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Religions 2011, 2(4), 628-648; doi:10.3390/rel2040628

Religious Authority in African American Churches: A Study of Six Churches

Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, UAMS College of Public Health, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, 4301 West Markham #820, Little Rock, AR 72205, USA
Received: 8 October 2011 / Accepted: 17 November 2011 / Published: 22 November 2011
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Women and Religious Authority)
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A sociological study of religious authority and gender in the context of a rural, impoverished community was conducted in African American churches in one county of the Arkansas Lower Mississippi Delta region to understand relationships between religious leadership, gender, race, and social justice. Three female and three male African American pastors were interviewed as key-informants of their churches to investigate views of female religious authority, and to compare and contrast the congregational culture of female-headed vs. male-headed churches. Among male-headed congregations, views of gender and leadership were complex, with beliefs ranging from no support to full support for female-headed congregations. Two congregational cultures emerged from the data: Congregations with a Social Activist orientation focused on meeting the social needs of the community through Christ, whereas congregations with a Teach the Word orientation stressed the importance of meeting the spiritual needs of the community through knowing the Word of God. Although aspects of both congregational cultures were present to some extentin all six congregations studied, the Social Activist culture played a more dominant narrative in female-headed congregations, whereas the Teach the Word culture was more evident in male-headed congregations. This study reports preliminary information about gender and religious authority in rural African American churches by revealing the different clergy training requirements and church placements of female and male clergy, a myriad of views about female religious authority in the African American faith community, and through uncovering two distinct congregational cultures. This study also enhances understanding on the role of gender in Black churches’ perceptions and interactions with rural, socioeconomically challenged communities.
Keywords: religious authority; women; religious leadership; congregations; culture; gender religious authority; women; religious leadership; congregations; culture; gender
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Yeary, K.-C. Religious Authority in African American Churches: A Study of Six Churches. Religions 2011, 2, 628-648.

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