This dissertation is about the voices of women in Christian preaching as it relates to the mainline, protestant churches. The argument recognizes that women have been adding their voices to the proclamation of the gospel for as long as there has been a gospel to proclaim, but that only in the last half-century have these voices become part of the official catalogue of Christian preaching. Before that time, as demonstrated in the first chapter, women found alternative places and ways to speak aloud the truth they were called to proclaim. Since that time little attention has been given to the differences that women bring to the proclamation of the gospel, as difference is influenced by gender.
By using the linguistic concept of register, developed by M. A. K. Halliday and refined by John Frow, the dissertation will provide a gender analysis of preaching that does not rely on essentialist claims about those who self identify as women or men and that does not focus predominantly on the content of the sermon. Using the variables field, tenor, and mode, register allows an analysis of the preaching event that moves beyond content to include the relational dynamics operating between the communicating parties and the medium employed for the communication. Field refers to both the subject matter and the ongoing social processes of the subject; tenor defines the relationship between the communicating parties; and mode describes the form of the semiotic medium. The three variables, field, tenor, and mode, are determinates that, when taken together, shape the meaning, the register, of a particular communication.
Register, thus, provides a tool for analyzing not only the theological and semantic contributions of women to preaching, but also how gender impacts the meaning-making possibilities of the sermon. In the third and fourth chapters I will provide a detailed gender analysis for each variable position and explain its relationship to the preaching of women. Drawing on the work of Rebecca Chopp, I will demonstrate that women preachers are necessary for a more authentic proclamation of the gospel. The fifth chapter will assess the academic work and examine some sermons from a select group of homileticians, Christine Smith, Lucy Lind Hogan, Anna Carter Florence, Mary Catherine Hilkert, and John McClure, in order to demonstrate the claims of the dissertation.
Taking the contributions of these scholars to the field of homiletics and putting them in conversation with the claims of Rebecca Chopp will lead in the last chapter to a new register for preaching more inclusive of the particular meanings that women bring to the preaching event. When new meanings become part of the preaching paradigm, the production of meaning within the church begins to shift, creating new ways of imaging our relationships to one another and to God. Recognizing the distinctiveness that women's voices bring to the church's proclamation enables all of us to know more fully these transformative possibilities.