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The Role of African American Women in the Black Church

Faith is a strong guiding force in the lives of many African American women. And for all that they receive from their spiritual communities, they give back even more. In fact, black women have long been regarded as the backbone of the black church. But their extensive and significant contributions are made as lay leaders, not as religious heads of churches.

The congregations of African American churches are predominantly women, and the pastors of African American churches are nearly all male.

Why arent black women serving as spiritual leaders? What do black female churchgoers think? And despite this apparent gender inequity in the black church, why does church life continue to be so important to so many black women?

Daphne C. Wiggins, former assistant professor of congregational studies at Duke Divinity School, pursued this line of questioning and in 2004 published Righteous Content: Black Womens Perspectives of Church and Faith. The book revolves around two main questions:

To find out the answers, Wiggins sought out women who attended churches representing two of the largest black denominations in the U.S., interviewing 38 women from Calvary Baptist Church and Layton Temple Church of God in Christ, both in Georgia. The group was diverse in age, occupation, and marital status.

Marla Frederick of Harvard University, writing in The North Star: A Journal of African-American Religious History reviewed Wiggins book and observed:

...Wiggins explores what women give and receive in their reciprocal alliance with the church....[She] examines how women themselves understand the mission of the black the center of political and social life for African Americans. While women are still committed to the historic social work of the church, they are increasingly concerned about individual spiritual transformation. According to Wiggins, “the interpersonal, emotional or spiritual needs of church and community members were primary in the women’s minds, ahead of systemic or structural injustices”....


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