Make Us a Power: African-American Methodists Debate the Rights of Women, 1870-1900
WOMEN AND RELIGION IN THE AFRICAN DIASPORA, R. Marie Griffith and Barbara D. Savage, eds., Johns HopkinsUniversity Press, 2006
Posted: 7 Nov 2010
Date Written: 2006
The relationship between black Methodists and broader publics is this essay’s central concern. While these religious activists were bound together as Methodists, their considerations of the woman question were also animated by ideas and innovations generated in the realm of politics. Thus, while there is evidence of what Wallace Best, in his examination of Pentecostal female preachers of the 1940s, has characterized as a “culture of resistance” to women’s religious authority, we also find that deliberations in black Methodist circles turned on broader shifts in the public culture of which churches were but one part. During Reconstruction, a time of optimism and openness to change when the national Methodist denominations were reorganizing themselves, revisions of law and practice made women visible members of formal decision making bodies as conference delegates and officers, explicitly recognizing women’s position in the churches and extending their power within them However, the collapse of Reconstruction ushered in the degradations of the Jim Crow era, and efforts to extend women’s religious authority took on controversial meanings. As male leaders struggled to maintain their public footing in the face of an increasingly aggressive political program of white supremacy, they moved within churches to oppose female control of missionary societies and access to ordination. As black Methodist missionary aspirations became linked to U.S. imperial endeavors in the 1890s, it was men who forged new ties with diasporic people of African descent throughout the world.
Keywords: African American women, women's rights, church
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