Women not only fill the pews in many black churches, they also serve as church nurses and ushers, and work behind the scenes. Some are trustees, keeping an eye on church finances and making sure bills get paid. Others are evangelists, or are ordained as deacons. But many are denied true leadership roles — and in some cases, women are asked to deliver sermons from the church floor, rather than the pulpit.

DETROIT (AP) — A black pastor’s controversial eulogy at Aretha Franklin’s funeral laid bare before the world what black women say they have experienced for generations: sexism and inequality in their houses of worship every Sunday.

In eulogizing the beloved artist known as the Queen of Soul, the Rev. Jasper Williams Jr. declared that as “proud, beautiful and fine as our black women are, one thing a black woman cannot do — a black woman cannot raise a black boy to be a man.”

The backlash was immediate, given Franklin’s role as a mother and a pillar for women’s rights.

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If It Wasn’t for the Women

Black Women’s Experience and Womanist Culture in Church and Community
By Cheryl Townsend Gilkes

These collected essays examine the roles of women in their churches and communities, the implication of those roles for African-American culture, and the tensions and stereotypes that shape societal responses to these roles. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes examines the ways black women and their experience shape the culture and consciousness of the black religious experience, and reflects on some of the crises and conflicts that attend this experience.

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