Women of Righteous Discontent

What is the traditional role of black women in the church?

The membership of the black church is composed mainly of women. Even so, too few hold formal positions in ministerial and lay leadership. Ironically, even though the black church was established in response to discrimination in the larger culture, it has not fully ensured gender equality. Some studies say that “men occupy the pulpits while women are relegated to the pews.” Women have worked through parallel and auxiliary organizations—some of them founded because of the denial of equal participation of women in the black church—to develop organizational and leadership skills. Women have filled roles that churches themselves claim to fill, such as advocacy work, work for social change, and social service work in the community. The megachurches are no exception, for they, too, have yet to give women equal access to formal positions of ministerial leadership. Some churches cite scriptures as justification for keeping women from the pulpit: “Let your women keep silent in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (1 Corinthians 14:34). Although, traditionally, black women have protested their subordinate roles in the church, some writers conclude that “there is a strong tradition of patriarchy and discrimination in black churches and black megachurches.”


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