Preacher's Daughter: An Introduction

My name is Kristin Rawls, and, yes, I am a preacher’s daughter. I’m in my early 30s, and I was raised in an unusual blend of Protestant traditions. The preacher (my dad) grew up in the Southern Baptist church, got “saved” during the Pentecostal-influenced “Jesus movement” of the 1970s and ultimately settled in a mainline (not fundamentalist) tradition. My family practiced a confusing mix of them all. The result? I became pretty cynical about the whole thing.

This blog series is named after blueswoman Michelle Malone’s song, “Preacher’s Daughter” (transcript here):

As we know, Christianity and other historically patriarchal religions often conflict with feminist perspectives. Notwithstanding this traditional anti-feminism and that of the Christian Right, feminist discussions about faith are too often dominated by the dogmatism of radical feminists like Mary Daly.

Since I love thinking and writing about music, I thought it would be a great jumping-off point for juxtaposing my third wave feminism with discussions about spirituality. I will mostly cover Christian spirituality and agnosticism because these are what I know best, and I’m not inclined to venture prominently into a tradition that isn’t mine.

To give you a sense of what this series will look like from day to day, here’s a small sampling of topics I’m hoping to cover over the next eight weeks, in no particular order:

  • Americana artist Gillian Welch is part of a genre that is deeply informed by a masculine, conservative Christian religious tradition. With partner David Rawlings, Welch has a history of writing sad songs that incorporate the Baptist-influenced fire-and-brimstone ideology that permeates her genre. Her new album, The Harrow and the Harvest, is a spectacularly bleak take on Christian spirituality, and I’ll think about what that means from a feminist perspective.
  • Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley often writes songs that are prefaced, as her song title goes, on “The Absence of God.” That song, along with “More Adventurous,” bring a unique take on agnosticism to bear on feminism. I’ll think about the kind of spiritual practice that seems to arise from this sort of spirituality.
  • Contemporary Christian Music (a genre unto itself called CCM) is mostly terrible. But the music of some of its biggest stars, like MercyMe and Laura Story, provides insight into the evangelical Christian understanding of a male god. I hope to deconstruct this male conception of god and critique the essentialist assumptions it makes about gender.
  • John Darnielle, the man behind The Mountain Goats, identifies as a feminist, and often writes music influenced by his Catholic roots. This music is overwhelmingly narrated by a male character who either (1) hates his female partner or (2) desires a perfect, unattainable female partner as a means of spiritual release or affirmation. So, Darnielle identifies as a feminist, but what do his lyrics say about women? And what is the function of faith?

I’ll be singling out some musicians that I love, and some that I don’t love, for critique, praise, interpretation or some variation on these. I also hope to work one or two artist Q&As into the mix at some point.

Here are a few things to know about me before we get started:

I am a secular person who writes from a secular perspective. It’s not that I’m against religion per se, but I usually refer to myself as an agnostic. I sometimes use “Christian agnostic.” Once in a while, I even call myself a Christian. It’s not that my beliefs coincide with what most understand as Christianity, but I’m too stubborn to cede exclusive rights to the word to the Christian Right. Plus, I think I’ll always be culturally Christian in the sense that I find the stories and images in the Bible meaningful and compelling.

I really love music. It sounds trite because I am not actually a musician, and doesn’t everyone love music? I’m not exceptional in this way, but I am a devoted fan to almost everything. Hailing from the Southeast, I especially love American roots music: blues, Americana, alt country, roots rock, even bluegrass. This music will probably feature prominently, though I plan to include a broad range of genres, including electronica, rap, pop, soul and others.

I’m no expert in either music or religion, but I’m really excited to be here over the next eight weeks. I think this will be fun, and I hope you enjoy the series!

Previously: Douchebag Decree: Forgive Me Father For You Are a Douchebag, A black Muslim, a priest, and an Episcopalian walk into a bar…

by Kristin Rawls
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9 Comments Have Been Posted

I would really love if

I would really love if someone started a column that wasn't another desperate grab to reconcile feminism and Christianity and instead examined atheism within the movement. Not, "I'm an atheist that happens to be a feminist" but how both complement each other. After so-called Elevatorgate where any woman who dared bring up sexism in defensive comments was immediately labeled a Feminazi, the commentary is very much needed. Just like Libertarians, atheists are becoming an organized movement among themselves dominated by the old white male status quo and justifying that by openly scorning what they perceive as political correctness.

status quo

Thanks for your feedback, Anonymous, but I hardly think Kristin's series could be considered a "desperate grab to reconcile feminism and Christianity," especially since 1) Kristin identifies as secular and will be talking about things from that perspective and 2) this is the introductory post so you don't know what she will and won't be covering. However, this is a blog about feminism, music, and spirituality/religion, so though you have every right to wish for a series about the white male status quo and how it permeates the Atheist movement (a topic which, by the way, Bitch has <a href=""target="_blank">covered recently</a>) this isn't the place for for such requests.

*frenetic hand claps* I'm

*frenetic hand claps* I'm very excited about this! Looking forward especially to your reading of The Mountain Goats.


Hey Kristin.

Really excited to see a religiously-literate, critical take on spirituality and music here at Bitch. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with :)

This sounds right up my alley --

-- and I'm really looking forward to it. Can't wait!

This lurker is pretty psyched

This lurker is pretty psyched to see discussion of The Mountain Goats + spirituality + feminism, and I think it definitely has potential to be amazing and interesting and make me think a lot. My fangirl hackles are somewhat raised by the assertion that John Darnielle's lyrics “overwhelmingly” involve a male narrator hating and/or idealizing to an unhealthy degree a female romantic interest. Honestly? I think that this statement is demonstrably false – the majority of The Mountain Goats' material, particularly their most recent stuff, discusses things other than romantic relationships most of the time. When it does discuss romantic relationships, even remarkably dysfunctional ones, it's a lot more nuanced than that. One can cherry pick songs that meet this criteria simply because there are tons and tons of songs... Which is not to say that there is no problematic stuff in the Mountain Goats catalog that's worth examining, but I think you're mischaracterizing this music on the whole.

I do think it's important though to examine what role a feminist or feminist ally male artist can or should play, and that The Mountain Goats' music is an interesting means to do that. I think that by virtue of his self-identification as a feminist, it's fair to hold Darnielle to a pretty darn high standard. Simply by being male, there's a limit on what music of feminist value John Darnielle is capable of producing – it's arguable that he simply can't contribute anything through his songwriting, although I wouldn't go quite that far. But quite simply, "what [cis-gendered male person] says about women" is automatically not going to be particularly enlightening on a feminist level. I'll save the rest of my thoughts until that post.

Wow, this looks like it's

Wow, this looks like it's going to be amazing, Kristin.

lookin' forward to it

As a product of a hyper-evangelical home, I'm looking forward to getting your take on things!

Thank you for the song, and

Thank you for the song, and also for the reference to Gillian Welch - I'm an atheist, and frankly I think I read a bit too much along the feminist lines about the modern American Christianity :) (just too sad, really), but music is a different matter. I suspect she comes in your category "those I love" :)

Anyway, thanks, and looking forward to your future posts!

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