Is the leadership in the black church complicit in the perpetuation of dominance and oppression?

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Robin Rachelle Cox Gillespie (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
H. Svi Shapiro

Abstract: This dissertation investigates the relationship between church leadership and parishioners and hypothesizes that the leadership in the black church is complicit in the perpetuation of dominating and oppressive behaviors within the communities that are directly and indirectly served by the church. Chapter I chronicles socio-economic patterns in black church leadership from the time of slavery to the 21st Century and documents probable reasons and purposes for the behaviors of leaders. Issues concerning power and dominance, denominationalism, racism, classism, and sexism are integral to the investigation. Two central questions arise: (1) "Does the religious leadership of the black church unknowingly train congregations to internalize negative feelings, connotations, and behaviors regarding critical reflection, critical thinking, and critical questioning." (2) "Is this lack of critical questioning detrimental to a forward movement of liberation and social justice for African American people?" Chapter II reviews the concepts of authority, power, and commodification as they relate to the silencing and injustice encountered when followers fail to voice their criticisms or other opinions. The concepts of authoritarianism and free-market fundamentalism as described by Cornel West in Democracy Matters (2004) are used to interrogate the relationship between leadership and parishioner and to determine the degree to which parishioners are encouraged to reflect upon and to question practices and behaviors of the leadership. Chapter III reports the results of the interviews with five black church leaders who reflected on their own practices. They were questioned about who influenced them, their accepted philosophy of leadership, their relationships with "others", and their efforts to bring about social justice in their communities. Female and male black church leaders were interviewed in an effort to illuminate typical trends and patterns regarding leadership styles, attitudes toward critical questioning, and social justice practices. They were also asked to reflect upon their methods for promoting interaction among the congregation. It was determined that mentorship, self-identification, interaction and relationship have the ability to affect how leaders view, interact, and work for others. The general conclusions addressed personal, economic, and spiritual concepts that create complex situations when determining the needs of the people versus the needs of the self. The concluding chapter reviews each chapter's themes and issues a call to action that involves a paradigm shift from asking for change from the leaders to asking for change from the followers. The church body will renew their ability to imagine that which seems impossible (Caputo, 2001), will use the voice to speak out for alternative ways of worship (Cox, 1973), will question and examine practices of the leaders, and will accept new beginnings (Brueggemann, 2001) that engage the prophetic and transformational rather than maintain the stagnant and conventional ways of worshiping.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2009
Black Church, Classism, Dominance, Leadership, Oppression, Social Justice
African American clergy $x Attitudes.
African American churches $x Political aspects.
African American leadership.
Social control $x Religious aspects.
Social justice.

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