"If It Wasn't for the Women.": Black Women's Experience and Womanist Culture in Church and Community

Article excerpt

"If It Wasn't for the Women . . . ": Black Women's Experience and Womanist Culture in Church and Community. By Cheryl Townsend Gilkes. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2001. viii + 253 pp. $24.00 (paper).

African American women and the welfare of the black church and community are inextricably linked. However, the imprint of African American women's ministerial leadership is often obscured behind church structures and the podium and pulpit of male preachers and politicians. As the title implies, Cheryl Townsend Gilkes declares, "If it wasn't for the women you wouldn't have a church!" (p. 1).

This collection of essays provides a number of lenses through which leadership patterns of African American women and their roles in their churches and communities are uncovered and examined. Gilkes contends that the leadership of African American women has played a major role in shaping African American political and religious life. This leadership does not emerge without struggle and acquires its unique character in tension with the triple jeopardy of race, class, and gender. Taken further, Gilkes states, "the wisdom that comes from the responses of African-American women to their sufferings, if taken seriously by God and society, has the power to transform the world" (p. 196). Here lies the import of this book.

The are four parts to the book: The Community Connection; Church Women and Their Work; Womanist Culture; and Crises, Confrontations, and Conflicts. These parts work together to provide an overview of the development, experience, and implication of African American women's roles in their churches and communities.

The "Community Connection" examines the history, relationships, and traditions of African American women and their community organizations and institutions. Here the discussion of the historic intersection of race, class, and gender provides a helpful background. …