Onward Christian Administrators
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American Protestants adopted organizational efficiency as a spiritual virtue in the first three decades of the twentieth century. Driven by a devotional impulse to manage and systematize the practice of their faith, they hardened the boundaries of membership in their religious communities around formal administrative attachments. However, the resulting church organizations proved inhospitable to many Protestants who sought to express their spiritual identity through other ways than administration. Thus the organizational revolution precipitated religious friction and permanently realigned the Protestant landscape in the United States. Inspired by practices in the business world around them, Protestants began reorganizing their churches around the turn of the twentieth century. They consolidated their missionary, educational and benevolence agencies; they integrated local, regional and national expressions of church life; and they organized these diverse activities under centrally-administered systems of management and control. This organizational revolution produced important consequences. First, the expanding domain of church administration opened new opportunities for women to pursue valued religious work, for Protestants did not view administration as inherently masculine work. They eventually removed longstanding barriers against women's ordination. Yet the same administrative impulse downgraded the meaning of ordination, stripping it of the sacral significance it had previously held. Thus, traditional notions of women's subordination persisted even as women began occupying ecclesiastical positions that were previously open only to men. Second, many Protestants placed doctrine above formal organizational attachment as the basis for religious communion. They became disenchanted when efficiency-minded church leaders cast aside their theological concerns in the name of administration. Schism ensued, which marked the beginning of permanent realignments in American Protestantism.Historians typically frame the religious controversies of the 1920s and `30s within a narrative of two warring camps--the so-called fundamentalists and modernists. They also position women within a largely separate historical narrative. This dissertation resituates these developments within the broader story of the contentious organizational revolution, which shifted gendered understandings of religious work. Ardent Protestants driven by their differing theological views--men and women alike--were not the polar opposites they are often portrayed to be. They became casualties of the gospel of efficiency.