Righteous Content: Black Women's Perspectives of Church and Faith

Righteous Content: Black Women's Perspectives of Church and Faith

Righteous Content: Black Women's Perspectives of Church and Faith

Righteous Content: Black Women's Perspectives of Church and Faith


"Daphne Wiggins has made a major contribution to our understanding of the religion, wisdom, and social power of African American women. This book should be required reading for church leaders, seminary professors, and sociologists of American religion who often take Black women's religiosity for granted. Wiggins offers us that rare gift found in the finest ethnographic studies, a vivid sense of the inner world of the people in their own voices. I learned something new on every page. A tour de force of insight and lively writing chock full of practical suggestions for improving church life." - Robert M. Franklin, author of Another Day's Journey: Black Churches Confronting the American Crisis

"Offers laity, clergy and scholars a fresh angle of vision on the black church. Wiggins interviews contemporary black lay women and provides an empathetic description and incisive analysis of why black women are loyal to the black church.Taking seriously the women's theological reasons as well as sociological factors, her analysis is evenhanded yet provocative. Daphne Wiggins challenges scholars and members of the black church to move in new directions in this new millennium. The book has value for both the classroom and the pew." - Marcia Y. Riggs, J. Erskine Love Professor of Christian Ethics, Columbia Theological Seminary

"Wiggins is offering us a legacy, something to help us understand in historical reflection why women are where they are, despite and because of the internal workings of black churches.... I am grateful for this important intervention into the study of black women's religious experiences. It offers us yet another opportunity to interpret the religious worlds of women whose lives are often unexamined." - The North Star

"This highly-readable book will be a valuable addition to library collections." - Choice

"This intriguing study is a step in the right direction toward unraveling the key mechanisms interconnecting black female religiosity and church participation." - Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

Enter most African American congregations and you are likely to see the century-old pattern of a predominantly female audience led by a male pastor. How do we explain the dedication of African American women to the church, particularly when the church's regard for women has been questioned? Following in the footsteps of Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham's pathbreaking work,Righteous Discontent, Daphne Wiggins takes a contemporary look at the religiosity of black women. Her ethnographic work explores what is behind black women's intense loyalty to the church, bringing to the fore the voices of the female membership of black churches as few have done. Wiggins illuminates the spiritual sustenance the church provides black women, uncovers their critical assessment of the church's ministry, and interprets the consequences of their limited collective activism. Wiggins paints a vivid portrait of what lived religion is like in black women's lives today.


Enter most African American congregations and you are likely to see male pastors standing before predominantly female audiences. This pattern has been characteristic of the Black Church since the late nineteenth century. Female-majority congregations in America were evident among New England Puritans even earlier, beginning in the midseventeenth century. Throughout the eighteenth century, the increase in female membership was so pronounced in “mainline” Protestantism that American Christianity became characterized as sentimentalized, feminized, and domesticated. The historian Ann Douglas attributes this change to the disestablishment of Protestantism in the colonies. With the tie between church and state legally severed, Christianity's influence on the public was diminished. Markedly fewer men entered the clergy, financial support for the church decreased, women's role in the economic and intellectual spheres declined, theology responded more to domestic issues than public matters, and men became increasingly absent from church participation. This trend, which began in the pre-Revolution era, was a fixture of American Protestant liberalism by the end of the nineteenth century. The Black Church would manifest the same phenomenon of male absenteeism throughout the twentieth century, albeit for different reasons.

The Black Church of the twenty-first century is similar to, yet distinct from, white Protestantism in regard to gender participation. Like its white counterpart, it attracts a large female constituency, depends upon voluntary female labor, has a male-dominated clergy, and affirms traditional sex roles as biblically sanctioned in much of its preaching. It also shares common theological elements, denominationally specific liturgical styles, and a range of polity structures with mainline denominations. The uniqueness of the Black Church can be found in its social origins and in its commitment to a liberating theology that seeks to transform individuals . . .

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