 available literature and articulating the theoretical and methodological approach of this study. Literature Review Until recently, Western historians have ignored religion while historians of religion have not paid attention to the American West. In the preface to his book Religion in the Modern American West, the late Ferenc Morton Szasz asserts that although historians in the latter part of the twentieth western history rega rdless of their ideological stance, most of these historians shared a common conceptual framework: they either marginalized or ignored the theme of 6 Scholars of religion have similarly overlooked the role the West has played in the rel igious lives of Americans. Laurie F. Maffly Kipp points out that while the academic study of the history of religion has vastly improved in the past century, religion in the United States is still treated as having moved from the Eastern to the Western Uni ted States. In ignoring movements of religion from North to South, West to East, and 7 Inde ed, it was only in 2008 that the American Academy of Religion created a five year seminar for scholars to present their work about the American West. 8 Through this 6 Fernec Morton Szasz, Religion in the Modern American West (Tucson, AZ: The Univ ersity of Arizona Press, 2000), xi. 7 Her goal is instead to move towards a more hemispheric approach to religion that eschews grand American Rel Retelling U.S. Religious History, ed. Thomas Tweed (Berkley: University of California Press, 1997), 128 and 130. 8 October 5, 2012, http://www.yale.edu/relwest/seminar.shtml
11 study, I hope to add to the emerging field of scholarship on religion in the American West t hrough an ethnographic study of modern cowboy churches in Texas. 9 My project is framed in part by the work of New Western Historians who emerged following the publication of Henry Nash Smith's Virgin Land. A large component of Smith's book was a rejection 10 While Turner argued that, by 1893, the frontier had been closed and the era of American presenting the West as embodying th e values that allowed for both geographical movement and intellectual development as a nation, Turner framed the West in almost spiritual terms. 11 He presented it as a liminal space, thus allowing it to become a region of mythologized alterity. As Daniel Wo old story was literally true. Returning to the wilderness, men could be restored to the told us what was wrong with 12 By daring to call the old history a myth, historians of the West were able to approach the region with new 9 This includes work done by Quincy D. Newell's Constructing Lives at Mission San Francisco: Native Californians and Hispanic Colonist s 1776 1821 and Laurie F. Maffly Kipp's Religion and Society in Frontier California 10 Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land; The American West as Symbol and Myth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950). 11 intellect owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but po werful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom these are traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere becaus Op. Cit. Turner. 12 Trails: Toward A New Western History ed. Patricia Nelson Limerick, Clyde A. Milner II, and Charles E. Rankin (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1991), 9 and 7.
12 theoretical and methodological tools which have since been referred to as the New Western History. The shift in perspective from myth to reality is what opened the door for the work of Patricia Nelson Limerick, Richard White, and David G. Robbins. 13 These New Western Historians place an epistemological focus on postmodern discussions of power, subaltern stu dies, gender, and the environment. While their movement has certainly expanded the history of the West by incorporating previously overlooked voices and perspectives, it lacks engagement with such popular cultural figures as the cowboy. The result is that much of the work being done by these historians fails to incorporate discussion of the impact of myth. One exception to this unwillingness to address the mythic West is the work of Richard Slotkin. In Gunfighter Nation, om a society's history that have acquired through persistent usage the power of symbolizing that society's ideology and of dramatizing its moral conscious with all the complexities and ion, Slotkin explores the myth of the West and describes how it changes decade by decade in American culture. Privileging the idea of myth, Slotkin shows how myth, and the symbols associated with it, shape and are shaped by society. Moreover, he demonstrat es how aspects of the myth change in order to affirm the values of the society in which they are embedded. 14 13 The New Western History movement is understood to have begun at the 1961 meeting of the Western History Association in Santa Fe, New Mexico Ibid.,11. 14 Slotkin depends on Clifford Geertz, Victor Turner, and Claude Levi Strauss who also made significant contributions to the field of religious studies. Richard Slotkin. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America (New York: Atheneum, 1992), 9.
13 With the exception of Slotkin's work, s cholarship devoted to studying the cowboy ended, for the most part, in the 1970 s. The apparent assumption was that when the frontier closed, working cowboys disappeared, thus relegating the cowboy to the realm of myth. New Western Historians apparently view aspects of the West in the same homogenous fashion as Turner. By this I mean that they selectively study hi storically ignored aspects of the West, and in doing so, they fail to acknowledge that important cultural tropes continue to exist. In contrast, I intend to follow Slotkin by recognizing how myth is a vital aspect of culture which both influences and is in fluenced by different aspects of said culture. I believe this will help answer such pertinent questions as: What is a cowboy church? What are the social and economic backgrounds of members? How do these factors influence how they view themselves and church affiliation? How do these churches fit into the culture of the contemporary West? And what is the role of myth in affirming the lifestyle of rugged, independent men? In addition to situating my work within the realm of New Western History, I intend to pos ition my work in the context of more contemporary 19 th and 20 th movements like Muscular Christianity and Promise Keepers. What I seek to answer is: What masculine cultural elements are present in cowboy churches? Why do cowboy churches appeal to men? How are these churches similar to, yet different from, these other movements? And, how do both men and women orientate themselves within these congregations? By answering these questions, I will come into conversation with authors who are historia ns and sociologists of religion including Clifford Putney, John P. Bartowski, and Dane S. Claussen, as well as sociologists of gender such as Michael Kimmel.
14 Although I will be focusing primarily on myth and masculinity, other subjects as diverse as polit ics, economic concerns, and weather patterns crept into my interviews, fleshing out the worldview of cowboy church attendees. By trying to understand how these individuals position themselves in the larger world, I seek to demonstrate how religion informs and is informed by other aspects of culture. Given the relative inattention to the modern cowboy in contemporary academia, I hope to shed light on the culture of a seemingly anachronistic lifestyle that still thrives in rural areas of the United States and how, in some areas, it has coalesced into a Christian cowboy culture. Theory My study draws primarily from three complementary theoretical approaches. The first approach reflects the concept of the social function of myth as understood by such scholars as Bruce Lincoln, Mircea Eliade, J.Z. Smith, and Thomas Tweed. The second involves work on hybridity and identity as explored by Nstor Garca Canclini, Jean Baudrillard, and Jan Nederveen Pieterse The last approach refers to the framework of lived religi on advocated by Robert Orsi and David Hall. By employing these three theoretical approaches, I seek to understand and explain the contemporary phenomena of the cowboy church. Because religion often deals with origin and social order, myth is frequently a topic of study among scholars. Eliade claims that myth primordial epoch that began immediately after 15 J.Z. Smith, expanding on Eliade, points out that myths are reshaped and altered by the societies in which they 15 R eligious Studies Vol. 2 No. 2 (Apr., 1967): 171 183.
15 exist. 16 elements with a fixed range of cultural meanings which are applied, thought with, 17 Freeing myth from a static, purely historical concept, as Eliade views it, allows scholars to consider how myth fits into social narratives. Building upon Eliade and Smith, Lincoln and Tweed explore the practical applications of myth as a component of culture that informs identity and religious belief. the task of sociocultural reproduction by inscribing their values and sense of shared many avenues through which culture is propagated. 18 Although I will argue that these churches do attract individuals who still live a real, non mythologized cowboy lifestyle, decisions regarding congregation name, location, decorations, and sermon content a re all informed by an attempt to appeal to the idea of what the cowboy should be. Tweed's work, in turn, expands upon Lincoln's treatment of the sociocultural attributes of myth by situating myth in the context of forming and sustaining religion and religi ous communities. While Lincoln looks solely at myth as a component of culture, Tweed treats myth as integral to religious and community identity. For Tweed, religions are flows that are simultaneously organic and 16 not excise myth from its interpretive context of existential situation. That application and situation is not Secrecy in Religions, ed. Kees W. Bolle (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1989), 77. 17 J. Z. Smi Map is not Territory: Studies in the History of Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 308. 18 Lincoln, Bruce, Myth and Method, edited by Wen dy Doniger & Laurie Patton (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), 168.
16 cultural. A component of cultural flows inc that function 19 By thinking of myth as a trope, I will explore the methods b y which cowboy churches construct their identity in order to attract the unchurched. I will also engage with Nstor Garca Canclini, Jean Baudrillard, and Jan Nederveen Pieterse to examine how cowboy culture is constantly renegotiated and then mixed with C hristianity to create a hybrid culture that sustains the contemporary cowboy church. As a starting point for discussing hybridity, I will employ Nederveen Pieterse's bec ome separated from existing practices and recombine with new forms in new 20 Nederveen Pieterse also explains how cultural mixing allows for the 21 Beginning with his work, I will analyze how the culture and theology of the contemporary cowboy church are the result of combining the evangelical emphasis on reaching out to men within the western heritage cult ure. Next, I will draw from Baudrillard's idea of the hyperreal and simulacra, and from Canclini's work on hybrid cultures. Referring to these concepts, I will explore the manner 19 He also discusses that tropes are not just found in religions, but in this context they are useful as Crossing and Dwelling: a Theory of Religion (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2006), 68. 20 He uses the definition put forth by William Rowe and Viviane Schelling in their work on popular culture. Jan Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture: Global Melange (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004), 70. 21 Ibid., 88.
17 in which cowboy culture has changed over two centuries and how it is negotia ted within cowboy churches. According to Baudrillard, at this point in history, culture exists in a enegotiating of hyperreal symbols that leads to the creation of cultural simulations and simulacra. 22 Using Baudrillard as a starting point, I will look to Canclini in order to consider how game of echoes which the 23 Using the work of these two theorists, I will discuss how contemporary understandings of cowboy identity and culture emerge from constant renegotiations of myth and history that are inscribed on to one another, discuss how cowboy and western heritage religion comes to be un derstood as part of and embedded in this hybrid culture. During my nine weeks in the field spent visiting two cowboy churches, I utilized into being in an ongoing, 24 22 Simulacra and Simul ation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 2. 23 Garca Canclini, Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 212. 24 Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice ed. David Hall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 7.
18 Since cowboy churches are embedded in western culture, how parishioners, staff, and clergy orient themselves within this culture and within the rest of the world sheds light on the role of religion in their lives. The lived religion model allows for a flexible ethnographic approach based on conversation and experience rather than surveys and quantitative data. 25 By having conversations with congregants about their faith, attending church events, and sharing meals, I was able to overcome some of the barriers that frequently separate r esearcher from subject. While the people I interviewed were not uncooperative, they were wary of paperwork and bureaucracy in general. I believe that trying to do a congregation wide survey would have been a failure, in part, because it would have come acr oss as impersonal and prying. Recognizing this aspect of their culture, I approached individuals in an informal manner and tried to keep interviews as conversational as possible, even answering questions about my own life and background if prompted. I atte mpted to ask a standard set of questions in every interview, and each person responded differently to the prompts. Trying to keep the conversations as informal and comfortable as possible gave me the flexibility to allow people to share stories that would go unheard had I stuck to a survey or set script. Method This is intended to be a pilot study of a much larger phenomenon. Today, cowboy churches encompass multiple associations and geographic areas in the United States, Mexico, and Canada, These associat ions include the American Fellowship of 25 While some scholars criticize this approach, I found it pivotal in gaining the trust of the congregants I interviewe opinion, this leads Lived Religion scholars who do so to be uncr itical of their subjects. Russell Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73/3 (2006): 729
19 Cowboy Churches (AFCC), Cowboy Ministers Network (CMN), International Cowboy Church Alliance Network (ICCAN), Fellowship of Christian Cowboys (FCC), Cowboys for Christ, and the Cowboy Church Network of North America (CCNNA). Despite the plethora of Cowboy Church associations, I limited my fieldwork to two different churches within the AFCC. This freed me to analyze the communities without also having to navigate doctrinal differences that could potentially arise acros s associations. One of the churches I studied was formed by the AFCC, while the other existed prior to its inception. The differences between the two churches I studied included congregation age and size, location, and self understanding of what is include d in the western heritage. This left me with two distinct portraits of life in cowboy churches that, despite these differences, had similarities that I believe reveal the reasons for the contemporary existence of cowboy churches. B y doing fieldwork in two churches, I hoped to avoid conclusions particular to one church and not suggestive of the movement as a whole. Fieldwork My fieldwork took place over a two and a half month period in the summer of 2012. I spent a month at the Big Bend Cowboy Church in Alp ine, Texas and five weeks at Cowboy Fellowship in Pleasanton, Texas. At each church, I interviewed approximately twenty individuals and attended church services every Sunday. Other aspects of fieldwork included attending band practices, setting up cattle p ens, attending a pasture roping, being present at barrel racing practices and clinics, and helping out with Vacation Bible School. Interviews occurred around kitchen tables, at local restaurants, in the church, and out in fields while on horseback. Conduct ing my fieldwork in a conversational manner gave me the opportunity to understand the lives of
20 the congregants and how they see themselves within the larger organization of the church, the AFCC, and their local communities. Cowboy Fellowship, located in A tascosa County, which is about an hour south of San Antonio, began as a bimonthly roping event in 2001 that was organized into a church in 2003. The roots of this church pre date the Texas Fellowship of Cowboy Churches and the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches. It formed without the institutional assistance of either organization, and, because of this, functions in a way that diverges slightly from the AFCC model. My main reason for conducting fieldwork at Cowboy Fellowship was to experience a more mat ure version of a cowboy church. With a weekly attendance of around 800 people, Cowboy Fellowship is one of the largest cowboy churches within the AFCC. In addition to sizable weekly attendance, Cowboy Fellowship also offers over twenty different ministries in which congregants can become involved and is the social hub for many who attend. By studying a church that has existed for almost a decade, I hoped to grasp what the early development of a cowboy church was like and to understand how it has changed ove r time. My other fieldwork site was Big Bend Cowboy Church (BBCC) in Alpine, Texas. Whereas Cowboy Fellowship is near a large metroplex and within driving distance of three small cities, BBCC is in the geographically isolated expanse of West Texas near Big Bend National Park and the Texas/Mexico border. Founded in 2006, Big Bend Cowboy Church serves as an example of a younger church that was planted by a representative of the AFCC after the movement became cohesive. During my visit, the church averaged abou t 120 worshipers a week. Because of its smaller size, BBCC does not offer the variety in ministries that Cowboy Fellowship does. However, there are still
21 opportunities for individuals to become involved in key groups such as the music ministry, arena team, and Bible study. Because it is geographically situated far from Cowboy Fellowship and was established at a later date by the denomination, I felt that BBCC would serve as a good juxtaposition to Cowboy Fellowship in order to carry out an effective compara tive study. Cowboy Fellowship and Big Bend Cowboy Church are both examples of modern, AFCC affiliated cowboy churches. In my chapter devoted to fieldwork, I will discuss the similarities and differences between the two congregations and the factors that in fluence the personality of each church body. Fieldwork provided me with the opportunity to become acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of each congregation, which helped me understand what draws people from varied of walks of life to this movement. Autobio graphy While conducting my fieldwork, one of the most frequent questions I received odd to them that a student from the University of Florida would choose to study groups in rural areas of Texas. However, I am originally from South Texas and, over the past few years, I began to notice cowboy churches on the highways and farm to market roads across the state. 26 Although I have no direct connection to western heritage or Protest antism, my family owns land and, until two generations ago, depended on dry land farming and ranching to make a living. We were not cowboys; rather, we were Catholic Polish immigrants who did what we could to make a living off the rural, arid land that exi sts southeast of San Antonio. The combination of growing up in a state with 26 Farm to market roads also go by the names ranch to market roads, farm roads, and ranch roads. They are used to connect rural areas to cultural centers in Texas.
22 a complex identity that depends heavily on myth and historical memory and my own remote connection to ranching piqued my interest in cowboy churches. From a more academic perspecti ve, for as long as I can remember I have been interested in studying conservative Protestants. This is partly because of my political science background and general curiosity about the Religious Right and 1 st Amendment issues. As I moved into graduate stud ies, politics began to interest me less and, instead, I became drawn towards studies of lived religion and the dialogue between culture and religion. This interest in aspects of popular culture, including the construction of national myths, appeared to ove rlap with the emerging Cowboy Church Movement. It seemed like a natural fit for a native Texan to choose to study th ese churches. Thesis and Argument This thesis argues that the success of the contemporary cowboy church movement can be explained by the hy bridization of historical conceptions of the cowboy, popular culture, and evangelical Protestantism. Since the Bloys Cowboy Campmeeting began in 1890 outside of Alpine, Texas, Christians have looked for ways to reach out to unchurched cowboys. By appropria ting aspects of cowboy culture and infusing them with a Christian message, these churches appeal to individuals affiliated with the western heritage as well as those who may idealize it because they perceive it to be a masculine environment whereas most ch urches are traditionally viewed as feminine or feminizing. Although the movement itself is only a little over a decade old, it appears to represent an institutionalized and well funded version of an idea that has existed since the 1890 s.
23 Focusing on myth, masculinity, and cultural hybridity, I address both the construction of a Christian cowboy culture and how it appeals to modern, rural men. In using ethnography, I offer an assessment of cowboy church culture that incorporates both the institutional and th e personal. While authentic, male cowboys are the demographic the AFCC targets, the casual atmosphere and simple, brief, services also attract men and women with varying levels of connection to western culture. Chapter Outline In the first chapter, I ad dress how the cowboy has become entrenched in the historical narrative of the United States. To accomplish this, I explain the difficulty involved in determining where the West is located geographically. I then look at the lifestyle of working cowboys thro ughout history, the mythic dimension of cowboy culture that emerged with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Rodeo, and the lives of modern day cowboys. I will examine the gaps in contemporary literature that result in an unclear definition of the contemporary cowboy from which emerges a figure that is the product of both myth and regionalism. Finally, I briefly overview history of groups and organizations dedicated to evangelizing to cowboys before evaluating the history and goals of the American Fellowship of Cowbo y Churches. In the second chapter, I offer my ethnographic work. Here, I relate congregational histories and analyze data compiled during my study of two AFCC cowboy churches in Texas. In this comparison, I paint a picture of the similarities and differen ces between the two churches. This is done in order to show the diversity in the movement and how churches adapt doctrine and culture to the needs of their communities. Bringing together my fieldwork, in the form of interviews and observations, allows me t o discuss the major themes of cowboy churches. There, material culture, how myth is negotiated
24 within the churches, and the role masculinity plays within the communities. When discussing the churches, I focus on the construction of the church, dress, minis tries, music, and church sponsored events. On the more individual level, I delve into how congregants view themselves and their church community. Paying attention to issues of gender and their self understanding of western heritage allows me to determine h ow they orient themselves within the world of the church. In approaching the cowboy church at both the institutional and personal level, I hope to address the subject in a way that highlights the complexity of the movement and the individuals who are activ e in it. In the third chapter, I analyze my fieldwork using theories from religion and cultural studies to discuss the myth of the cowboy and his culture as a hybrid entity that is used as a trope to inform religious and social culture. Following this dis cussion of myth and hybridity, I clarify how these factors shape issues related to material culture and masculinity within congregations. After doing this, I address how cowboy churches fit into the larger literature of Christian men's movements including Muscular Christianity and Promise Keepers. By orienting the cowboy church as an example of hybridity between myth, culture, and men's movements within American Christianity, I hope to look contribute to relevant discussions in these scholarly fields by loc ating my work within them. Finally, in my conclusion I revisit my hypothesis in light of the data I have presented. Additionally, I offer suggestions for avenues of further study of cowboy churches in other parts of the Americas (Mexico and Canada), Spa nish language cowboy churches in the United States, and churches that are affiliated with other
25 cowboy ministry organizations/denominations. It is my hope that by bridging the gap between Western and religious studies, I will contribute to the literature i n both fields.
26 CHAPTER 2 THE HISTORY OF COWBOY CHURCHES Rogers? Or is it the nameless man herding cattle on the open range? Do you think of modern rodeo riders? Although the Merriam Webster dictionary defines the cowboy as one who tends cattle or horses; especially : a usually mounted cattle definition does not capture the array of identities the cowboy takes on within history or popular culture. 1 This chapter discus ses where the West is located, the multiple identities of the cowboy, and historical efforts to evangelize cowboys and people who subscribe to a western heritage. In calling attention to these issues, I create a conceptual framework for discussing the hist ory and goals of cowboy churches. Where is the West? How do we define the West? Debates among western historians reveal the contested regional identity of the West. Compared to the relative ease of defining the American South, which encompasses the states that fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and New England, which is associated with the thirteen original colonies, defining the West is more problematic. 2 In this section, after defining where I will situate the West and unpacking the complex relationship Texas has within this regional definition, I will situate the cowboy within this space. Frederick Jackson Turner, in his Frontier Thesis, tied American growth, 1 Webster Dictionary Online, accessed October 8, 2012, http://www.merriam webster.com/dictionary/cowboy 2 Trails: Toward A New Western History edited by Patricia Nelson Limerick, Clyde A Milner II, and Charles E. Rankin, (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1991) 94.
27 con 3 Although aspects of Turner's thesis are problematic, including his treatment of the West as a universal, homogenous entity, his work attempts to capture what separates the West from othe r regions of the United States as well as what keeps it linked to the rest of the nation. However, Turner did not go so far as to define the physical demarcation concerning where the West began. The nebulousness of Turner's West underscores the debates abo ut regionalism that permeate contemporary western studies. Regionalism is a contested notion within present day scholarship in large part due to the postmodern turn that deconstructs traditional boundary demarcations in favor of a deterritorialized histor y. However, as Michael C. Steiner and David M. Wrobell point of western history testify to the renewed vitality of the theme of western regional 4 Histo rians who pursue the new western history reaffirm the existence of the region. Analyized, the mythic dimension of the West makes it difficult to territorialize. 5 For example, the United States Census Bureau excludes states like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Neb raska, and the Dakotas. It is easy to problematize this 3 Frederick Jackson Turner, The Significance of the Frontier in American History, Accessed May 25, 2012. http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/turner/ 4 in Many Wests: Place, Culture, and Regional Identity ed. David M. Wrobel and Michael C. Steiner. (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 1997), 9. 5 characteristics, but they are not readily and evenly applicable to all parts of the West. Furthermore, one of the most enduring of those characteristics may be the West's hallowed place in the American, or at least the Euro American, imagination. And the mythic West of the imagination is not constructed through any conception of western regional diversity; instead, it is derived from the application of near intangible generalities to 'the West' notions of striking, colorful vistas; romantic, yet challenging landscapes; breathtaking frontier dramas. The West in this context becomes a 'state of mind' something rather dif ficult
28 exclusion. Historically, these states are associated with the great cattle drives of the 19 th century that contributed to the history of the mythic West. At the same time, Steiner and Wrobell are not so essentialist as to purport that the West is monolithic. Instead, they 6 To demarcate the divisions within the West it self, they depend heavily on a survey conducted by historian Walter Nugent. Nugent's survey, published in 1992, is based on the author's opinion that, despite the issues with defining the West, understanding what factors contributed to people's views of th e region would offer insight regarding why the boundaries of the West are so contested. What makes Nugent's survey useful in my discussion of the West is that he included members of a variety of professions in nearly 500 questionnaires. In soliciting opini publishers of newspapers and magazines from Colorado to California, and members of geographic terms. 7 The 8 The unwillingness of fiction writers to locate the West geographically attests to the importance of the mythic dimension of the West and how this opinion continues to be reaffirmed in American 6 Ibid., 18. 7 Montana: The Magazine of Western History Vol. 42, No. 3 (Summer, 1992): 4 8. 8 Ibid., 7 8.
29 consciousness. It also underscores that there is both a geographic and cultural element to the region. 9 For th e purposes of this paper, I will define the West according to state boundaries rather than geographic boundaries and focus only on the geographic component of the region. My reason for doing so is clarity. Quite simply, it is easier to orient where state b oundaries are using a basic map than to determine what constitutes the edge of the Great Plains. I will use the east most boundaries of North and South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas as my geographic demarcation between the West and the rema inder of the United States. Although I include Texas in my definition of the West, the state has a complicated history that results in different historians placing it in different regions. As Ty Cashion points out in his article about the role of Texas in professing to be western in scope have ignored, marginalized, or misinterpreted the critical role that the Texan West played in the formative development of the larger 10 Texas' involvement in the Civil War as a slave state leads some historians to label it as a Southern state. However, the state's association with the great trail drives, cattle industry, and cowboys causes many to view it as a pivotal component of the West. 11 Ultimately, Cashion points out that du ring the Civil War, the state was hardly settled. After the war, expansion into the western part of the state fundamentally 9 Ibid., 11. 10 Montana: The Magazine of Western History Vol. 55, No. 4 (Winter, 2005): 4. 11 Ibid., 4 6.
30 familiar in some aspects, but one sufficie 12 In his opinion, Southerners became Westerners during the process of settling the western part of the state. This process created a separate culture that resonates the perception of the mythic West rather that of the east ern part of the state, which reflected Southern culture. In his conclusion, Cashion voices his frustration with attempts to define the realization that the region as a w hole is composed of constituent parts bound together 13 In this sense, he, like Steiner, Worbell and Nugent, undermines Turner's notion of the frontier and the West as a unified entity. I include this discussion on the contested nature of the West in order to frame the epistemological issues that arise when studying a figure, such as the cowboy, that is simultaneously historical, contemporary, and mythic, as is the space they inhabit. What is a Cowboy ? From the hard working man on the open range to the morally upstanding loner images. As a historical figure, the cowboy raised cattle on the open range of the West. F ollowing the closing of the range in the 1880 s, cowboys were romanticized by Wild West shows and dime novels alike, thus ensuring their transformation from a respected historical figure into mythic entities in the pantheon of heroes and spaces of the domin ant American myth. Despite the closing of the West, individuals continued to work 12 Ibid., 8. 13 Ibid., 15.
31 to encompass those who associated with the western heritage as well as rodeo culture. In this section, I present a brief history of the cowboy that emphasizes the dual identity of the contemporary cowboy as both a figure of myth and contemporary reality. The 1840s 1880 s are generally associated with the era of the historical American cowboy. E arly cowboys were actually called vaqueros, who were Hispanic men charged with taking care of the herds of cattle that roamed parts of Mexico and America, including states as far east as Florida. 14 As Americans moved West, white and African American men als o became cowboys when new land owners began to develop a cattle culture. This was the time of the great overland cattle drives prior to the fencing in of the West with barbed wire, which effectively partitioned and divided the open range. 15 Despite this, cu lture is not uniform across the West. Regional differences in style between Texan, Californian, Montanan, and even Hawaiian cowboy cultures can be observed. 16 However, for the purposes of this paper, I will attempt to address the unifying themes that encomp ass cowboy history. These historical cowboys were working men, and the title of their occupation was born from a derogatory term for Loyalists who stole colonists' cattle during the ence in the profession, which separated them both socially and economically from the higher paid 14 David Dary, Cowboy Culture: A Saga of Five Centuries (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981), 4. 15 Ibid. pp. 87 and 307. 16 Dary spends chapters two, three, four, five, and eleven discussing the major differences between cattle cultures and the culture adapted to fit different climates and landscapes. Differences in culture include manners of dress, saddle shape, roping method, and more. Ibid., 44 88 and 227 253.
32 trail bosses and ranchers. 17 The clothes they wore were practical for the physically demanding tasks they had to perform on a daily basis, and were a far cry fr om the glitzy outfits worn by later performers such as Roy Rogers. It is fair to say that the cowboy of popular culture is only remotely based on his historical predecessor. Once a lowly working ranch hand, he has been re imagined countless times. However American experience not so much as it really was but how Americans would like it to 18 I am inclined to agree with Tristram P. Coffin's statement about the cowboy myth from his 1953 response to Marshall W. Fishwick's article on the same subject. elaborates on manifestation of the nineteenth and twentieth century trends toward love of nation and glorification of everyday man on one side and of individual expression and lawless violence on the ot culturally important during the time the mythic cowboy emerged. 19 17 James R. Wagne Cowboy The Cowboy Way: An Exploration of History and Culture ed. Paul H. Carlson. (Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, 2006), 11 and 17. 18 Wanted Dead or Alive: The American West in Popular Culture Edited by Richard Aquila. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 11. 19 It's interesting that most of the essays I found about the mythic Cowboy were written prior to the emergence of the New We stern History movement. Western Folklore Cowboy: America's Western Folklore Vol. 11 No. 2 (April 1952): 78.
33 When and how then, did the myth of the cowboy eme rge? The general consensus seems to be that it arose from the Wild West shows produced by William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, which toured the United States and Europe from 1882 1916. 20 The historical contribution of Buffalo Bill's Wild West is t wofold. First, it played a role in the development of the rodeo culture that emerged after the close of the range. Since the cowboy profession was seasonal, during the offseason some men opted to compete and show off their cattle handling, roping, horseman ship, and other skills in Buffalo Bill's show. It was the popularity of these shows that opened the door for the development of rodeo as a sport which reflects the actual technical skills needed to handle cattle, horses, and other livestock. 21 Secondly, alt hough advertised as being historical, Buffalo Bill's shows introduced the East and Europe to a constructed history it with mythology. The re enactments were n ot re creations, but reductions of complex 22 Although people acting in these shows mostly came from the sort of Western background that these shows promoted, it is more truth ful to refer to them as actors than by any other title. The manner in which events were portrayed, actors were dressed, and the values those actors represented both reinforced and created cultural stereotypes. By shaping how individuals who had never witne ssed the cowboy and the 20 Op. Cit. Slotkin 66. 21 Kristine Fredriksson, American Rodeo: From Buffalo Bill to Big Business (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1985), 10 13. 22 Op. Cit. Slotkin 69 and 75.
34 West first hand viewed it, Buffalo Bill's portrayal of life in the West became the foundation for popular culture depictions of the West in the 20 th century. By the end of Buffalo Bill's Wild West shows, Americans had developed a t aste for the fictional West and the figures who inhabited it. The theme has been developed in various works of literature, film, television, music, and art, and has also shaped the political identity of Americans. 23 Despite their importance in this myth, th e cowboy and the West are not static figures. Rather, when they are portrayed in popular culture, they are manipulated to reflect the problems facing the culture from which the story emerges. by mass or commercial directly the concerns of Americans as citizens of a nation 24 The implication of the popularity of a myth created by mass culture is that it can easily be shaped to reflect the social and political reality of the nation. The cowboy and the western, as Slotkin and others discuss, fit this model and are examples of a myth t hat is dynamically tied to Ameri can culture. When I began my fieldwork, I wa s under the assumption that in the 21 st century, the cowboy had ceased to exist in any dimension but the mythic. The body of Western history available about the cowboy informed this assumption. In Cowboy Culture: A Saga of Five Centuries published in 1981 David Dary concludes his detailed history of 23 Richard Slotkin's Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America explores these themes in great detail and how the meaning of cowboy and the West change to reflect the cultural realities of the decade. 24 I think it's interesting that Slotkin only uses cultural sc holars such as Clifford Geertz to address the construction and role of myth. For my larger project, I will be incorporating theories of myth prevalent in religious studies by Mircea Eliade, J.Z. Smith, and Bruce Lincoln to explore how this American myth pl ays into the nation's Civil Religion and how that that plays into the development of Cowboy Churches. Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America (New York: Atheneum, 1992), 9.
35 the cowboy by relegating the figure to the realm of myth and, in a nod to Turner, declaring that legitimate cowboy culture ended when the range closed. The cowboy culture that exists today, from clothing to th e use of trucks rather than horses is nothing 25 I now believe this oversimplifies the manner in which western heritage has changed over the past century. There certainly is some attr action to the myth. When visiting rural areas of Texas to conduct my fieldwork, I realized that, in pockets of the United States, cowboy culture is thriving. Their culture, moreover, is part of what fuels the success of the contemporary cowboy church. Howe ver, today there is little consensus about what defines cowboy culture. To some, it is working directly in or with the ranching industry, while to others it incorporates larger cultural markers such as participation in rodeo. The broadest definitions go so far as to encompass rural, self sufficient culture and include oil workers and others whose jobs that require manual labor in isolated locations. 26 In the contemporary age, it's difficult to define a cowboy. Nevertheless, western culture, tinged with myth, is still pervasive in rural areas of Texas. Cowboy Religion History leads us to assume that cowboys were typically raised in religious households; however, their daily religion was informed by the natural wonders they encountered on the job. In this sect ion, I will look at some of the different ways 25 Op. Cit. Dary 336 337. 26 Interview by Author. Digital Recording. Alpine, TX., June 11, 2012., Interview by Author. Digital Recording Charlotte, TX., July 19, 2012., and Interview by Author. Digital Recording. Pleasanton, TX. August 2, 2012.
36 Protestant groups utilized western heritage individuals in the 19 th and 20 th centuries. I will then discuss the creation of the modern, cowboy church. What was the religious background of the cowboy? This is nearly impossible to determine on an individual basis. Demographics on western states and territories taken by th e United States government in 1830, 1870, and 1890, hold that cowboys who were raised in these territories were raised in households that defin ed themselves as Protestant. 27 In her book Men of the West: Life on the American Frontier Cathy Luchetti, a popular author of the history of the West, paints a picture of preachers and clergy in the West who were from a variety of denominations. Although L uchetti's view of the West is, like Turner's, homogenous, she is one of the few authors to address religious issues during this time period. She writes that the historical West attracted a nd missions, and through pulpit, prayer, and the ubiquitous reach of Sunday school, unleash Divine 28 In her discussion of religion, she emphasizes the role that itinerant preachers and Baptist an d Methodist campmeetings played in bringing religion to isolated individuals in the American West. Luchetti points out that people in the West attended church and were religious, but were perhaps not so picky about denomination. This reflects the difficult y in pinning down a dominant religious group in any particular state. She captures this indifference to denominational affiliation when discussing the frustration of one Episcopal minister 27 Edwin S. Gaustad, Philip L. Barlow, and Richard W. Dishno, New Historical Atlas of Religion in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), Figures C.3, C.4, C.5, and C.17. 28 Cathy Luchetti, Men of the West: Life on the American Frontier (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004), 171.
37 29 While Luchetti paints a broad picture of religion in the West and she does not address cowboy reli gion, her work is useful for framing the manner in which religious groups had to operate in order to minister to people during the formative years of the American West. Ramon F. Adams wrote many books on cowboys based on his informal interviews with aging cowboys during the early 20 th century. He is a problematic source to use, because his works contain no citations. In The Old Time Cowhand Adams despite the fact that man y cowboys did not regularly attend church, they were still religious. Although it is safe to assume that historical cowboys were unchurched, Adams believes that this is not to say they lacked a code of ethics that guided their behavior. Adams asserts that these loose cowboy codes were never formal laws, but instead were respected by those on the range. They generally encompassed values such as courage, cheerfulness, perseverance, loyalty, fair play, honesty, respect for women, and self sufficiency. 30 The val ues which Adams claims cowboys adhered to appear to be grounded in folklore. Together, they seem to have provided a loose framework for understanding how cowboys governed themselves during the historical period in which they lived. When discussing religio cowhand had been raised in a Christian home and taught by a Christian mother . But 29 Ibid., 175. 30 Op. Cit. Adams 53 61.
38 religion to 'im wasn't somthin' to be be fanatical 'bout, it was somethin' to use practically to be lived inste 31 This was compounded by the fact that the cowboy's work not only hindered the possibility for church attendance but, when he was able to exhortations on 32 Despite this, Adams, like Luchetti, emphasizes that during this time, itinerant preachers were prevalent and brought the community together for sermons because of the lack of established churches. The Bloys Cowboy Campmeeting serves as one such exam ple of a community brought together by religion in the sparsely settled Big Bend region of Texas. Bloys Cowboy Campmeeting : Reverend William Benjamin Bloys, one of many western itinerant preachers, founded Bloys Cowboy Campmeeting in 1890 near Fort Davis, trans 33 In 1888, Bloys relocated to Fort Davis with his family to live among cattlemen friends who had settled in the region. 34 Although he was never the official chaplain for the Fort, he remained in the region, carving out a ministerial circuit that took him to neighboring towns and isolated ranches in the Big Bend region. 35 During such excursions, he visited the fam 31 Ramon F. Adams, The Old Time Cowhand (New York: Macmillan, 1961,) 47. 32 Ibid., 47 48. 33 Op. Cit. Szasz 44. 34 Minnie D. Clifton, "A History of the Bloys Camp Meeting," Sul Ross Teachers College Bulletin 27 (June 1, 1947), 17 19. 35 Lucy Miller and Mildred Bloys Nored Jacobson, Jeff Davis County, Texas: The History of Jeff Davis County (Fort Davis: Fort Davis Historical Society, 1993), 190 192.
39 paved the way for the first Bloys Cowboy Camp Meeting. According to most accounts, Rev. Bloys had alr eady come to understand that cowboys preferred to worship outdoors inspired him to lead an open air campmeeting rather than holding it in a tent or a church. 36 The fir st campmeeting began on October 10,1890 in Skillman's Grove, Texas, a site seventeen miles outside of Ft. Davis on the San Antonio El Paso road. Meetings on this site continue to this day. From the outset, Rev. Bloys made clear that he intended the campmee will be no line drawn because of different religious beliefs, but everyone is welcome to 37 During the first year, about fifty people attended. However, by the end of the two day meeting, participants were so pleased with the gathering that they began to plan for future years. Late August seemed to work best, 38 Like all fu ture camp meetings, the dates were chosen according to the work schedules of ranchers in order to ensure that ranchers, cowboys, and their families would be able to attend. According to William F. Evans, author of Border Skylines: Fifty Years of "Tallying Out" on the Bloys Roundup, by the second or third year, Rev. Bloys encouraged the 36 Campmeeting, A Year of Celebration, 1989 1990: Bloys Cowboy Campmeeting Centennial (Austin: N. Business Graphics, 1989), 2. 37 Op. Cit. Miller 199. 38 Ibid., 200.
40 creation of daily, gender specific prayer meetings. The reason for doing so was to create an environment in which men could more easily talk about their experiences and encou nters with God. These segregated prayer meetings provided men with a space and time to address gender specific spiritual concerns. In this setting, cowboys were 39 Others who have written about the campmeetin allowed to attend these meetings unless invited, and if so, it was not to preach, but to engage in egalitarian fellowship with the rest of the men. 40 By creating a gendered space with in the already cowboy focused campmeeting, men had an open fellowship with one another. The Bloys Cowboy Campmeeting continued to grow and change year after year. In 1902, a non profit association was formed to help organize the yearly event. By the next year, Bloys was encouraged to invite other pastors to come preach at the campmeeting. In keeping with the campmeeting's interdenominational origins, representatives from the Disciples of Christ, Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian traditions were invited to the celebration. 41 Rev. Bloys passed away on March 22, 1917, but not before the cowboy campmeeting that bore his name had celebrated its 25 th anniversary. 42 His campmeeting continues to the present day. Although it has undergone considerable changes inclu ding the construction of permanent worship 39 William F. Evans, Border Skylines: Fifty Years of "T allying Out" on the Bloys Round up Ground (Dallas: Baugh, 1940), 308 311. 40 Op. Cit. Franklin 39. 41 Ibid., 7. 42 Op. Cit. Clifton 22.
41 buildings and kitchens, and the transition from horse and wagon travel to the automobile, the Bloys Cowboy Campmeeting is a fixture of religious life in the Big Bend. Other cowboy campmeetings continue to exist i n the modern West. They include Lenapah Cowboy Camp Meeting in Lenapah, Oklahoma, Colorado Cowboy Camp Meeting in Kiowa, Colorado, and Hill Country Cowboy Campmeeting in Mountain Home, Texas. These campmeetings, begun in the 1930s and 1940 s, attest to the continuing need to evangelize and minister to cowboy culture. 43 In the 1970 s, cowboy fellowship groups began to emerge. These Christian groups, such as the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys, which formed in Canon City, Colorado in 1973, and Cowboys For Christ which was created in Ft. Worth, Texas in 1970, are community fellowship groups that do not a substitute for the local Church or Assembly, nor is it in competition with any denomination al group. It seeks, rather, through God's enabling grace, to be a helper to all local churches, denominations and groups to the extent that they are in harmony with the will of the Almighty God." 44 Similarly, Fellowship of Christian Cowboys is made up of ch apters rather than churches. Although they do claim to help put on cowboy church services, they do not exist as churches in their own right. 45 43 http://www.kathrynsweb.com/ranchmen/history.htm Accessed October 7, 2012. http://cowboycampmeeting.net/index_file s/Page330.html 44 http://www.cowboysforchrist.net/Statement_of_Position.htm 45 hristian Cowboys. Accessed October 7, 2012. http://www.christiancowboys.com/?page_id=49
42 Cowboy Churches Today While it is difficult to determine exactly when and where the first contemporary cowboy chur ches began, news of their existenc e started to emerge in the 1980 s. In 1987, the New York Times reported on one such church that, at the time, held its services at Billy Bob's Texas Honky Tonk in Ft. Worth, Texas. It was lead by Rev. Jeff circuit around the time he quit full start a full time church in 1986. 46 Denomination is not mentioned in the article. The focus is more on how the church differs from traditional churches, including its lack of 47 In another article, published in the Ft. Worth Start Telegram in 1998, Rev. f 25 or 30 cowboy churches in Texas alone" and mentions another that was started in Nashville. 48 Unfortunately, he does not provide names, locations, or denominations of any of these churches. One of many articles written by the Associated Baptist Press on cowboy churches claims that the movement has its roots in Pentecostal ministries from the middle of the 20th century, but has spread significantly among evangelicals -and especially Southern Baptists in rural areas -o evidence to substantiate this claim 49 46 New York Times April 27, 1987, accessed October 7, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/1987/04/27/us/church just like home to cowboys.html?src=pm 47 Ibid.. pp. 2. 48 Ft. Worth Star Telegram May 2, 1998, accessed October 7, 2012, http://www.texnews.com/1998/religion/jones0502.html 49 Associated B aptist Press July 31, 2008, accessed October 7, 2012, http://www.abpnews.com/archives/item/3445 cowboy churches lassoing america#.UHHeS6ncobI
43 Regardless of the origins of the modern cowboy church, the religious history I have traced demonstrates that there are ongoing efforts among Protestants to minister to individuals who consider themselves to be cowbo ys or part of the western heritage. Adams and Luchetti draw attention to the role religion played in the early Am erican West and in the lives of historical cowboys. The Bloys Cowboy Campmeeting offers the earliest example of a cowboy campmeeting, but the e stablishment of other cowboy campmeetings and ministries demonstrates the continued belief among Protestant groups that cowboys need to be reached in a manner beyond that of the traditional church. Ultimately, this resulted in the development of cowboy chu rches intended to encourage regular church. By looking at an early example of a cowboy church, I point to another shift in the idea of evangelizing to cowboys that emphasizes regular church attendance and the formation of a congregational community. Ron No lan and the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches Whereas the previous section focused on non and interdenominational efforts to evangelize cowboys, this section looks explicitly at Baptist efforts to reach the cowboy. The American Fellowship of Cowboy Ch urches is an expansion of previous efforts to reach this group in the western region of Texas. Although focused evangelism of cowboys goes back to at least 1890 and typically had a non or interdenominational orientation, denominational efforts by the South ern Baptists to reach cowboys did exist. While Bloys represents an interdenominational effort to evangelize to the unchurched cowboys of the Big Bend, Paisano Baptist Encampment professes a distinctively Southern Baptist message. Established in 1916 west o f Alpine, Texas on Highway 67,
44 the Paisano was not intended to undermine or devalue the work being done at Bloys. 50 Indeed, the two most influential religious founders of the Paisano, Reverend L. R. Millican and Reverend George W. Truett, were both veteran preachers at Bloys. 51 In 2000, when Ron Nolen, started the first cowboy church that would later become part of a formal, American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches (AFCC), he was, whether intentionally or not, expanding on the work of other Baptists. This secti on explores what the AFCC is, and how its loose Southern Baptist affiliation sets it apart from other earlier cowboy fellowship organizations. The American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches is, according its mission statement, an organization intended to crea te a network of cowboy churches that subscribe to Baptist theology and associational affiliations in order to reach the unchurched members of the western heritage. 52 It is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), which is, in turn, a ffiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Prior to the creation of the AFCC, some Baptist cowboy churches affiliated with and received funding from the Cooperative Program Missions branch of the SBC. While it seems that the AFCC is not directly affiliated with the SBC today, the 50 Harry Leon McBeth, Texas Baptists: A Sesquicentennial History (Dallas: Baptistway Press, 1998), pp. Southwestern Studies Monograph No. 64 (1981): 20 21. 51 Op. Cit. Miller 202. 52 Their precise to resource and develop Cowboy Churches through enhanced training, assessment, coaching, communication and connectedness through the movement of God's Spirit within owboy Churches to speak to the Cowboy Churches to remain voluntarily related to those Baptist entities that are supportive of and cooperating with the Fello Accessed October 7, 2012, http://www.americanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=2002
45 financial and social affiliations of AFCC churches with established Southern Baptist organizations creates an indirect link between the groups. 53 Ron Nolen, founding pastor of the Cowboy Church of Ellis County, Texas had considerable influence on the contemporary cowboy church movement. His church, founded in 2000, is considered to be the first associated with what would become a wide reaching Baptist movement. 54 Nolen found the inspiration to start a cowboy church from a significant misunderstanding of the role religion played in culture. To Nolen, there was a significant overlap between the values of the western heritage and Christian livi ng. This amongst these Old West Culture people.'" 55 His solution to lowering these perceived social barriers was to start a cowboy church that combined the material and cultural aspects of the western heritage within a Baptist theological message. Prior to founding the Cowboy Church of Ellis County, Nolen, a graduate of East Texas Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, had served on the staffs a t several Baptist churches 56 As an employee of the BGCT, he was able to create an outreach ministry specifically dedicated to planting and growing cowboy churches in the state. In 2006, Nolen left the BGCT to head the newly formed Texas 53 Baptist Press May 1, 2002, Accessed October 7, 2012, http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=13283 54 Unknown. Western Heritage/Cowboy Churches Currently Affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas ( Un published Excel Document, Baptist General Convention of Texas 2011). 55 Opt Cit. Willoughby 56 Lori Scott Fogleman University Medi a Communications, November 12, 2004, Accessed October 10, 2012, http://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=21349
46 Fellowship of Cowbo y Churches (TFCC). Although the TFCC, the predecessor to the nationally focused AFCC, was still affiliated with the BGCT, the new organization was to resource this western heritage church planting movement and to help unify the BGCT cowboy churc 57 These resources were so effectively harnessed that cowboy churches were planted outside of Texas, prompting a parallel organization dedicated to out of state churches, known as the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches, to be established in 2007. 58 As of August 2, 2012, the AFCC reports that there are 208 churches affiliated with their organization. While most of these churches are in Texas, 49 are in other states, including Florida, Alabama, Tennessee Oklahoma, Kansas, and New Mexico. 59 Since the TFCC was formed in 2006, other major changes have taken place. Ron Nolen was removed from his leadership position in 2010 for undisclosed reasons. Around this same time, the TFCC and AFCC were incorporated int o one body, the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches. 60 Despite changes in leadership and organizational consolidation, cowboy churches continue to be planted by the AFCC in rural areas of the United States. 57 The Baptist Standard August 8, 2006, Accessed October 7, 2012, http://www.baptiststandard.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=vi ew&id=5428 58 The Baptist Standard October 7, 2010, Accessed October 7, 2012, http://www. baptiststandard.com/index.phpoption=com_content&task=view&id=11727&Itemid=53 59 Unknown, 2012). 60 Op. Cit. Staff
47 Purpose of the American Fellowship of Cowboy C hurches In order to fulfill its mission statement, the AFCC offers support for individuals interested in planting cowboy churches by providing them with an approach for developing their church, continuing education for pastors and leaders of established c hurches, and financial support for affiliated churches. 61 Those who are interested in starting a cowboy church are encouraged to follow the Steps to Starting an AFCC model of AFCC Cowboy Churches that have taken this God driven journey before 62 Individuals attempting to start a cowboy church are aided through the five step process by the AFCC. This process includes completing a western heritage assessment tool which is a form intended for the pastor that asks questions about the church's faith and connection to the western heritage, and gives guidance on entering into a covenant with the AFCC, forming ministry teams, doing pre launch publicity, and completing a three mon th review. 63 The continuing education programs offered by the AFCC are known as Ranchhouse School Trainings. These take place throughout the year at varying locations, and videos from previous trainings are available on the AFCC website. A wide variety of t opics are covered at ranchhouse trainings that typically last one or two days. Subjects covered include sessions on Discipleship Western Style, Cowboy Church 61 an Fellowship of Cowboy Churches New Cowboy 62 http://www.americanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=236 63 October 11, 2012. http://www.am ericanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=2056
48 Finances, Buying Land/Building Buildings, Arena Team Ministry, the Role of Women in the Cowboy Chu rch, and the Functional Structures of a Cowboy Church, just to name a few. 64 By offering ranchhouse school trainings, the AFCC can reinvigorate the leadership of existing cowboy churches by reminding them of their mission and goals, and by inspiring new chu rches to form. Besides planting churches and providing educational opportunities, the AFCC offers numerous western heritage based fellowship and outreach activities throughout the year. These include marriage retreats, teen and pre teen camps, the Little George Havens Camp Meeting, ranch cuttings, chuckwagon cook offs, the annual Cowboy Gathering in Alabama, and AFCC Ranch Rodeo Finals. Regular pastors' meetings, cowgirl events for women, and rodeos for seniors are also held by region. 65 These events create opportunities for individuals already involved in cowboy churches to engage in western heritage events with a Christian message, while they also create opportunities to minister to individuals who do not attend church. By hosting outreach and fellowship e vents, the AFCC attempts to fulfill their mission statement and bring more people into western heritage churches. What is the Role of Local AFCC Churches? In its mission statement, the AFCC makes it clear that they are trying to spread a Baptist message a mong western heritage individuals. In order to accomplish this, the AFCC helps establish cowboy churches that host weekly church services and regular western heritage oriented outreach activities in order to bring individuals, who otherwise 64 2012. http://www.americanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=2074 65 http://www.americanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=2053
49 would not atten d church, into the fold. This section draws on information made available both in ranchhouse school videos posted by the AFCC and in other documents to clarify the expectations the AFCC has of member churches and their role within the larger Christian worl d. The best summary of the goals of the AFCC affiliated cowboy church is found in a document provided to me by Charles Higgs, the current director of the Western overview of the Cowboy church model used by the American Fellowship of Cowboy 66 professional rodeo cowboy, arena cowboys & cowgirls, cattle people, horse people, cowboys at heart, and c hardest to reach but if you can do church in a way that he will come, then you will reach 67 Additionally, the document summarizes the entirety of the cowboy church project in one paragraph: The goal of cowboy church is to do church in such a way that a lost cowboy can be comfortable enough to sit there long enough to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ while those around him are worshiping God. It is a non judgmental approach that does not beat people down for what they have done or what they are, but pr ovides hope and forgiveness, accepting people just as they are, in their sin, just as Jesus did. This means that you may have to rub elbows with people who do not believe like you or have the same values as you. That is why this church will not suit everyo ne. 68 66 The Nuts and Bolts 67 Ibid., 2. 68 Ibid., 2.
50 This document outlines the basic approach of the ministry for individual churches. They are to create a welcoming church environment with the intention of attracting individuals who are assumed to have little interest in attending a traditional church featuring Greg Horn, an AFCC employee, echos similar sentiments to the AFCC document, but in a theological context. In it, he discusses the two different models for New Testamen t churches, the Petrine and the Paulian. Peter's church model was, and historically included Jewish people. However, Paul's model, as discussed in Acts chapter 10, reflec Horn then elaborates to say that traditional churches are Petrine. Those who are already saved attend them to gro w their faith. On the other hand, cowboy churches are Paulian in that, like Paul, leaders of cowboy churches try to understand the culture of the individuals they want to attract to the church. 69 Mike Marrow, the pastor of Cross Brand Cowboy Church in Tyler Texas, church culture has created barriers which prevent the western heritage people from ke the form of the material construction of the traditional, formal church while internal barriers include theological and doctrinal barriers that may focus too much on judgment and 69 American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches, April 20, 2012. http://www.ame ricanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=2074&content_id=372#attached_content
51 damnation rather than redemption through Jesus. In order to build effectiv e cowboy having culturally relevant leadership, programing (activities), and serm ons. By following these steps, Marrow teaches that the upstart cowboy church will be successful in reaching the western heritage individuals in their area. 70 Cowboy churches focus their energies predominantly on getting men into church. Theologically and cu lturally, this relegates women to the role of helpers rather than delivered by Robin Harvey of Circle J Cowboy Church in Texarkana, Texas, this is because the western heritag attests that, beyond the biblical constraints on women laid out in Genesis and Ephesians, unchurched men will not be as open to a church if they perceive it is run by women. Despite this, women are s till encouraged to be involved in the church in non leadership roles and are especially encouraged to start women's ministries with Although all unchurched people of western heritage are the target of the AFCC, men are the central demographic, while women are peripherally targeted. 71 The ranchhouse school training videos produced by the AFCC show how the denomination believes individual churches should function in order that t hey might reach the greatest number of western heritage individuals. While I have not discussed 70 Ibid. 71 Vimeo Video, 20:50 posted by the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches, April 20, 2012. http://www.americanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=2074&content_id=376#attached_content
52 all available videos, the above analysis calls attention to both the importance of having a culturally relevant atmosphere, leadership, and messages as well as how to avoid the types of barriers that have historically hindered church attendance. Conclusion In this chapter, I addressed issues of definition including that of the West and the cowboy. In doing so, I demonstrated the complexities surrounding these tw o concepts both academically and in the popular imagination. Additionally, I described the religious background of the historical cowboy. Next, I looked at historical efforts to evangelize to individuals who identified as cowboys during the 19 th and 20 th c enturies. I began by examining annual campmeetings, such as Bloys Cowboy Campmeeting, before I proceeded to define more current Christian organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys and Cowboys for Christ. The goal of all of these groups is t o encourage regular church attendance. Following this discussion, I analyzed the beginnings of contemporary cowboy churches and linked the birth of the AFCC to earlier Baptist efforts to evangelize to cowboys at the Paisano Baptist Encampment. Finally, I r evealed the history of the Baptists' American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches, its purpose, and the organization's expectations for member churches. In the next chapter, I will present the findings of my ethnographic work, while focusing specifically on the role myth, masculinity, and identity play in these churches.
53 CHAPTER 3 FIELDWORK AND ETHNOGRAPHY Having presented the history of the modern cowboy church, here I want to focus on the similarities and differences between Cowboy Fellowship and Big Bend Co wboy Church. The following discussion is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted during the summer of 2012. I present the histories of both churches as well as the communities in which they are embedded. After this I will look at similarities that are c entral to the identity and purpose of the contemporary cowboy church including material culture, masculinity, myth, and the interplay among these concepts. These concepts are intertwined, so discussions overlap each other. Lastly, I look at differences bet ween the churches related to their size, geography, and community needs. In the next chapter, I will address the theoretical implications of these themes and situate them in relationship with the relevant literature. Through this analysis, I hope to captur e the essences of both these churches as well as how they fit into the larger contemporary cowboy church movement despite the miles that separate them. The Story of Cowboy Fellowship Prior to the founding of Cowboy Fellowship, Atascosa County was already h ome to a variety of churches. Today, the tri city area which includes Pleasanton, Jourdanton, and Poteet, has, according to the worship directory available from the Pleasanton Express at least twenty one churches. 1 Why, was it necessary to form a congrega tion specificall y for cowboys? In the late 1990 s, the leadership of the First Baptist Church in Pleasanton, Texas felt that individuals affiliated with the western heritage were not 1 Pleasanton Express, accessed October 20, 2012 http://www.pleasantonexpress.com/ROP/large/WorshipDirectory.htm
54 being reached by the established churches. The pastor of the church approa ched a man who attended the church regularly and had been raised in the Southern Baptist tradition in order to encourage him to start a roping ministry at his private arena. These roping events eventually led to the formation of Cowboy Fellowship, one of the largest and most established cowboy churches in the modern movement. 2 After two nitial calling and that they should establish a formal cowboy church. 3 The newly formed church hired a young Baptist pastor who had grown up in the area, Pete Pawelek, and held its first service on May 3, 2003 at the Atascosa County Show barn with 172 peop le in attendance. Unlike many contemporary cowboy churches that were planted by Ron Nolen and the AFCC, Cowboy Fellowship formed in a vacuum. Those who ran the bimonthly ropings were unaware that a cowboy church had formed nearly 300 miles away in Waxahat chie, Texas. They were simply men who attended their local Baptist church and were trying to reach out to western heritage folks willing to listen to a short Christian message before roping. The church that formed from their roping events evolved from the desire to get more members of the community involved. The ideas and concepts that manifested in the early days of Cowboy Fellowship are now standard components of the contemporary cowboy church. For example, the roping events were funded by the group of th irteen core men who helped organize the events. They did not pass a 2 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording. August 5, 2012 12:24 p.m. 3 12, 1.
55 collection plate, but they accepted donations from anyone who felt inclined to give. Similarly, when the formal church was organized, the leadership decided it should meet at the showbarn comfortable going in there, because a lot of space. According to a founding member I interviewed hey recognized that their target 4 After three years in the showbarn, the church moved to it's current home off Texas FM 3350, which although officially located in Jourdanto n, sits between the three cities of Jourdanton, Pleasanton, and Poteet. Today, the church continues to grow with weekly attendance anywhere between 800 and 1000 people. The congregation has an equal number of men and women. Many young men in their 20's and 30's attend the church alone, while most unaccompanied women are in their 60's and 70's. The large, air conditioned church is a departure from the arena where the idea for the church took shape, yet the community still aims to attract the type of individu al who would have attended these initial roping events by utilizing the large, covered roping arena built in 2012. 5 The roping arena is not the only rustic, feature on the church's large property. The parking lot is made of crushed limestone, and to the l eft of the sanctuary and church offices is a deer proof garden run by members of the church that provides free produce to those in need. The church building is a large, two story structure made out of 4 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, August 5, 2012 12:24 p.m. 5
56 corrugated metal. The church offices, although carpeted are decorated in dark tones, with leather chairs and desks made out of worn, repurposed wood. A taxidermy buck graces Pastor Pete's office alongside crosses made out of metal. The foyer of the church is painted rust, and on the walls are skins of cows. I nside the doors of the sanctuary, there's a metal statue of a cowboy on a horse as well as the church's shop where people can buy hats and shirts with the Cowboy Fellowship logo, cd's of previous sermons, books, and bibles. There's also an information tabl e where people find reminders and sign up sheets for upcoming events. On the walls are paintings of rodeo scenes, hat racks made out of deer antlers, and a cross made out of horseshoes. The sanctuary is a large, open room with concrete floors and large doc king doors so that the sanctuary can be opened to the outside world. At the front of the sanctuary, there is a large wooden cross above the stage. Around this area, there is a wooden "fence" with cow skins that hides the backstage of the front of the churc h. The band sets up on the upper level, and the lower area is where sermons are delivered. There is no podium. On the sides of the front area there are fake prickly pear bushes that add to the rustic nature of the interior. To the far right and far left of the front, there are flags. To the left is the American flag, and to the right is a flag known as the Christian Flag. Rather than pews, congregants sit in rows of white folding chairs that can be moved when other events take place in the church. Near each of the exits to the church, there is a table with free bibles, other free Christian literature, and large unmarked milk cans where individuals can leave their tithes and donations if they feel so inclined. In the back left corner of the church sits a lar ge industrial kitchen. On Sunday mornings, the women involved with the kitchen ministry serve coffee, tea, and water in
57 addition to donuts and kolaches (Polish sausage breakfast pastries) that are donated by a member of the church. To the left of this, the re is a digital milk bucket where the technologically savvy can manage their donations using credit card. To the left of this is the audiovisual booth, which is decorated with a large map of the world that emphasizes the church's global mission work by loc ating the cities, states, and countries in which the church has done missionary work. A red, digital clock is above the AV booth to help ensure that services run on time, which they always do. The idea behind this is that the church should be respectful of people's busy schedules, and should offer punctual, short messages. Services at Cowboy Fellowship follow a predictable pattern. Congregants begin to arrive for fellowship as early as 9:00 a.m., although the service starts at 10:45 a.m. After being greete d at the door and handed a bulletin, most people go to the kitchen area and enjoy the complementary food while they chat with other members. The band warms up and runs through the songs they will play that week. About five minutes before the service starts the lights are dimmed and worshipers take their seats. A number of men choose to stand in the back where they are more comfortable and have by the pastor's general announcements about upcoming events, fundraising goals, and an opening prayer. A few minutes are dedicated to greeting and introducing oneself to those nearby. Next is praise and worship. The band plays three to four songs, two of which are sing alongs for the entire congregation, and lyrics are projected on the front wall on either side of the cross. The last song usually features one singer and is succeeded by
58 the sermon which customarily lasts thirty to forty five minutes. The se rmon ends with the preacher telling those who want to give their lives to Jesus to pray the sinners' prayer, and, if they wish to be contacted by a staff member, to fill out their information on the form in the bulletin and put it in one of the milk jugs b y the doors. A final, general prayer follows, led by one of the elders or lay pastors of the church, bringing the service to a close. The band plays one more song as people begin to leave, and the entire service is over by noon. Cowboy Fellowship is made up of people from diverse backgrounds and age ranges, but is not very ethnically diverse. The congregation is predominantly white; although I estimate that approximately fifteen to twenty percent of the congregation is Hispanic and about five percent Afric an American. Congregants range in age from young children to the elderly. However, the church is primarily made up of young families, couples under sixty, and men. Of the 800 to 1000 weekly attendants, I estimate that 15% are children, 50% are over fifty, 25% are in their 30's and 40's, and the remaining 10% are in their late teens and twenties. The congregation seems to have more male parishioners than female, but not by a meaningful amount. However, it is significant that males make up a large percentage of the church population since it defies the stereotype that men don't attend church. Despite the church's name, history, and target demographic, most members of the congregation are not cow boys. Pastor Pete put it thusly: I would say at least 60, 65 per cent of our church has nothing directly to do herd of cattle, they retired and they bought a piece of land and d o it in their retirement to make a little extra money. Then you maybe have, say, 10
59 percent that actively get up every morning and go out and plow the soil or feed the herds, that 's all they do for a living. 6 The church keeps no official membership list, so it is difficult to gauge how many attendees are official church members. Although there is no pressure to join the church or even to get baptized, there are certain expectations tied to formal membership. To join, individuals must attend a Saddle Up Sem inar, an hour long class that outlines the history, beliefs, and doctrine of the church. They must also get baptized if they have not made that commitment as an adult. After becoming a member, individuals are expected to join at least one of the thirty two ministries available and to become involved in congregational life. 7 Some ministries, such as the play day team, roping, and arena ministries, focus on cowboy culture, while others, such as children's ministry and greeter's team, help the overall function of the church. As in most churches, the idea is that everyone should be able to find a place where their unique skills, regardless of affiliation with the western heritage, can be utilized for the good of the church community. Cowboy Fellowship is one of the longest running and largest contemporary cowboy churches. Now a member of the AFCC, the idea for the church came from the perceived community need and the evangelizing efforts by members of the Baptist community. While the church originally was orient ed to attract members with an active connection to the western heritage, as the church has grown, less emphasis has been placed on connection to the culture. 6 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, May 30, 2012. 7 Pete Pawelek, Saddle Up Seminar (Jourdanton, TX: C owboy Fellowship), 15.
60 The Story of Big Bend Cowboy Church Located in far West Texas, Alpine is a small city with a popu lation hovering around 6000. 8 Like Atascosa County, Alpine was already home to a variety of churches. 9 Despite the number of established churches, the Big Bend Cowboy Church carved out a niche for itself and brought a number of unchurched members of the co mmunity into the fold. Average attendance at a BBCC Sunday morning service is between 100 125 people, many of who travel from distant, isolated ranches. Unlike Cowboy Fellowship, Big Bend Cowboy Church was planted by a representative of the AFCC who came t o Alpine because of the area's ranching culture. It began in 2006 in the form of a prayer group and Bible study, and the church held its first official event, a roping and play day at Sul Ross University, on March 4 th 2007. Soon after, the church began t o hold weekly services in the Wool and Mohair building in downtown Alpine, which was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and services had to regularly pause because of the noise created by passing trains. 10 In 2009, the founding pastor was called upon by the denomination to plant cowboy churches elsewhere and the current pastor, Wendell Elliott, was hired. 11 In May 2011, the Wool and Mohair building the church rented was sold, and so the church purchased a warehouse on East Highway 90, a few miles outside of Alpine. 12 8 http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/48/4802104.html 9 As of August 2012, Alpine has twenty churches. All are Christian, and, with the exception of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, are Protestant Directory of Churches: Alpine, Texas August 2012 10 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording. June 11, 2012 6:57 p.m. 11 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording. June 14, 2012 5:30 p.m. 12 Cowboy Times December 2011, pp. 5.
61 Like at Cowboy Fellowship, at Big Bend Cowboy Church the building and grounds are intentionally rustic. Visitors drive up a crushed limestone driveway and park in the grass or on the rocks outside of the church. On Sundays, the American and Te xas flags fly on the flagpole to the right of the church, which looks like a partially finished warehouse. The front of the building, including the foyer, kitchen, bathrooms, and what will become classrooms are decorated and air conditioned. The right wall of the foyer features a bulletin board with upcoming events, a large 6' by 10' piece of wood with the brands of the families who attend the church, and an area with an American flag placed to remind attendees to pray for members of the community who are s erving in the armed forces. On the left side of the foyer is a large mural of a desert landscape painted by one of the congregants. Under this mural is the table that holds the refreshments. The front wall has a large piece of wood with the word 'Welcome' and a picture of two people on horseback with a cross between them. Under this is a table with literature of various forms and a miniature wooden church where people can donate money. To the right of this table is another table with three small crosses on it, and a larger cross made out of horseshoes above it. The kitchen, although large, is residential in style rather than commercial. It is to the left of the foyer, and past it, is a hallway with bathrooms and classrooms. To the right of the foyer is a hal lway with classrooms. Both hallways end in doors that lead to the sanctuary. These doors have signs requesting that they be kept shut since the sanctuary is not air conditioned. The sanctuary is large and relatively unadorned. The walls are uninsulated co rrugated metal, and there are large industrial dock doors on three of the sides. This allows for a breeze to flow through the church and also provides a scenic view of the
62 mountains behind the church. The floor is made of polished concrete. At the front is a small stage where the cowboy band plays traditional country western tunes with a Christian message. In front of that, there is a semi circle of hay bales around a wooden and rustic looking podium with a small cross on the front. There are no pews, rathe r, there are plush, comfortable individual chairs. In the back left corner, there is a Crossfit gym which is unaffiliated with the church, but whose owners make regular donations. Behind the chairs, there is a large open space with a tall wooden table wher e many people congregate. The back wall of the sanctuary is lined with tables and another half dozen picnic tables sit in front of those along the wall. Some congregants, mainly men who attend unaccompanied by women, opt to sit at these tables rather than in the chairs during the service, and community meals are eaten at these tables. Sunday services at Big Bend Cowboy Church follow an order similar to that of Cowboy Fellowship. The service officially starts at 11 a.m., though at 10:30 the community is inv ited to come engage in fellowship. After being greeted at the door, you are immediately invited to partake in the coffee and snacks provided in the foyer. Congregants walk around all parts of the building and speak to old friends and greet visitors. The ba nd striking up a song is the cue for everyone to find a seat or stand in the back if they so choose. In this congregation, men outnumber women by a small margin, after this song, the pastor steps up front to offer an opening prayer, make announcements, tak e prayer requests, and inform the community of upcoming events. The atmosphere is more relaxed and informal than Cowboy Fellowship, and there is banter between the pastor and the congregants. Next, the cowboy band plays three to four country Christian song s. Congregants are not encouraged to sing, the logic behind
63 this is that requiring singing could potentially make men unaccustomed to attending church feel self conscious, so people listen respectfully to prepare for the sermon. After the songs, Pastor Ell iott comes back to the front to begin his sermon. All sermons start with a joke that then leads into the point he is trying to make. At the end of the sermon, all are invited to pray, and anyone who feels inclined is invited to give their life to Christ by saying the sinner's prayer. The band plays one final song and the service is over. Big Bend Cowboy Church does not have a formal list of members, nor does it require that individuals interested in joining the church take any classes. Individuals who are interested in joining simply s peak with the pastor, who asks questions about their faith and religious background. Usually, the only requirement is that people get baptized if they haven't done that as an adult. BBCC does not have the range of ministries of Cowboy Fellowship. There are only six ministry teams in this church: arena, children's, college, music, fellowship, and audit. Not all individuals are on teams, but most contribute in some way to the church, even if it is something as simple as helping to maintain the church grounds once a month. The demographics at Big Bend Cowboy Fellowship are similar to Cowboy Fellowship, although on a smaller scale. The ethnic makeup of the church is predominantly white, with only about ten percent Hispanic. I visi ted the church during the summer, so the majority of the congregation's college students were not available to interview because they had left the region during the break. However, the demographics were similar to Cowboy Fellowship. Those who were present were mostly young families (about 20%), couples under the age of sixty (about 60%), and unaccompanied men (about 15%). Unlike Cowboy Fellowship, most individuals have some connection to
64 the western heritage. When asked to identify what percentage of the co ngregation were engaged with that culture, Pastor Elliot responded "looking at our congregation, I would say 60 70%. The majority of them do. If it's not current, it's long term, either in their past or their childhood." 13 The AFCC views BBCC as unique in t 14 This accounts for some of the differences between the congregations that I wi ll address later in this chapter. Big Bend Cowboy Church is a newer church, but its close proximity to many individuals with direct connections to the western heritage causes it to focus the majority of its missionary emphasis on ministering to western he ritage people in the community. Similarities among Cowboy Churches Although these two churches vary in age and size, and are in different regions, similarities between the two congregations became apparent as I conducted my fieldwork. In this section, I w ill look at similarities that are central to the identity and purpose of the contemporary cowboy church including material culture, masculinity and myth and the interaction among these concepts. These concepts are intertwined, so discussions of each overla p. Later, I will address the theoretical implications of these themes and locate them in relationship with the relevant literature. Material Culture The material culture of cowboy churches is the most visible indicator that sets them apart from their more traditional counterparts. As discussed above, Cowboy Fellowship and Big Bend Cowboy Church are intentionally rustic churches. Both have 13 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 14, 2012 5:30 p.m. 14
65 gravel parking lots and concrete floors, no formal dress code, and allow individuals to wear their hats except during pr ayer. The western physical culture creates an atmosphere in which myth and masculinity are embodied. Dress Of all the topics that came up in my interviews, perhaps none was more pervasive than that of dress. Individuals who attend cowboy churches attribute part of the success of the movement to the freedom to wear cowboy and other casual clothing to church. Similar to other new, casual churches, cowboy church members feel dress codes are economic barriers that keep willing individuals out of churches. One m an I spoke with, who had been raised in the Baptist Church, described his upbringing and how that led him to reject tra ditional barriers to attendance saying: Now I was raised that two weeks before Easter Sunday you always had to go to town to get a new sp ort coat or shirt or tie, slacks. Hell, you wore a tie every Sunday when you went to church. Well, that wasn't wrong, but if I couldn't afford a tie, couldn't afford a sports coat, and whatever. I probably would have felt out of place in Sunday school with all those other little kids sitting around there lookin' at me wondering why you're not dressed up like 15 One young woman told me a story about an economically disadvantaged family at a church she attended prior to her becoming invo lved with cowboy church. The family in was a travesty because it undermined the most foundational teachings of the church. In hat hour and a half two hours, just to be at church, 16 At one church, the associate pastor shared with me that 15 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 7, 2012 9:58 a.m. 16 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, August 6, 2012 10:5 5 a.m.
66 people appreciate that. That' s why a lot of people come; because it doesn't matter if you 17 Many individuals involved in cowboy churches feel that the willingness to attend church far outweighs how a congregant is dressed. Beyond the encouragement of causal dress, a specific appeal of cowboy churches is the freedom to wear cowboy clothes, including hats, to services. For those actively engaged in a ranching lifestyle, the open dress code makes allowances for their demanding work schedule, which is unpredictable and generally a seven day a week job. One man who is an active rancher told me that part of his attraction to the church is that if he needs to work around church, he is abl e to do so. He told me: We can saddle our hor ses and take them to church and dress the way we're dressed right now and go work cattle that afternoon if we feel the need. We're not at all self conscious about the way we're dressed or t he way anybody else is dressed. 18 Another woman elaborated that att endance, by and large, depends on the informality. Based on her experiences with western heritage, as an outsider she feels that A lot of the ranchers out there wouldn't be comfortable going to any other church because of the expectations that are sometim es unjustly tied to churches or tied to faith. You have to dress a certain way, you have to talk a certain way, and that Cowboy Church dispels all those myths and you can just be anyone. And it's welcoming but, yet, still doesn't in any way waiver on the W ord of God. 19 In addition to their understanding of economic constraints, congregants at cowboy churches also emphasize that making it easier for people to attend services in their work attire lowers the barriers that prohibit many western heritage individ uals from 17 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, July 19, 2012 9:05 a.m. 18 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 15, 2012 6:01 p.m. 19 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 15, 2012 12:50 p.m.
67 attending traditional church. Indeed, regardless of their participation in the western heritage, the freedom to be physically comfortable and authentic is perceived to be a major factor in the success of cowboy churches. Church Building and Deco ration While congregants are encouraged to come as they are, the material features of the churches themselves are also intended to help western heritage individuals feel welcome. The church buildings and decorations create a specific atmosphere that is int ended to be different from that of traditional churches. Creating rustic environments for spiritual purposes helps individuals feel as if the space is an extension of their cultural environment. They have space to spread out, and do not need to be concerne d about what they may track in on their shoes. Presenting the churches and their facilities as rustic intends to appeal to the western heritage. Decisions to include certain features, such as a gravel parking lot, are deliberate. A self described greenhor n shared a story about an exchange he had with his pastor about possibly paving their parking lot because of the unevenness of the surface. The pastor responded to his suggestion by saying: Oh no, this is a cowboy church. We drive on dirt roads and we're not putting So I took a pick out there and I dug up eight layers of concrete so the road would be flat . B ut I was really surprised at Oh no, we drive on dirt roads. We don't need no blacktop (laug hs) That's against our religion: we don't believe in blacktop. 20 Churches also typically don't have any carpet. One woman shared with me that the 20 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 6, 2012 12:37 p.m.
68 to worry about ma nure or whatever they bring in with them." 21 Practicality, as much as culture, influences the material components in the cowboy church. Other choices about church layout are tied to masculine culture. The rustic decorations, use of common cowboy objects su ch as bales of hay, and open spaces appeal to the sensibility of men who spend significant amounts of time working outside. Both churches I studied had chairs instead of traditional pews. One woman offered an unprompted explanation for this decision by say another man, or a woman, in a chair, and not feel uncomfortable. In the pew, it's not that way. It's like (makes a uncomfortable soun d) 22 It's not surprising, then, that many men, especially those who attend church on their own, opt to stand in the open spaces in the back of sanctuaries rather than to sit. When I spoke with Pastor Pete, he tied male comf ort to the way churches were decorated, saying: It's the building. The building's not brick and mortar and carpet and cushioned pews. The building is steel and tin and plastic chairs, you know? I mean, what guy doesn't like that? There's barn wood fo r the stage instead of $400,000 pulpit that somebody's great grandfather donated 1400 years ago to that little church that is made out of some special wood they dug out of a hole in Africa or something crazy, you know? It's just barn wood and plywood and i t...I think just the atmosphere of it is manly and makes men feel comfortable. He continued by saying that, in his opinion, this separates cowboy churches from other churches because: Most other churches are women oriented. They're decorated in the ways women like them because women are usually the ones that did the decorating. They're painted colors that women like, because women are 21 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 6, 2012 12:37 p.m. 22 Interview by Author, Charlotte, TX, digital recording, July 19, 2012 4:33 p.m.
69 probably the ones that were up there painting. A lot of preachers are pretty soft and stuff because they're trying to ple ase the old ladies, because that's primaril y who's in their congregations. 23 Cowboy churches must be decorated in such a way that they are distinctly different from traditional houses of worship in order to appeal to western heritage individuals, especially men. Myth and Culture As I have just discussed, creating an environment in which western heritage men are comfortable is paramount for attracting individuals to the church. While many men at cowboy churches are connected to the western heritage, a signif icant number are not. Why, then, do such a broad variety of individuals attend cowboy church? My research uncovered that church events such as ropings and playdays bring in people who make their living as cowboys in addition to those who want to play cowbo y on the weekend. I also found that individuals without a connection to the heritage are enamored with the concept of the cowboy or western music. This blending of cultures makes it difficult to separate authentic culture from the pop culture. In more than a century, western lifestyle has changed, partially because of changing ranching technology, but also because individuals who are interested in the culture depend on the mass media's presentation of the culture. However, since evangelism is the main goal of these churches, it does not matter that people negotiate their identities from different sources. There does not appear to be visible tension or judgment between the different types of cowboy, and the commercialization of their culture is taken in strid e by those who do engage in the more traditional aspects of western culture. In other words, churches are less concerned 23 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, May 30, 2012.
70 about where people draw their inspiration for cowboy culture, and instead are concerned with Christian identity. Like material culture myth was frequently discussed in interviews when I asked why cowboy churches have become so popular and why such a variety of people choose to attend them. Many congregants believe there is a certain allure to cowboy life, which is partially facilitated by the popularity of the western genre. Although this is certainly not the only reason why people are drawn to the church, it does explain the initial and ongoing attendance of some members of the congregation. One man summarized why many people in his gen so much the younger kids, but I think anybody 40 years old, up, grew up watching Westerns. It was more of a part of life back then, and something that you just always loved and liked being around . Once the 24 Pastor Pete Westerns are big, and they're still popular today. Those old westerns get great ratings, even on TV today because people just 25 One younger man was slightly 26 As I've already discussed, the popular culture cowbo y is not reflective of the historical cowboy, however, in contemporary culture, it is difficult to separate myth from reality. Despite this, the opportunity to become a cowboy hero and temporarily escape the monotony of normal life is a natural draw for in dividuals and can be seen throughout 24 Interview by Author, Charlotte, TX, digital recording, July 19, 2012 4:33 p.m. 25 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, May 30, 2012. 26 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, d igital recording, August 2, 2012 7:11 p.m.
71 history in dichotomous play between something that is perceived to represent good and something that represents alterity. In addition to cowboys and Indians, other examples include knights versus dragons and spacemen ve rsus aliens. The mythic dimensions discussed by individuals ascribe a sense of liminality a periodic break with reality that brings some people into the churches. The mythic aspect of the churches allows individuals to experience what Victor Turner descr 27 Cowboy churches, as Pastor Pete explained, are an expression of the fact that: There's something inside of humanity that likes the romantic side of western culture, especially in Texas. I've always said, I think a cowboy church would work in New York City, because a lot of those guys working on Wall Street, there's something inside of them that would love to be a cowboy. Even if being a cowboy to them is just putting on a pair of boots and hat and going to church on Sunday, they would love that, to get out of where they're at. 28 Another woman echoed that, for many adults, attending a cowboy church can be a way of realizing childhood dreams. She told me that for someone like her husband, there is really is and they have a first hand chance (to find out) now that may sound real shallow, but it may be a draw for some peop 29 Because of this, as an adult, her husband learned how to ride horses and participate in cowboy activities. In her opinion, attending the cowboy church was an extension of his interest in cowboys that fit in with their lifelong Christianity. 27 Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti Structure (New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine Transaction, 2008), 128 129 28 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, May 30, 2012. 29 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 15, 2012 12:50 p.m.
72 It's not just adults who are drawn to the cowboy lifestyle. Children, too, are aware of the mythic West, and this can influence decisions to visit a cowboy church. A mother woman shared with me that, on their frequent trips to Wal Mart, her boys watched the new Co wboy Fellowship building be constructed. Since they were already a churchgoing family, her young sons would ask to attend the church once it opened. She just .It jus t seemed perfect . It's just Cowboy Church, you know, it was just the 30 The romantic, mythic nature of the cowboy affects both adults and children alike. As I will later discuss, the image of the cowboy is pervasive enough in American culture to serve as an orienting trope and a cultural cue for individuals who are looking to adopt a western heritage mindset. The connection to the cowboy as a way to enter into a liminal state becomes complicated because m any individuals who identify as members of the western heritage do not see their livelihoods as mythic in the least, although their culture is informed by the hybridity between ranching and popular culture. While myth was often discussed, so was the need t o help preserve and minister to members of the western heritage. One man felt that western heritage churches were important: B ecause there's rural, Christian cowboys and the cowgirls who were aware their culture and their friends weren't being ministered t o in a fashion that was comfortable to them where they felt accepted and where they felt understood and they felt we've accepted Christ our savior, we've got a right to fellowship with our own kind and with 30 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, July 6, 2012 10:13 a.m.
73 those th at accep ...I think God's put us right here where he wants us and intends us to be. 31 Another woman echoed similar sentiments, saying that the church created a religious space for the local ranchers and cowboys who: W ouldn't be comfortable g oing to any other church because of the expectations that are sometimes unjustly tied to churches or tied to faith Cowboy church dispels all those myths and you can just be anyone. And it's welcoming but yet still doesn't in any way waiver on the Word of God. 32 Those who discussed working cowboys focused predominantly on how cowboy churches fill a religious void caused by geographical distance and work schedules of those who are firmly a part of the western heritage. Occasionally, an interviewee would attribute the draw of cowboy churches to the hybridity or mixing of the mythic and the real. One man, who is affiliated with the western heritage, spelled out his views concerning why people enjoy cowboy church as the cowboy hats and boots. And they enjoy that; they enjoy that lifestyle or that mentality. The culture. And I think here that's what we have. We have your 100%ers, your part times, but we're in a rural community anyway so there's just a lot of that there Everyone has their own story of why they're there." 33 In his opinion, people's reasons for attending cowboy churches could not be broken down into the authentic versus the inauthentic. Rather, the church attracts a range of individuals with varying degree s of involvement with western heritage and differing views of what that heritage entails. 31 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 13, 2012 9:55 a.m. 32 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 15, 2012 6:01 p.m. 33 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 11, 2012 6:57 p.m.
74 Music, Arenas, and More Beyond these mythic dimensions, the culture of the church facilitates a connection to cowboy culture. The music itself is a powerful connect ion to the western culture. Both churches I visited had small bands that played a mixture of old spirituals, popular songs that had been adapted to have a Christian message, and popular songs that already had a Christian message. These songs were done in c ountry and western styles, reminiscent of the music played by Hank Williams Sr. or the early recordings of Johnny Cash. One young man explained that he liked the music because it is "the more the older gospel stuff and I like that a lot. It's what I grew u 34 For some, the music itself is a deciding factor in attending the church. One older woman told me that, upon moving to the area, she and her husband visited the cowboy church once and ing we'd see if we wanted and have been back ever since." 35 The music ministries in cowboy churches not only share the message of the church through song, they also connect with a cultural component of the western heritage. For some, the musicians in these bands serve as a cultural connection between the sacred space of the church and the profane outside world. 36 The local 34 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, August 2, 2012 7:11 p.m. 35 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 6, 2012 12:37 p.m. 36 Tonks, but those guys they have changed and they've done things differently, and they're great musicians, and the y've spent plenty of time in the bars. They identify with those people, because they grew up with them." Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, July 18, 2012 4:14 p.m.
75 musicians in cowboy churches serve as an example to visitors that it is possible to change and repent from sinful ways. Many of the men who are members of cowboy church bands are also active in their respective local country music scenes, but live in a manner that reflects their Christianity. Perhaps even more important than the music ministry is the arena ministry. At both churches, the arena ministry is seen as a key area of outreach that is used to evangelize to me mbers of the community. At both churches, rodeo derived events are preceded with prayer and a sermon. It is required for participants to listen to the message in order to participate. Events also are intended to be family friendly and have a Christian envi ronment. Those who lead arena ministries are aware of the importance of their outreach and how it can be the only exposure to religion that some rural cowboys and their families get. One woman told me their goal is to: R each the cowboys and farmers that l ive two hours off a dirt road, who do not come to town but maybe once a month. And, about 80% of the people who show up at our events don't come into town very much . Our focus are the families stuck down somewhere who don't make it to town, who don't get to listen to God's word in a formal church setting, and to keep our events as family as possible so that it doesn't exclude the wif e and the kids from coming out. 37 Another man explained that arena events were the most effective way to get the unchurc 37 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 8, 2012 2:08 p.m.
76 because 38 Another woman joked about the early days of her church by saying that: Some people you could get to come to a roping. And they'd sit through a service just so they could rope. You know? A little coe rcion there, maybe, but it works. [laughs] Yeah, no one was forced to come. And like I say, nobody was ever tricked into it. They always knew ahead of time what they were g etting into. And most liked it. 39 While people attracted to the mythic aspect of cow boy culture may choose to visit the church on those grounds alone, arena ministries are important for reaching those with even minimal ties to the culture. Beyond just reaching the unchurched, arena and rodeo events are ways to present an ideal, mythic c owboy culture. One man, who has lifelong ties to rodeo, told T hey'll have to go some place else where some of those different events n some of the best environments and best situations. So this gives those folks an opportunity to participate in recreational things they enjoy and not have to go and be in an environment that tests their judgment and their respons ibility. So, it's really g rown. 40 Even individuals who do not participate in arena events because they do not ride horses understood that supporting and growing the arena ministries is central to the growth of the church community. Holding arena events is important for reaching the unchurched as well as for creating a fellowship event for current congregants. One man 41 Another 38 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, August 2, 2012 3:49 p.m. 39 Interview by Author, Charlotte, TX, digital recording, July 19, 2012 4:33 p.m. 40 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 7, 2012 9:58 a.m. 41 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording. July 14, 2012 8:00 a.m.
77 woman sheepishly admitted the reason she decided to stay at her cowboy church was you get more people. Hooves on the ground mean seats in church." 42 So far, I have discussed how myth and western culture are mixed to create the culture of cowboy churches as well as the role that music and rodeo events play in this theme. Where then, doe s Christianity fit in? I asked Pastor Elliot how Christian cowboy of view, cowboy Christiani ty is: T he same with any way of life, because the life we live outside the umbrella of Christianity would be all wet. Obviously that would be through faith in Jesus Christ. Even though we are using where the cowboy is at to reach t mean we are to raise his way of life above Christianity. That is the ultimate goal to have that cowboy be reconciled to Christ. 43 Similarly, he shared that he thought that even popular culture cowboys had Christian t from the Bible and are expressed through teachings from cowboy heroes of the Silver Screen. For example, Roy Rogers and his here were ten rules in Roger's list that resembled the Ten and go to Sunday school 44 In Pastor Elliot's view, the idealized cowboy 42 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 25, 2012 9:12 a.m. 43 Interview by Author, Alpine, Texas, email correspondence. August 11, 2012. 44 http://www.cowboyway.com/RoyRogers.htm And Interview by Author, Alpine, Texas, email correspondence, August 11, 2012.
78 of the movies seems to shape cowboy culture as much as authentic cowboy culture shapes the myth. This is similar to Clifford Geertz's sentime nt that religion served both as a model of and a model for cultural systems. 45 What this means is that the pop culture cowboy both informs what cowboy culture is and how it should look in the lives of people interested in the culture. This is an example of why it is difficult to determine what aspects of cowboy culture are authentic, as I discussed in the previous chapter. I asked Pastor Pete a similar question, and he appealed to history rather than popular culture by saying: There has always been circuit riding preachers who went from town to town. Those were cowboy churches. As long as there have been cowboys, they have gathered around a campfire and prayed and sang hymns together and opened the Bible together. Technically that's a cowboy church. Probably not going to get much more cowboy than that. 46 The responses from both pastors reflect the two cultural influences, pop culture and history, which are constantly mixed with both each other and with Christianity in the contemporary cowboy church. Masculini ty While unchurched western heritage individuals are the demographic cowboy churches seek to reach, men are their central target. These churches focus on men because they believe that, by getting the head of the family into church, it is likely that the re st of the family will follow. The central role that men play in the lives of their families is important to evangelical communities affiliated with masculine movements, 45 Clifford Geert Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), pp. 93 46 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording. May 30, 2012.
79 such as Promise Keepers. 47 Regardless of the origin of this idea, cowboy churches strive to bring men into the church. Reaching men necessitates that churches, in addition to being decorated in a way that appeals to men, provide messages and events intended to capture the attention of men without alienating women of the community. Beyond mate rial and mythic appeals, they seek to send messages to men through sermons and outreach activities. From a leadership perspective, the pastors at cowboy churches acknowledge that men are their targets, and they place this within a larger societal framework do things that are not feminine. We specifically don't tell people, 'Hey, let's get in a circle. Let's hold hands.' We're conscious of that, and we specifically try to reach men. That's 48 Similarly, Pastor Pete stated that cowboy churches are : R eally trying to work on the men's role in the family because I think the men in our society have really dropped the ball. I think they're really working on getting the men to be strong in the home again, and getting men to take responsibility in our society. 49 From an institutional perspective, the masculinity cultivated within cowboy churches is intended to reach unchurched men. Both pastors direct messages to the men of the co ngregation. When I asked Pastor Wendell why men were willing to come to his church, he told me that it was 47 Men are Strategic! A classic Pr omise Keepers survey shows that if a child is the first person in the family to accept Christ and join the church, the rest of the family will do the same only 3.5% of the time. If the mother is the first, that percentage goes to 17%. But if the father is the first to accept Christ and join the church, the rest of his family will follow 93% of the time! An intentional ministry designed to reach men for Christ will help a church not only reach men, but also reach October 22, 2012, http://www.baptistsonmission.org/Missions Education/Adult/Mens Ministries 48 Interview by Au thor, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, July 19, 2012 9:05 a.m. 49 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, August 2, 2012 3:49 p.m.
80 50 Indeed, Pastor Wendell's sermon s are rife with references to ranching and cowboy culture, and sometimes concern the role of men as head of the family. Although Pastor Pete is less likely to draw his sermon topics from western subjects, he deliberately and specifically addresses men in h is services. He broke down how he talks to men in the congregation by saying: Men I want to talk to you. Raise your hand if you're a man. This pa We don't beat around the bush. And we don't water thing OK, I'm going to hit you between the eyes...This part right here, this is for you. Here's what you've got to do if you're go Men don't like that. But then they also You know what? At leas t he was man An d they OK, yeah, he told me and now I can do whatever I want with it. 51 Cowboy church ministry requires pastors offer a masculine biblical message in their sermons. Congregants echoed similar sentiments abo ut men in the church by citing factors that lead to their attendance including the variety of activities available for them, the way the message is preached, and the overall culture of the church. One younger man shared that he felt that cowboy churches ha ve succeeded in getting men to return to one of the greatest things about cowboy church is the way that it has gotten grown men back into going to church." 52 At Cow boy Fellowship, a young woman told me that men's ministry programs seemed to be successful and well attended. As someone who was 50 Interview by Author, Alpine, Texas, email correspondence, August 11, 2012. 51 Interview by Author, Jo urdanton, TX, digital recording. August 2, 2012 3:49 p.m. 52 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 26, 2012 10:36 a.m.
81 ead they go to a ranch and they go dove hunting and they somehow I've never been to a men's retreat obviously but somehow they work that into their ministry and it's just really attracted people." 53 It is important to note that the men who attend cowboy ch urches are not just family men. Rather, these communities are full of single men who attend church on their own. One woman captured the essence of why unattached men attend cowboy I go to a Cowboy Churc h." Than to say, "Oh, I go to (trails off) whatever church in San Antonio. 54 By engraining masculinity in all aspects of the church community, the church captures the attention of unchurche d men. With such an intense focus on attracting men, where do women fit within the cowboy church? Here, the Baptist roots of the modern cowboy church movement become apparent. Between the late 1970s and the mid 1990 s a theologically conservative faction wi thin the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) took over the convention and used their newly consolidated power to make the official positions of the Convention reflect their social and theological goals. 55 As Seth Dowland points out, they gical defense of manhood that made male leadership normative and 56 As part of this takeover, women were not 53 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, August 6, 2012 10:55 a.m. 54 Interview by Author, Jourdant on, TX, digital recording, July 6, 2012 10:13 a.m. 55 David T. Morgan, The New Crusades, The New Holy Land: Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention 1969 1991 (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1996), 37. 56 chy: Inerrancy and Masculinity in the Southern Baptist Convention, 1979 Southern Masculinity: Perspectives on Manhood in the South since Reconstruction edited by Craig Thompson Friend (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 2009,) 247
82 allowed to hold positions of power over men. This becomes apparent in the dialectic between official AFCC doctri ne and the needs of individual congregations that causes them to deviate from this official Baptist position. Although cowboy churches shy away from the Southern Baptist label, the official AFCC doctrine echoes that of the SBC. According to the AFCC, wome n are not allowed to be pastors, elders, or lay pastors. The AFCC also takes the position that, in general, all leadership positions, including team leaderships, should be left to men. In a ranchhouse school session for women, a pastor's wife explained tha t this position is urage our husbands and encourage the men to be the spiritual leaders and to step into the role God designed for them in the first place." 57 Despite the AFCC's intensions, both churches where I worked in deviated from this aspect of the model because the de mands of the community required they depart from it. Pastor Pete explained to me that, although the AFCC has a particular stance, it is not necessarily practical for their church. Because of the diversity of their mission programs, men are not necessarily suited to lead certain ministries. We try to, but our leadership team is about 50:50 . Obviously, we want men to lead. But men aren't going to lead certain groups in our church. There are men who can lead children's ministries but not very many. That's something that women are t ypically going to be better at. 58 57 58 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, August 2, 2012 3:49 p.m.
83 Women generally lead ministries that have to do with children or the home, although many are involved with the arena team and other western culture ministries. On the other hand, Big Bend Cowboy Church breaks the model further by allowing a woman to lead the arena ministry. Quite simply, she was considered to be the best qualified person to lead, and the community recognizes that if she were to step down, not many men would be able or willing to fill her place. As she put it: I'm a fighter and I have certain gifts. And since I've come back to Christ as an adult I really want to use my gifts to help bring people to Christ or at least to fellowship. I'm not a Bible thumper, I'm not one to pray at e very little thing, I have a long walk to go, but if I do have a gift I'd like to use it and I got really upset I was told I should n't do it because of my gender. 59 In this case, Pastor Wendell's decision to break with AFCC doctrine better served the commun ity's long term evangelical aspirations. The emphasis on men does not seem to bother most congregants, who understand that the goal of the church is to reach out to unchurched men. One woman ly encouraged to failure of the dominant culture saying: T he men in our society have really dropped the ball. I think they're really working on getting the men to be strong in the home again and getting men to take responsibility in our society. They're trying to work on the men on becoming strong role models again and being strong in their families, because so many men have dropped the ball. 60 One young man slightly disagreed with my questi on about emphasizing men, and pointed out that women are encouraged to participate in all non gender specific events. 59 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 8, 2012 2:08 p.m. 60 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, July 18, 2012 1:34 p.m.
84 We have a lot of stuff for both sexes." 61 Indeed, both churches do minister to women. For example, early each November, Big Bend Cowboy Church hosts a Christian cowgirl weekend for parishioners and women in the community. Ultimately, however, women are not the focus of the cowboy church movement. Although the AFCC believes that women should allow men to hold positions of leadership, the reality is that women are able to find opportunities for involvement and, sometimes, leadership within cowboy churches. I n this way, even though they are not the target demographic, most women appear to feel that their spiritual needs are being met by the church. Differences Thus far, this chapter has looked at key thematic similarities between the two churches I studied. Issues of materiality, the hybridity of contemporary cowboy culture, and masculinity are central to the cowboy church movement. Despite these commonalities, the two congregations I studied had certain undeniable differences. Variations in staff, congregati on size, and community needs, perceptions of what is included under the umbrella of the western heritage, and other factors account for some of the differences I will now discuss. Size For all their similarities, Cowboy Fellowship and Big Bend Cowboy Chur ch are very different congregations. The former is within the vicinity of three small cities and only an hour away from the San Antonio, one of the largest cities in South Texas. 61 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 24, 2012 2:52 p.m.
85 Atascosa County has recently benefited financially because oil and natural ga s companies have moved into the region. The latter is relatively isolated in Alpine, Texas, a small town that, despite being home to a state university, has a population of under 6000 people. The dissimilarities in location account for the noticeable diffe rence in the sizes of the church congregations. Cowboy Fellowship, which has an average weekly attendance of around 900 people, has a larger and more concentrated population to draw on. Big Bend Cowboy Church, on the other hand, averages around 125 congreg ants per week, some of whom travel nearly four hours round trip to attend services and may only be able to come in to town on a biweekly or monthly basis. Staff The size of the communities means that the two churches have very different staffs in order to reach the needs of the community. Cowboy Fellowship has seven staff members, and is presently looking to hire a grounds keeper. Currently, they have a head pastor, an associate pastor, both children's and youth pastors, a financial secretary, a secretary, and a ministry assistant. Additionally, this summer they had a college intern to help with their summer children's programs. Pastor Pete has a Master of Divinity and, prior to becoming pastor at Cowboy Fellowship, had served as an interim pastor at severa l Baptist churches and had held positions as youth pastor and collegiate minister. 62 Although he grew up on a ranch near Jourdanton, today, most of his cowboy activities are limited to recreational events during his days off. In contrast, Big Bend Cowboy C hurch has only one staff member, Pastor Wendell, who is bi vocational. This means that, in addition to spending between 25 40 62 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, May 30, 2012.
86 hours a week doing church related work, he is also the manager of a ranch near Alpine. y ranch work of tending to livestock (cattle, 63 64 Unlike Past or Pete, Pastor Wendell does not have a seminary degree. Prior to coming to Big Bend Cowboy Church, he had worked as a youth minister at a cowboy church in Eastland, Texas, and before that, he was a youth minister at a Methodist church in Ft. Stockton, Tex as. Pastor Wendell was drawn to the cowboy church movement because of his connection to the heritage and his goal of bringing western heritage people to the church. Ministries Most cowboy churches focus only on reaching out to western heritage individuals which is their role as self described Paulian churches. Cowboy Fellowship, unlike Big Bend Cowboy Church, breaks with the AFCC model of limiting the focus of ministries to key outreach areas. In doing so, Cowboy Fellowship has expanded the focus of their ministry to include people who do not identify as members of the western heritage. Pastor Pete explained to me that: When we first started, we were definitely very focused on one specific person, one specific type of person. In doing that, a lot of other people started coming. Then, all of the sudden, we had people who were not that specific person anymore. They wanted to reach their friends. They wanted to reach their families. They wanted to start ministries that weren't arena related or cowboy related. So we did. 65 63 Interview by Author, Alpine, Texas, email corresponden ce. August 11, 2012. 64 Ibid. 65 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, August 2, 2012 3:49 p.m.
8 7 Pastor Scotty elaborated on this by pointing out that strict adherence to the western heritage model was where Cowboy Fellowship breaks with the AFCC model, whereas it is upheld by Big Bend Cowboy Church. He told me that Cowboy Fellowship's cal ling is beyond that of most cowboy churches and shared that their philosophy is: Sure, God made us cowboy, our western heritage, but how can we use that to reach our community?" For the longest time TFCC was like, "How are you reaching the cowboy and not r eaching the community?" They just wanted to focus on one specific people group. That's the difference in our church and the rest of the cowboy churches, is that we just don't say, "Hey, we're just going to focus on ropers" or "We're just going to focus on bull riders" or "We're just going to focus on arena events.' 66 This philosophy leads Cowboy Fellowship to engage in ministry events locally, in other parts of the state, and internationally. Cowboy Fellowship regularly sends mission teams of both children a nd adults to parts of Africa and Latin America to do humanitarian work and ministry. 67 Unlike most cowboy churches, Cowboy Fellowship's outreach and ministry extends beyond the western heritage groups. In an attempt to reach a broader group of people, the Children's and Youth ministries at Cowboy Fellowship are not focused on western heritage. There are plenty of roping events and cowboy play days for children that do embrace this culture, but these events lie outside the programming duties of the Children' s and Youth ministers. Based on the AFCC video about children's ministries, I'm inclined to believe other cowboy churches include some references to cowboy culture in their children's programming, especially by making their children's camps cowboy themed, but this is 66 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, July 19, 2012 9:05 a.m. 67 ber 28, 2012, http://cowboyfellowship.org/cowboyfellowship/missions
88 not the case at Cowboy Fellowship. 68 When I spoke to the Youth Pastor, he explained that, although many of the youth in his ministry come from a western heritage background because they grew up in a rural part of Texas, most aren't actively enga ged in the cult I mean, of my 50 students, I have maybe two that consistently do something that you would really consider western heritage which is like roping, or barrel racing, or something like that." 69 The Children's Pastor e choed his sentiments. Because of the size of the congregation and the diversity of attendees at Cowboy Fellowship, the church presents traditional children's programing such as Vacation Bible School. On the other hand, Big Bend Cowboy Church does not have the diversity of ministries. Given the demographics of their church, they focus heavily on ministering to cowboys. Pastor Wendell shared with me that he does not feel that his church should focus on external ministry efforts. He also shared that while he understands that external ministry efforts can be a place where discipleship ca n grow saying: T o jerk some cowboy off his horse and send him to an African nation to do airport security 70 Because of this, Big Bend Cowboy Church focuses on core ministries including the arena team, music ministry, and children's ministry as well as having regular Bible studies based on curriculum chosen by the Pastor. However, b oth the children's ministry and the Bible study were on hiatus during the time I spent in their community, so I 68 http://www.americanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=2074&content_id=386#attached_content 69 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording. July 6, 2012 1:41 p.m. 70 Interview by Author, Alpine, Texas, email correspondence. August 11, 2012.
89 cannot compare them to those at Cowboy Fellowship. Both of these ministries are for existing church members, and it is worth pointing out that t he ministries intended to reach new members, such as roping and arena events, were scheduled throughout the entire summer. Big Bend Cowboy Church treats discipleship as an important component of their church community, but it is secondary to reaching out t o new members during the summer when many people travel or are on vacation. Definition of Western Heritage Cowboy churches are open to all. However, determining what is included in definitions of this heritage is contested and complicated by issues such a s regionalism and popular culture. Differences in definition are evident between Big Bend Cowboy Church and Cowboy Fellowship. The former has a more traditional definition of the heritage, while the latter has a more open definition that reflects the diver sity of rural jobs available in the area. Big Bend Cowboy Church has a more conventional definition of western heritage. (agriculture), farming, ranching, cattle, anything l ike that. 71 Although she offered a broad listing of subcultures, all are typically associated with cowboy and western heritage culture. When discussing the target audience of the church with another woman, I made the mistake of mentioning farming, to which this area, those are fighting words." 72 In the Big Bend area, western heritage is tied explicitly to ranching and closely affiliated jobs and hobbies. 71 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 19, 2012 9:57 a.m. 72 Interview by Author, Alpine, TX, digital recording, June 6, 2012 12:37 p.m.
90 At Cowboy Fellowship, the umbrella of jobs and identities th at make up western heritage is far wider and includes rural people and even individuals who work at the nearby oil fields. In Atascosa County, fewer people support themselves entirely by ranching, which has lead the definition of western heritage to be mor e inclusive than in just to visit and with the oil fields going around so strong no w we're getting a lot of that. 73 A young man who works in the oil fields echoed a similar s entiment about being cowboys are all the same. It's all the same thing. They just do different stuff and wear different clothes." 74 In his opinion, the underlying culture of potentially dangerous manual labor in the outdoors creates a cultural bond between oil field workers and western culture. At this time, the booming oil industry has brought many single men into the area; a demographic Cowboy Fellowship is already accustome d to targeting for evangelism. In this section, I have discussed some of the differences between Cowboy Fellowship and Big Bend Cowboy Church. In doing so, I have highlighted how the congregation size and surrounding culture can influence how cowboy churc hes attempt to reach members of the larger community. Additionally, buy looking at staff size and vocation, I shown how cowboy churches adapt to serve the needs of congregants. For all the similarities between the two churches, looking at the differences b etween them shows the diversity and flexibility of the movement. 73 Interview by Author, Jourda nton, TX, digital recording, August 1, 2012 2:04 p.m. 74 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording, August 2, 2012 8:06 a.m.
91 Conclusion In this chapter I have presented the ethnographic data from my time spent at Big Bend Cowboy Church and Cowboy Fellowship. My fieldwork is indicative of trends only within these t wo churches, but I believe the similarities between them speak to larger trends within the contemporary cowboy church movement, especially regional differences in definitions of western heritage and outreach techniques. The similarities and differences bet ween the two congregations capture the heart of the cowboy church movement and how these churches evangelize to individuals affiliated with the western heritage. I began by describing the history and appearances of both churches in order to locate them spa tially and temporally within their larger communities. Next, I explored the similarities between material cultures of the churches, how myth is negotiated within them, and the role masculinity plays in the communities. In the next chapter, I will return to these three subjects in order to situate them theoretically inside the larger literature of the study of cultural hybridity, myth, and masculinity within religious studies. Lastly, I looked at some of the cultural differences between the churches that are tied to size and geographical location. I chose to do this to demonstrate that, although cowboy churches theoretically share the same goal of reaching out to unchurched cowboys, internal and external community factors influence how individual congregation s minister, in distinct ways, to these individuals and to the broader community.
92 CHAPTER 4 THEORIZING COWBOY CHURCH CULTURE Thus far, I have situated my cowboy church research within contemporary scholarship on the American West, reviewed a history of at tempts to minister to western heritage individuals by Protestant groups, explored the origins of the contemporary cowboy church, and offered my own ethnographic data that looks at common themes in cowboy churches. Myth and popular culture have transformed the cowboy into a legendary figure bearing little resemblance to his historical precursors. In this chapter, I will apply theory from the fields of religious, gender, and cultural studies to discuss how cowboy churches negotiate myth, gender, and identity. I will begin with a discussion of myth by drawing on the work of Mircea Eliade, J.Z. Smith, Bruce Lincoln, and Thomas Tweed in order to show how the cowboy becomes a mythic trope within cowboy churches. Next, I will look at the work of Michael Kimmel, Cli fford Putney, and others to situate the cowboy and the cowboy church movement within a larger discussion of American masculinity and masculine focused Christianity. Doing so will help explain why cowboy churches place such emphasis on reaching out to men. Lastly, I will explore how cowboy identity is developed within the church. To do this, I will use the work of Clifford Geertz, Jan Nederveen Pieterse, Jean Baudrillard, and Nstor Garca Canclini to look at how identity is shaped by those outside and insid e the church. Together, their body of work sheds light on how media and culture influence the construction of identity. Myth During my time spent at these cowboy churches, congregants as well as church leadership frequently mentioned the role of myth. The field of religion has spent
93 cosmogonic myth and sacred history, he claims that myth the primordial epoch that began immediately after the cre 1 Cowboy churches, I argue, do not see the cowboy as a sacred figure. However, the figure of the cowboy and the perceived simplicity of his lifestyle, although not quite primordial, is seen as a lifestyle worth preserving. The myth surrounding the c owboy is tied to a particular rural cultural identity. Some individuals I spoke with expressed concern that western heritage had the potential to die out because advances in communication technology allow images of contemporary culture to reach rural areas in a more direct manner. By creating religious communities that embrace the cowboy myth, this Elideian return to beginnings can be viewed as an attempt to preserve their culture. T he cowboy image is emphasized in different manners in order to reflect the needs of the church community. J. Z. Smith elaborated on Eliade's statements about myth by looking at not only myths themselves, but also at how they are are reshaped and altered by the societies in which they exist. 2 conce ived not as a primordial, but rather as a limited collection of elements with a fixed range of cultural meanings which are applied, thought with, worked with, experimented 3 According to Smith, freeing myth from the confines of serving as a static, purely historical concept, as Eliade views it, allows scholars to 1 171 183. 2 y application. That this requires that we not excise myth from its interpretive context of existential situation. That application and situation is not No News Secrecy in Religions. ed. Kees W. Bolle. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1989. pp. 77. 3
94 consider how myth fits into social narratives. For rural communities with strong historical and contemporary ties to ranching culture, the cowboy is already a compone nt of their social narrative. This also accounts for the differences between the two churches I studied. Each community reflects the culture in which it is embedded. Big Bend Cowboy Church, the more rural and cattle focused of the two churches, places a gr eater emphasis on connecting to cowboy culture because of the large number of people who work as ranchers in the area. Whereas Cowboy Fellowship, which is located in a larger community closer to a major metropolitan area, seeks to cast a wider net and attr act individuals with backgrounds more diverse than simply western heritage. In this instance, community and church image are explicitly linked. The pervasiveness of the cowboy myth does not mean the cowboy is a one dimensional figure. Each individual has a different idea of what the cowboy is, ranging from the working cowboy to popular culture cowboys like Roy Rogers and John Wayne. Expanding upon Eliade and Smith, Bruce Lincoln explores the practical applications of myth. He accomplishes this by treating myth as a component of culture that informs identity and religious belief. In his discussion of narrative diversity, he defines myth as inscribing their values and sens of the many avenues through which culture is propagated. 4 Lincoln echoes the sentiment that cowboy mythic figures are portrayed in diverse ways. There is no universal definition of what constitutes a cowboy. This is due, in part, to the many incarnations throughout history, some of which have been shaped by 4 Op. Cit. Lincoln
95 ple interpretations by different actors within the same social field and can become sites of tension and struggle where those 5 While I agree with Lincoln that the cowboy can be interpret ed in a variety of ways, in cowboy churches, these varying interpretations are not a source of tension. Rather, church leadership and congregants alike view the multiple forms of cowboy culture as a way to reach a wide variety of individuals who have diffe ring levels of interest and involvement in western heritage culture. Not everyone who attends these churches rides horses, raises cattle, or even dresses in western clothing. Although individuals with a lesser involvement in the culture are not the target demographic of cowboy churches, all are welcome in these churches provided they do not try to steer the church's focus away from western heritage individuals. What then, is the role of myth in cowboy churches? Thomas Tweed's work offers an explanation of the role which myth plays in shaping religious identities. He argues that it is an integral component of religious and community identity. He expands upon Lincoln's treatment of the sociocultural attributes of myth by situating myth in the context of formi ng and sustaining religion and religious communities. Tweed states that religions are comprised of flows that are simultaneously organic and cultural. A component of my ths, allegories, personifications, and symbols that function as figurative tools for 5 Ibid., pp. 166 and 175
96 6 In cowboy churches, the myth of the cowboy is an orienting trope that serves as a signifier of what the church culture appears to b e to outsiders and potential congregants. As I have touched upon and will expand on later, the cowboy embodies a wide variety of cultural associations, from working to pop cultural, which are perceived differently from person to person. Despite the variety of perceptions of the cowboy, the word itself evokes strong cultural associations that e associated material culture of the churches are often enough to sway people to visit the church. Beyond serving as an orienting trope that shapes the church's material and cultural identity, the cowboy is transformed into a figure that is used to demons trate moral, Christian living. Since pastors use examples of the cowboy and western life in their sermons to reach congregants, the cowboy becomes more than just a cultural figure to which congregants can relate. 7 By using the cowboy as a moral exemplar, p astors forge a link between myth and Christianity. In sermons and prayers offered during church actives, church leadership reinforces the idea that, regardless of an individual's past, they, too, can live a Christian life and are welcome in the church. In cowboy churches, the positive, law abiding aspects of the historical and mythic cowboy are highlighted in order to demonstrate how Christianity and western heritage are compatible lifestyles. However, to fully understand the role of myth, it is critical to 6 He also discusses that tropes are not just found in religions, but in this context they are useful as that Crossing and Dwelling, 68. 7 Although how frequently pastors make reference to the cowboy varies from church to church.
97 discuss how cowboy identity is constructed and the manner in which it is linked to masculinity. Masculinity The cowboy, as a historical and mythic figure, has a strong connection to the concept of masculinity in the United States. Part of the mythical tr ansformation of the cowboy involves shaping cowboys into heroes of the West and icons of masculine, American independence in the face of modernizing/feminizing forces. This section will look at the cowboy as a masculine figure and how cowboy churches, by f ocusing on masculinity, are put into conversation with the historically masculine muscular Christianity and Promise Keepers movements. In his book Manhood in America: A Cultural History Michael Kimmel seeks to put constantly changing collection of meanings that we construct through our relationships 8 The cowboy fits prominently into this discussion as an example of a hi storical figure whose identity gets appropriated by the larger culture and is transformed into a hyper masculine figure. According to Kimmel, American masculinity, especially notions of freedom and independence, have long been tied to the West. He states t what can be viewed as a gendered reading of Turner's Frontier Thesis. 9 Like Richard Slotkin, Kimmel focuses on the role t hat fictional accounts of the frontier played in 8 Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America: A Cultural History (New York City, The Free Pr ess, 1996), 5. 9 Ibid., 60.
98 10 Throughout his book, both the West and cowboys repeatedly appear, and represent attempts to regain masculinity in orde r to counter forces that were once seen as domesticating and feminizing, including Victorian values and the closing of the West. During his discussion of the late 19 th 11 Kimmel claims that during periods when men were attempting to re claim and 12 Focusing on the cowboy's mythic development and the role it served in shaping masculinity, he hints at aspects of cowboy culture that these mode rn churches attempt to undermine. As a genre the western represented the apotheosis of masculinist fantasy, a revolt not against women but against feminization. The vast prairie is the domain of male liberation from work place humiliation, cultural femini zation, and domestic emasculation. The saloon replaces the church, the campfire replaces the Victorian parlor, the range replaces the factory floor. The western is a purified, pristine male domain. 13 By bringing religion to the forefront, cowboy churches a ssert that the church can be part of the male domain. 10 Kimmel references Slotkin's work within his discussion on the cowboy. Ibid., 63. 11 Ibid., 135 136. 12 than out west with th 13 Ibid.,150.
99 Today, cowboy churches strive to capture the role the West plays in the lives of men, with one central exception: the saloon has been abandoned and the role of the church as a masculine institution has been established. 14 By catering explicitly to men via doctrine, myth, material culture, and church ministries, cowboy churches, like other 15 Kimmel's work calls attention to why the cowboy serves as a trope for American masculinity. Given this discussion, it makes sense that churches attempting to reach unchurched males would utilize this trope. However, beyond the cowboy, there is a history of Christian attempts to evangelize specifically to men. Cowboy churches fit into this history, and for this reason, should be juxtaposed with both the muscular Christianity movement of the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries and the Promise Keepers movemen t that became active in the 1990 s. All three entities seek to transform the lives of unchurched men by bringing them to know and accept Christ. These groups embrace a version of theology that emphasizes the ties between masculinity and Christian identity. The reason for this hybrid concept is twofold. First, it dispels the notion that religion is a woman's domain and, second, it brings men to the church. 16 14 Although some members of cowboy churches drink, by many avoid alcohol and all condemn drunkenness. 15 Ibid., 313. 16 Many scholars comment on the relationship between w omen and religion in the United States. Michael Kimmel states that muscular Christianity developed as the response to the Victorian feminized. imagined as a thin, reedy man, with long bony fingers, and soft doelike eyes, a man who could easily The Gendered Society 4 th Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 240.
100 Muscular Christianity, according to Clifford Putney, was a predominantly male ned simply as a Christian commitment to health and th and early 20 th Christians unless they were hea 17 In this case, manliness was tied to fitness and strength. Spearheaded by Progressives, supporters of muscular Christianity stood in opposition to Victorian values, which downplayed these particular traits and, odel for manhood, one that stressed action rather than 18 Supporters of muscular Christianity, their sense of discipline, through their sense of the practical, 19 To encourage male attendance, churches built gyms and hosted sports events to cultivate male interest in church cu lture. They also created men's organizations that resembled military organizations within established churches that painted men as protectors of the faith and family. One Methodist event, the Columbus Exhibition at the 1919 Ohio State Fair, even included a 20 Although the movement eventually declined 17 Cliff ord Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2001), Kindle Edition, loc. 147. 18 Ibid., loc. 84. 19 Ibid., loc 992. 20 Ibid., loc 2567.
101 churches. 21 Its survival became apparent during the cons ervative resurgence of the 1970 s, and pave d the way for the Promise Keepers movement. While muscular Christianity focused on the physical and spiritual sides of male religiosity, Promise Keepers, founded in 1990 by Bill McCartney, a University of fellowship. 22 Promise Keepers is a nondenominational group that is best known for its large rallies and gatherings including the Stand the Gap rally held on the Washington Mall in October of 1997. 23 men to God and the supportive, spiritual relationships with one another. In addition to large events, Promise Keepers host regional conferences emphasizing the importa nce of interacting with local accountability groups, usually based in churches, where men can meet to deepen their faith with other men. 24 Although the strength and membership declined following fina ncial problems in the late 1990 s, they continue to operate a website. Their online presence offers paying members access videos, a tool to help memorize scripture, and an accountability system for monitoring internet usage in order to avoid temptation and unchristian content online. 25 Ultimately, Promise Keepers h 21 Ibid., loc 2675. 22 The Promise Keepers: Essays on Masculinity and Christianity, ed. Dane S. Claussen (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2000), 3 4. 23 Ibid., 4. 24 l Construction of The Promise Keepers: Essays on Masculinity and Christianity, ed. Dane S. Claussen (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2000), 115 116. 25 http://www.promisekeepers.org/premium content
102 political forces. 26 In some ways, cowboy churches share the perspectives of Promise Keepers and muscular Christianity. These similarities are m ost clearly reflected by the goals of all three groups as they relate to cultivating male religiosity. Similar to muscular Christianity, cowboy churches attempt to attract men by creating events and physical spaces that will appeal directly to them. As dis cussed in the ethnography chapter, t hese churches host events, related to western heritage, including ropings, in order to pique male interest by allowing them to participate in events related to their culture. Inside the churches themselves, the material culture of the churches, including open spaces, concrete floors, and rustic decorations, has been developed in such a way as to make men comfortable in church. However, cowboy churches do not operate under the assumption that all members are interested in participating in cowboy activities. Because of this, they also offer other community activities such as monthly potlucks and Bible study for individuals who can't or don't participate in physically demanding western heritage events. Like Promise Keepers, c owboy churches offer spiritual development for men separately from that offered to women. Big Bend Cowboy Church offers separate men's and women's Bible studies, where the men's classes include a course based on the Christian messages that can be found in John Wayne films. Cowboy Fellowship, on the other hand, has mixed fellowship classes in lieu of Bible study, but offers men's retreats and a monthly fellowship breakfast for men. At both churches, these gendered 26 Op. Cit. Cole 117.
103 events allow men in the community to engage in fellowship with one another in a Christian setting. Despite these similarities, there are a few significant differences between cowboy churches and other masculine Christian movements. Unlike Promise Keepers and muscular Christianity, cowboy churches h ave attempted to create permanent, physical church communities. Cowboy churches are tied to one location and emphasize ministering to the people who live in or near their specific community. One way to think of the distinction between the two groups is the prevalence of masculinity. Within cowboy churches, masculinity is a major element of the church culture, and the concept permeates the church spatially, materially, and culturally. However, membership at cowboy churches is open to men, women, and children which necessitates that they also develop ways to minister to different groups. On the other hand, muscular Christianity and Promise Keepers exist as minor elements within established churches. These groups supplement other church activities in order to provide men with their own group within the larger church community. Should the masculine element of these churches be suddenly removed, the church would still continue to function. However, if a cowboy church were to remove the masculine element, it would fundamentally change the atmosphere of the entire church and its community. The centrality of the masculine element in cowboy churches differentiates it from other masculine Christian organizations. The association with masculinity makes the cowboy a tro pe a powerful social cue for a church's identity. Kimmel's work emphasizes how the cowboy has shaped the idea of masculinity in America by focusing on how the cowboy was transformed via popular
104 culture to represent individualism in the face of domesticatin g forces. By emphasizing the masculine aspects of the cowboy and earthly affiliations, cowboy churches attempt, like Promise Keepers and muscular Christianity, to bring unchurched men into the church. The similarities between the goals of the groups necess itate that cowboy churches be included in the larger discussion of masculine Christianity. Next, I will discuss how the different forms of the cowboy historical, contemporary, and pop cultural all shape the identity trope of the cowboy in these churches. Identity Construction and the Contemporary Cowboy The cowboy church movement depends heavily on cultivating an aura of cowboy culture in order to reach unchurched individuals who relate to the western heritage. In light of my discussion of myth and mascu linity, it is necessary to look at how western identity is constructed and negotiated within contemporary cowboy churches. Within cowboy churches, the trope of the cowboy is a fluid entity that both shapes the church culture and is shaped by it. The cowboy is a hybrid entity: the product of continual mixing, in which history and popular culture simultaneously influence and are influenced. The contemporary cowboy is the product of decades of cultural development. In this section, I will consider how Geertz's discussion of how symbols shape reality is seen in the contemporary cowboy church. Next, I will look to Nederveen Pieterse in order to situate the cowboy, as an example of assimilationist hybridity, within a globalized culture. Then, using the work of Bau drillard, I will explore how media combines with history to shape identity in the cowboy church. Lastly, I will utilize Canclini to discuss how hybridity and the media influence how the cowboy is presented in cowboy churches and why this makes the cowboy a hyperreal entity whose origins cannot be determined because of decades of continuously mixing reality and symbol.
105 Taken together, this discussion will shed light on how identity is constructed around the trope of the cowboy. Model Of and Model For In the contemporary cowboy church, cowboy culture serves both as a model of and model for the symbol systems embraced by the church. In Geertz's discussion of symbols, he elaborates on how they serve as model of and model for reality by saying terns have an intrinsic double aspect: they give meaning, that is, objective conceptual form, to social and psychological reality both by shaping 27 However, as I have stated previously, western culture is n ot monolithic. In these churches, westerns and the mythic cowboy, as well as ranching culture, serve as models of and for how western identity is shaped, and each has both an active and a passive role in culture. While conducting interviews with individua ls who attended a cowboy church, I asked what inspired them to visit. Answers encompassed both the mythic/pop cultural and the historical/contemporary aspects of cowboy and western heritage culture. For example, the woman whose two young sons pestered her to attend the church after seeing it being constructed on their regular trips to Walmart acknowledged that her children had ideas about cowboy culture both from living in the area and from watching westerns. 28 Other attendees who are involved in ranching an d rodeo culture told me that word of mouth from friends who attended the church let them know that the outreach events, which are rodeo heavy, would be in keeping with cowboy culture. Before 27 Op. Cit Geertz 93. 28 Interview by Author, Jourdanton, TX, digital recording. July 6, 2012 10:13 a.m
106 shape their idea of what the culture of the church would be like. This perception includes cultural cues concerning what was expected of them materially. For example, even though a pasture roping may be held by a church, participants kn ow that they are welcome to wear cowboy clothing rather than what is considered to be traditional map of reality, and a system of symbols that reflect the culture in which it exists. In relation to cowboy churches, the trope of the cowboy in popular culture and his relationship to contemporary ranching culture shape people's expectations of what they might experience in a cowboy church. These expectations and beliefs about t he cowboy as a symbol serve as a model of what they envisage from the church culture. And, in these churches, the image o f the cowboy they expect to encounter is one that encourages moral, Christian behavior. Although churches focus intently on attracting those who have the strongest direct connection to the culture, pastors at cowboy churches acknowledge the variety of conceptions of the cowboy that individuals bring with them to the church. Geertz argues that symbols serve as models for reality in the se nse that they play an active role in the culture. This occurs when people take the concept of the symbol and produce it culturally. In cowboy churches, symbols associated with historical, contemporary, and mythic aspects shape how the church presents cowbo y culture. When interviewing the pastors of both churches I studied, each acknowledged how the symbol of the cowboy shaped the culture of their church. In other words, the symbol served as a model for developing cowboy church culture. Pastor Elliot of Bi g
107 Bend Cowboy Church shared a story in which he stated his belief that the popular culture cowboy has Christian roots. In his opinion, mythic cowboy culture becomes a from the Bible and are expressed through teachings from cowboy heroes of the Silver and go 29 In Pastor Elliot's view, the idealized cowboy of the movies shapes cowboy culture as much as authentic cowboy culture shapes the myth. Both members of cowboy churches and those outside of it dra w their idea of what the cowboy is and how he should act from how the cowboy is portrayed in the media. For this reason, pastors should be prepared to welcome individuals with varied symbolic associations. stor Pete of Cowboy Fellowship provided a story that demonstrates how the historical cowboy becomes the model for the contemporary church. He shared that: There has (sic) always been circuit riding preachers who went from town to town. Those were cowboy c hurches. As long as there have been cowboys, they have gathered around a campfire and prayed and sang hymns together and opened the Bible together. Technically that's a cowboy church. Probably not going to get much more cowboy than that. 30 In this case, th e symbol system is much more rustic and, in theory, historical. However, in both instances, c hurch leaders demonstrate their awareness of the different aspects of culture that contribute to cowboy culture. From these symbols, both pastors 29 Roy Rogers' Rid http://www.cowboyway.com/RoyRogers.htm And Interview by Author, Alpine, Texas, email correspondence, August 11, 2012. 30 Interview by Author, Jou rdanton, TX, digital recording. May 30, 2012.
108 shape the cultur e of their churches. Cowboy culture, authentic and mythic, becomes a model for how cowboy churches present themselves in order to attract new members and reach out to the unsaved. The trope of the cowboy serves as both a model of and a model for culture in cowboy churches. Nonetheless, the cowboy is not a static figure. In the next section, I will discuss how cowboy churches represent hybrid spaces and mixed times within an assimilationist hybridity that reaffirms aspects of Turner's Frontier Thesis. Hybri d Spaces Nederveen Pieterse's book, Globalization and Culture: Global Mlange serves as an introduction to the theory of hybridity and how it relates to globalization. For the purposes of this thesis, I'm more interested in hybridity than globalization. Hy bridity, as well as the variety of sources that influence cultures, is central to my discussion of identity construction. Nederveen Pieterse's theoretical position is rooted in the idea that hybridity is not a homogenous concept and that other th eories of globalization are destabilizes. 31 Hybridity represents continual mixing in which cultures simultaneously influence and are influenced. He discusses how hybridity is des tabilizing because it because it privileges border 32 ith different perspectives of the world. 33 In cowboy churches, hybridity is mediated by the meeting of the historical 31 Op. Cit. Nederveen Pieterse 4. 32 Ibid., 54 55. 33 Ibid., 58.
109 cowboy, contemporary ranching culture, and how the cowboy is portrayed in the media and popular culture. The different conceptions of the c owboy as a symbol influence the models of and for the church, and attest to the hybridity within these churches. After making a general case for hybridity, Nederveen Pieterse delves into its specifics, particularly, how it contributes to the creation of a 34 Reiterating the multidirectional and multidimensional nature of globalization, he 35 As previously discussed, Protestant groups have demonstrated historical interest in evangelizing to cowboys, but by creating churches that cater to their interests culturally, they form new practices and structures that diversify both Christianity and cow boy culture. After this religious groups and local groups. The exchanges between di fferent networks are key to modern, modern, and post 36 Cowboy churches reinforce s ubnational regionalism by creating spaces intended to appeal to a particular cultural identity. They create hybrid spaces because of the mixing of myth and history, and a mixed time in which the 19 th century comes into contact with the 21 st century. 34 Ibid., 65. 35 He borrows this definition from Rowe and Schelling's 1991 book Popular Culture in Latin America Ibid., 70. 36 He also uses overseas mi litary facilities as an example of hybrid spaces, and Latin America as an example of mixed times. Ibid., 71 73.
110 To el aborate a bit on the sentiments held by both pastors about the mixing of the mythic cowboy with the historical and contemporary, I want to call attention to the broad definition of western heritage utilized by the cowboy church outreach wing of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, with whom the AFCC is affiliated. This document demonstrates that cowboy churches expect to bring in a variety of people including cowgirls, cat Although this is clearly a broad definition of western heritage, the assumption made is work ing cowboy may be the hardest to reach but if you can do church in a way that he 37 Like the sentiments of the pastors about the influence of both myth and history, the broad definition offered by th e BGCT demonstrates the hope that their hybrid spaces will appeal to both contemporary working cowboys as well as those who identify with the mythic dimensions of the culture. The goal of appealing to working cowboys causes the cultural and material aspect s of the church to be rugged and cowboy focused, but they are hybrid spaces that are still comfortable enough that individuals with attraction to the myth feel welcome. T hybridit utilize established symbols. 38 Cowboy churches are planted in rural areas where strong 37 Texas), 2. 38 Op. Cit. Nederveen Pieterse 79.
111 cowboy culture (mythic and historical) is already prevalent. Therefore, I find it useful to consi der these churches as being representative of assimilationist hybridity due to the fact that they adopt both the culture of Protestant Christianity, which reifies the idea of Christian hegemony within the United States, and the culture of rural areas, whic h is embodied in the trope of the cowboy. In these churches, the dominant historical form of American religious belief is reshaped to be in conversation with the cowboy, who is one of the dominant tropes of American individualism. The mixing of these cultu res asserts a particular view of the West, Christianity, and American identity that privileges the 39 In these hybrid structures, new practi ces are created that reflect the religious needs of this particular community. At the same time, the culture in these churches represents a domesticated hybridity that reproduces notions of the cowboy and his role in the history of the United States, both factually and mythically. Cowboy churches reproduce the culture in a manner reminiscent of the ideas found in Turner's Frontier Thesis by emphasizing independence, ruggedness, and the freedom that can be found within Christianity. Hybridity, as discussed by Neederveen Pieterse, offers a theoretical model that scholars might utilize to investigate the formation of new cultures and religious identities. In cowboy churches, hybridity is seen in the mixing of the historical, contemporary, and mythic conception s of the cowboy and in the culture that emerges when all of these aspects of culture are further mixed with Protestant Christian theology. In seeking to cast a narrow net, cowboy churches are able to attract people from a 39 Op. Cit. Nederveen Pieterse 88.
112 variety of backgrounds, each with different ideas about cowboy symbolism. However, Neederveen Pieterse's theory only scratches the surface of hybridity. To delve deeper into the role hybridity plays in contemporary cowboy churches, I will look at how the material culture and church activi ties are mediated by the hybridity of the cowboy as a symbol. Simulacra and the Hyperreal To begin this discussion, I look to Baudrillard, who, despite my critique that he overemphasizes media, is useful when looking at how media combines with history to create the hybrid cowboy church. As does Neederveen Pieterse, Baudrillard critiques the idea of cultural purity by offering the notions of simulacra, the reproduced representations of an original concept, and the hyperreal, the product of continuous mixing of different symbols and simulacra. It was mentioned earlier that hyperreal space tha t leads to the creation of cultural simulations and simulacra. 40 Hyperreality is hybrid because it is the product of synthesis and presents a constant onslaught of images and symbols. By synthesizing these elements, one becomes unable to separate what is re al from what is constructed. The images seem more real than the origins because the effort that goes into their construction erases the boundaries between reality and virtual reality. As Baudrillard states, lication, nor 41 He 40 Op. Cit. Baudrillard 2. 41 Ibid., 2.
113 interpreting it as a false representation, simulation envelops the whole e difice of 42 Once again, I refer ence the two conversations about the role of history and pop culture in cowboy churches. Myth, history, and contemporary ranching/rodeo culture are all privileged within the cowboy church. At this point, it is impossible to differentiate between what is de rived from each of these entities, and, attempting to do so serves no religious purpose. Furthermore, both the material church culture and the overarching church culture reflect the hyperreal aspect of the contemporary cowboy church. For example, both chur ches I visited had small bands that played a mixture of old spirituals, popular songs that had been adapted to have a Christian message, and popular songs that already had Christian message. During the presentation of these songs, no effort was made to dif ferentiate among the origins of the music, but all three types of songs were used in the church service. Perhaps even more important than the music ministry is the arena ministry. At both churches, the arena ministry is seen as a key area of outreach that is used to evangelize to members of the community. Rodeo derived events are preceded with prayer and a sermon, and it is required that participants listen to the message in order to participate in the cowboy event. Arena ministries seek to combine rodeo c ulture with 42 I would argue this is seen in all cowboy culture, not just churches, and is not intended to be a critique of their religious efforts. For example, I would argue that the commercializ ation of rodeo and the fact that many ranchers move to more mechanized forms of ranch management also attest to this shift to hyperreality. Ibid., 6.
114 Christianity to bring people into the church. However, as previously discussed, rodeo emerged from both historical cowboy play and Wild West show culture. In cowboy churches, rodeo culture becomes imbued with Christianity, but no attention is p aid to the origins of arena and rodeo culture itself. At this junction, the culture exists and, as such, can be molded to contain a Christian message. Baudrillard discusses that assumes its full meaning .T his is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us a strategy of the real, of the neoreal, and the hyperreal that everywhere is the double 43 Nostalgia for the past ties into the mythic aspect of the cowboy church and how it can serve as a model of the culture by influencing people to attend. The material culture of the cowboy church i s the most visible indicator of hybridity and simulacra, and creates an atmosphere in which myth and history are simultaneously repre sented and from which the culture of contemporary cowboy Christianity emerges. Materialism in these churches is on display in the form of crosses made from old horseshoes and Bibles containing introductions directed at those involved in the western heritag e lifestyle. Cowboy churches are intentionally rustic churches. They typically have gravel parking lots and concrete floors so that individuals don't have to be concerned with tracking dirt or manure into the church. R ustic decorations, the use of common c owboy objects such as bales of hay, and open spaces appeal to the sensibility of men who spend significant amounts of time working outside or to those who associate cowboy culture with activities that use these objects. 43 Ibid., 6 7.
115 Casual dress is an important compon ent of cowboy churches. C hurches have no formal dress code, and individuals are allowed to wear their hats throughout the entire service, with the exception of during the brief prayers at the beginning and conclusion of each service. B oots and hats are bot h present and prevalent at church services and related activities. For some, this reflects their daily work wardrobe, while, for others, it is a chance to dress like a cowboy and express their attraction to the aesthetics of the culture. However, as an out side participant observer, I generally could not determine where individuals fit on this continuum without asking them directly. Through both their own decoration and the wardrobe choices of congregants, cowboy churches represent this hybridity of cultures Baudrillard touches upon the manner in which popular culture uch is the watershed of a hyperreal sociality, in which the real is confused with the model, as in the statistical operation, or with the 44 In the cowboy church, myth, history, and rural culture are intermixed to the point that it is difficult to separate the individual aspects or to validate where customs and culture originate. However, it is precisely this hybridity and openness to the mixing o f different aspects of culture that allow them to reach such a wide audience. Baudrillard begins a useful discussion of hyperreality and simulacra which is elaborated upon by Canclini, who is predominantly concerned with identity construction, transnation of the collections that are used to organize cultural systems, the territorialization of 44 Ibid., 29.
116 45 To conclude this discussion of hybridity and cowboy churches, I am interested specifically in his ideas concerning the territorialization and expansion of impure genres. Canclini's work is primarily concerned with the city. This focus, I argue, is where modernist impulses still cloud his work. As a theorist, he makes dichotomous assumptions about technology and the city while dismissing the rural as being unaffected by hybridity. However, as I have e xplained in this paper, cowboy churches demonstrate that hybridization and media also affect culture in rural areas. The rural cannot be separated from the urban because the rural is constructed and nostalgic, as exemplified by the cowboy being a pervasive cultural figure that emerged from film studios in suburban Hollywood. These films create a feedback mechanism, and the cowboy church is constructed not only to include the mythic, but also to include rural individuals who set themselves apart from how the y perceive the city. Therefore, I suggest that it is necessary to apply Canclini's theory to rural environments. Hybridity and Media How do hybridity and media affect cowboy churches? Canclini points out that ffect to television that shapes how communities view themselves and interact. 46 He goes on to explain that, M ore than an absolute substitution of urban life by the audiovisual media, I perceive a game of echoes. The commercial advertising and political slog ans we see on television are those that we reencounter in the streets, and vice versa: the ones are echoed in the others. To this circularity of the 45 Op. Cit. Canclini 207. 46 Ibid., 211.
117 communicational and the urban are subordinated the testimonies of their history and the public meaning cons tructed in longtime experience. 47 This quote makes evident both the idea of the hyperreal and the symbolic models of/for culture. Canclini criticizes Geertz for linking cultural systems with territory, which hybridity rejects. However, this doesn't mean tha t Canclini doesn't portray the possibility for symbols to serve as models of/for in hybrid cultures. 48 The hermeneutic circle of symbols suggested by Geertz, in which symbols represent the object itself, is similar to the game of echoes, although the latter is deterritorialized. It is for this reason that I feel that Canclini contributes valuable concepts to this discussion. In cowboy churches, there are no localized symbols. Once again, I refer to the conversations I had with the two pastors. Although they focus on different dimensions of cowboy culture one looks at the pop cultural and the other at an idyllic history both treat the cowboy as a an American figure. The examples they provide do not touch upon their local culture, but, instead, speak to gene ralizations about the cowboy. In generalizing him, he is presented as a deterritorialized figure who exists somewhere in the greater American West. 49 By being mythic, historical, and contemporary, the cowboy is a figure so hybrid that symbols of him typical ly refer to other symbols. As I've mentioned earlier, I question the possibility of ever stabilizing these cowboy symbols by separating the mythic from the historical. However, I do not believe this matters in cowboy churches, which are religious games of echoes for rural 47 Ibid., 212. 48 Ibid., 223. 49 Once again this is reminiscent of Frederick Jackson Turner however in this instance the American West is deterritorialized in that it is mythic, and is difficult to map. Also, since cowboy culture exists in other countries, including Mexico, Canada, and Australia, I would argue that he's even further deterritorialized. However, the pastors I interviewed treated him as American, so I will refer to him as such even though I believe the international aspect merits further study.
118 communities. Rural culture encounters the culture of the western genre and the historical cowboy after it is filtered through the theology of conservative Protestantism. What emerges is a Christian community that blurs history, reality, a nd myth. These churches then utilize material and cultural aspects of this hybridity to reach individuals interests are crossed with historical, aesthetic, and communicat to worship. 50 Conclusion The broad scope of topics associated with cowboy churches can be analyzed from multiple angles and a range of theoretica l perspectives. This is just one reading of my ethnographic work. During the time I spent in these church communities, myth, masculinity, and the negotiation of identity construction were the most prevalent themes. By incorporating my ethnography into the larger theoretical conversation on these topics, I call attention to how these themes shape the identity of this newly developed and rapidly growing Protestant movement and its role in the greater scholarly realm. Presented in this manner, it becomes appar ent that the contemporary cowboy church movement is a cultural religious movement shaped by different versions of the trope of the cowboy, and which is mediated by both masculinity and popular culture. In the next chapter, I will offer a summary of my work ideas for further avenues for research on this subject, and why studying cowboy churches matters for the field of religious studies. 50 Ibid., 222.
119 CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH Introduction and Summary In this thesis I have argued that the success of cont emporary cowboy churches can be explained through how they create a hybrid culture using historical conceptions of the cowboy, popular culture, and evangelical Protestantism. Within this larger discussion, I have looked at how churches address material cul ture, masculinity and myth, and the interplay between these concepts by offering ethnographic findings from my time spent in two Texas cowboy churches. In this chapter, I will review the central components of each chapter and will suggest future directions for cowboy church research, and discuss how my work contributes to the fields of religious and cultural studies. In the introduction, I set out to define what cowboy churches are while laying out the direction of my project and the questions I intended to answer. My literature review highlighted the shortcomings of the work of western historians, who have largely ignored the role religion played in the West. In doing this, I situated my work as one of many studies necessary to close this gap in knowledge. I also alluded to the gendered aspects of cowboy churches. Next, I briefly discussed my theoretical orientation by focusing on the social function of myth, hybridity, as well as lived religion, which guided my approach to fieldwork. Then I explained my met hodology for choosing Big Bend Cowboy Church and Cowboy Fellowship from among the hundreds of existent cowboy churches before I provided a succinct history of the two congregations. After offering a bit of autobiographical context, I presented my thesis an d an outline of my argument.
120 In the first chapter, I addressed how the cowboy has become entrenched in the historical narrative of the United States. To accomplish this, I focused on the difficulty scholars face when attempting to geographically and define the American West. After having defined which states constitute the American West, I looked at the history of working cowboys in this region before I addressed how the popular perception of that lifestyle changed with the emergence of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Rodeo and popular culture representations of the cowboy. Next, I reviewed at the lives of modern day cowboys whose culture has been shaped by myth and popular culture as well as by history. I discussed the gaps in contemporary literature that result i n a nebulous definition of the contemporary cowboy culture and that also inadequately broaches how it is shaped by both myth and regionalism. I went on to address the religious history of cowboys as well as historical groups dedicated to evangelizing to th is demographic. Lastly, I focused on the history and goals of the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches because both churches I studied are affiliated with this particular group. In the second chapter, I offered my ethnographic work. There, I reviewed con gregational histories and analyzed data compiled during my study of two AFCC cowboy churches in Texas. In this comparison, I painted a picture of the similarities and differences between the two churches before I concluded that the similarities far outweig h the differences. To accomplish this comparison, I employed my fieldwork, in the form of interviews and observations conducted in Summer 2012, to discuss the major themes of cowboy churches. Prevailing themes included material culture, how myth is negotia ted within the churches, and the role masculinity plays within the communities. When discussing Big Bend Cowboy Church and Cowboy Fellowship, I
121 focused on the material construction of the church, how congregants dressed, the ministries offered by the churc h, the music used during services, and church sponsored events. On the more individual level, I delved into how congregants view themselves and their church community by paying attention to issues of gender and self understanding of western heritage in ord er to determine the role religion plays in congregant's lives and how they orient themselves within the world. In approaching the cowboy church at both the institutional and personal level, I highlighted the complexity of the movement and the individuals w ho are active in it. Lastly, I addressed congregational differences in order to emphasize the diversity of the movement and how each church adapted the doctrines and culture to fit the needs of their communities. In doing so, I confronted issues such as co ngregation size, geographical location, and the goals of the leadership of these churches, all of which create distinct differences in the communities. In the third chapter, I analyzed my fieldwork using theories from religious and cultural studies in ord er to discuss how the myth of the cowboy creates a trope used to inform religious and social culture, how cowboy churches fit into the larger literature of masculine Christian movements in the United States, and how identity is constructed in these churche s through hybrid means. I began with a discussion of myth by drawing on the work of Mircea Eliade, J.Z. Smith, Bruce Lincoln, and Thomas Tweed. Through this discussion, I determined that the cowboy is a culturally orienting trope that serves as a signifier of what the church culture is to outsiders and potential congregants. Next, using the work of Michael Kimmel, I addressed how the myth of the cowboy transforms him into a masculine figure within the American consciousness. Having done this, I briefly
122 disc ussed the history of other masculine focused Christian movements including muscular Christianity and the Promise Keepers. My reason for doing so was to explain why cowboy churches place such emphasis on reaching out to men. Lastly, I engaged in a discussio n that draws upon the work of cultural studies scholars including Clifford Geertz, Jan Nederveen Pieterse, Jean Baudrillard, and Nstor Garca Canclini because, together, their body of work sheds light on how media and culture influence the construction of identity. This discussion of identity and hybridity highlighted the multiple roles played by the cowboy as a mythic, historical, and contemporary figure. The multifaceted nature of this figure, especially in conversation with an emphasis on masculinity, e xplains why these churches are successful in creating a niche among other churches in rural areas. Having provided an overview of this thesis, I will now discuss other potential avenues for studying cowboy churches. Shaping the Field Although my discussio n of cowboy churches only begins to explore their complex existence and history, it fills important gaps in the history of the American West, as well as in the fields of cultural studies and religion. As I've previously discussed, New Western Historians ha ve understudied both religion and the cowboy. By addressing both topics, I've reintroduced the cowboy to western historians and acknowledged that his historical and contemporary role goes beyond that of a working and pop cultural figure. In turn, my cont ribution to cultural studies is to challenge scholars of hybridity and postmodernism to end their dichotomous assumptions about the metropolitan and the rural. For too long, scholars have dismissed the rural as being unaffected by hybridity. This privilegi ng of the urban ignores crucial aspects of the interplay between the two
123 concepts, especially in an era marked by advances in technology and cultural exchange. As I've demonstrated, cowboy churches embody hybrid concepts including the mixing of pop culture and history within sacred space that simultaneously is influenced by and resists the urban. To dismiss the rural as untouched by hybridity causes scholars to miss a crucial dimension of sociocultural interactions. It is my hope that my work helps scholars to abandon the modernist, dichotomous approach to both the city and rural areas in order to construct a more nuanced cultural theory. I view my largest contribution to be in the field of religious studies. My conversation on cowboy churches contributes t o the growing discussion of religion in the West as well as American masculine Christianity. By presenting cowboy churches in relation to the culture they are trying to simultaneously preserve and emulate, I situate my work in the discussion of western rel igion, which destabilizes the traditionally New England and Southern centric narratives of religion in the United States. By looking to better understand the role religion plays in the American West, both historically and in the contemporary era, scholars can develop a better understanding concerning how regional culture and identity shape religious life. Finally, my work on the cowboy church and masculine culture contributes to the ongoing discussion of the role gender plays in religious life. By comparing and contrasting cowboy churches with other masculine Christian movements, I've shed light on how and why Protestant groups, historically and in the present day, place such importance on male church involvement. Adding cowboy churches to this discussion hi ghlights how rural churches are able to reach out to this particular demographic while building church communities that are not exclusively male. There is still much to learn about cowboy churches.
124 Future Directions In undertaking this thesis on cowboy ch urches, I knew that I would not be able to address every angle of cowboy church culture. There are still many aspects of cowboy church culture that deserve attention including churches that are affiliated with other cowboy ministry organizations/denominati ons, Spanish language cowboy churches in the United States, and cowboy churches in other parts of the world including Canada, Mexico, and Australia. Simply put, the scope of this project can easily be expanded to gain a more complete picture of the wider c owboy church movement. Perhaps the most obvious path to take is to incorporate other cowboy church groups besides the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches into the conversation. Groups and churches affiliated with Save the Cowboy, Cowboy Ministers Netwo rk (CMN), International Cowboy Church Alliance Network (ICCAN), Fellowship of Christian Cowboys (FCC), Cowboys for Christ, and the Cowboy Church Network of North America (CCNNA) are just a few of the growing number of Christian cowboy ministries and church organizations. Including other groups in this discussion will allow scholars to be exposed to a wider cross section of cowboy culture encompassing different regional identities. Doing so will also shed more light concerning whether or not denominational a ffiliation is as inconsequential as the two churches I visited claim it to be. One of the components of the spread of cowboy churches is Spanish language cowboy churches, or iglesias vaqueras, in the United States. These churches share the same goal as th eir English speaking counterparts, but attempt to reach an even broader audience by ministering to vaqueros in their native tongue. In a recent interview, Charles Higgs of the Baptist General Convention of Texas states that the BGCT's goal
125 1 At this time, there are two churches with the vaquero name affiliated with the AFCC, and potentially numerous others that are either independent or associated with other organizations. I believe that study ing these churches will not only shed light on another side of cowboy culture, but will also explore how predominantly Anglo organizations evangelize to people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. In addition to the growing number of cowboy min istries and churches in the Western and Southern United States, there are also cowboy churches in Canada, Mexico, Australia, and other countries. My interest in these churches is similar to my interest in Spanish language churches. That is, I would like to explore how cowboy culture differs in other regions and countries, and the effect this has on church culture and outreach tactics. This direction of study will also be an opportunity to further explore the process of identity construction and how it relat es to the blending of history and popular culture. Additionally, focusing on international cowboy churches presents the opportunity to explore how transnational networks, if they exist, function in cowboy churches, and the cultures of spiritual and economi c exchange that exist between these transnational church organizations. Simply stated, my work on the cowboy church is far from over. In this chapter, I have briefly summarized how my thesis explored the contemporary cowboy church movement while arguing t hat the success of these churches can be explained through how they create a hybrid culture using historical conceptions of the cowboy, popular culture, and evangelical Protestantism. After 1 Fort Worth, Texas: The City's Magazine, March 5, 2012, Accessed January 29, 2013. http://fwtx.com/articles/boots hallowed ground
126 summarizing, I elaborated on the ways in which my study contribute s to scholarship in religious and cultural studies as well as gender studies. Additionally, I've provided a few brief examples of future directions for expanding this project on cowboy churches both nationally and internationally. It is my hope to continue studying cowboy churches in an attempt to chronicle this fascinating contemporary religious and cultural movement.
127 LIST OF REFERENCES Adams, Ramon F. The Old Time Cowhand. New York: Macmillan, 1961. Fellowship of Cowboy Churches http://www.americanfcc.org/index.cfm --Accessed September 17, 2012. http://www.americanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=2088 --2012. http: //www.americanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=2074&content_id=386#attached_con tent --http://www.americanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=2053 --Ac cessed October 2012, http://www.americanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=2002 --. h ttp://www.americanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=2074 --Accessed September 17, 2012. http://www.americanfcc.org/content.cfm?id=200 New York Times April 27, 1987, accessed October 7, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/1987/04/27/us/church just like home to cowboys.html?src=pm Altherr, Thoma s of the American West in Wild Wanted Dead or Alive: The American West in Popular Culture, edited by Richard Aquila, 73 104. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996. Ammerma n, Nancy Tatom. Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990. Montana: The Magazine of Western History Vol. 11, No. 4 (Autumn, 1961): 2 17. Wanted Dead or Alive: The American West in Popular Culture, edited by Richard Aquila, 1 16. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
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137 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Sarah Moczygemba is originally from San Anto nio, Texas and is an unapologetic Texan at heart. She received her B.A. in Political Science from Trinity University in 2009 and her M.A. in Religion from the University of Florida in 2013. Currently, she is pursuing a doctorate in religion, and hopes to c ontinue her study of Christian cowboys.