The Rev. Jasper Williams Jr. delivers the eulogy during the funeral for Aretha Franklin at Greater Grace Temple on Aug. 31, 2018, in Detroit. Franklin died Aug. 16, 2018, of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

For black women at church, it’s more than the Aretha eulogy

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.

Franklin’s grieving family said Williams’ eulogy, which also included references to stopping black-on-black crime, was offensive because it did not focus on her. Social media lit up with criticisms of his remarks as sexist and misogynist.

For many black women, Williams’ eulogy reopened wounds and sternly reminded them that black churches remain male-dominated institutions, where old-school resistance to women holding leadership roles is still alive.

“Women are hurting about this issue,” said the Rev. Barbara Reynolds, an elder at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Washington, D.C.

“It’s like we are still not equal. Women fight in every cause for everybody else, but we are not celebrated or even tolerated in sacred spaces,” Reynolds said.

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.

Some male ministers “actually deeply believe that men are supposed to be in charge,” said the Rev. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, assistant pastor for special projects at Union Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass., and a sociology professor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

“Their reading of the Bible does not have a vision of gender equality,” Gilkes said. “Black women are very conscious of how important they are to the survival, growth and continuity of the church. Very often, to become effective, prominent leaders, they have formed their own organizations and exercised that leadership outside the pulpit.”

Williams, pastor of Salem Bible Church in Atlanta, had also eulogized Franklin’s father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, in 1984. He prefaced part of his eulogy for Aretha Franklin on Aug. 31 by saying “70 percent” of black households are led by black women.

Williams apologized later but defended his choice of topics. He said he was trying to highlight the struggles that single mothers face and his words were taken out of context.

But even during Franklin’s funeral, the absence of black women in the pulpit was evident. The front row was occupied by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and primarily other black male pastors. No black female pastors were featured on an early speakers’ list for the funeral.

Shirley Caesar, a gospel music legend and senior pastor of Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church in Raleigh, N.C., sang during the service but also seized the moment to squeeze a little preaching in. Most of the individual singers were prominent female performers.

“There are male leaders in some black churches that don’t allow women to preach from the pulpit and, if they do, it’s typically on special occasions like Women’s Day,” said the Rev. Horace Sheffield, pastor of New Destiny Christian Fellowship of Detroit.

“Some denominations are more stringent and less likely to affirm women than others,” Sheffield said. “That’s part of our Christian tradition and that has always bothered me. We can be discriminated on the color of our skin and we can discriminate against women because of their gender. It still exists by virtue of the fact that you have churches that don’t allow female ministers as pastors. It ... renders us in a lesser position to challenge discrimination in any form or any place when we’re part of it.”

About 70 percent of the 500 members at Sheffield’s church are women. Sheffield said two women serve as associate pastors. Some of the deacons are women and the head of the steward board is a woman.

He said the roles of women in black church leadership are changing, “but we’ve got to open it up some more.”

The Rev. Maidstone Mulenga, communications director for the United Methodist Church Council of Bishops, said having only men in leadership and pastoral roles is part of the theology taught in some churches.

“If it comes from a background that says only male preachers can be in the pulpit, then (the church members) will resist a female preacher — whether white or black,” Mulenga said.

Mulenga said the United Methodist Church is very supportive of female leaders in churches and has a number of female bishops. The church’s Baltimore-Washington Conference is led by Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, a black woman. But he said female black preachers have to work twice as hard as male black preachers.

“For a female black preacher it is almost like standing in the middle of the highway and getting hit by traffic from both directions because they are black and because they are female,” Mulenga said.

For predominantly black denominations, there are smaller gains. The African Methodist Episcopal Church currently has two women bishops.

The National Baptist Convention says on its website that it leaves the matter to its member churches because interpretations about who can serve in the ministry “tend to be particularly emotional and divisive.” Its most recent roster of state presidents, from January 2017, is all male.

The Church of God in Christ on its website identifies only black male pastors as members of its general board and its board of bishops.

Last year, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World promoted two women to bishop and gave them responsibility over churches in Sierra Leone and South Africa. The presiding bishop at the time, Charles Ellis, told the Tennessean newspaper in Nashville that the two women, whose home churches are in the U.S., would “actually oversee and they will govern male pastors.”

Ellis’ church in Detroit hosted Franklin’s funeral.

But some male pastors and preachers wield so much power in their churches that they rarely are confronted, said Reynolds, of Washington, D.C., who was ordained in 1996.

“We don’t really challenge the pastors,” Reynolds said. “We either go home and don’t go back to church or some brave women start their own church.”

Comments

  1. how dare this white, racist pastor draw attention to what he perceives to ail the African American community. If only he walked in their shoes….

  2. It’s preposterous for anyone to say that “a black woman cannot raise a black boy to be a man.” Black women do that job every day.

    Catholic women are also generally the backbone of their churches, but we are not allowed to be priests and, in many parishes, are not given even the positions of responsibility that lay people can hold. I wish my Black sisters much success in battling the demon of sexism.

  3. I think he meant that it is preferable to have a two parent family.

  4. The Rev. Jasper Williams Jr gave a 99% great eulogy, the kind that makes black people think. BUT, you are correct that his line, “a black woman cannot raise a black boy to be a man”, taken by itself, is preposterous.

    Rev. Williams later responded to that issue with a WSB-TV (Atlanta) reporter. What was Williams trying to say? (After all, you’re also correct that “Black women do the job every day.”) Williams told the reporter that:

    I did not mean they are unable to raise their children. I am talking about many single women struggling to raise their children ….””Now, it’s been too many women who have raised excellent men. Jesse Jackson, one of my dearest friends, was raised by a single mom. But the women need help in their homes. and our race needs to become sensitive to that.”

    Obviously, that makes sense. He’s right. That’s what Williams should have immediately said at the eulogy. But in time pressure, he suggested, he failed to do that. (A costly mistake, but NOT sexism.)

  5. “The front row was occupied by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and primarily other black male pastors. No black female pastors were featured on an early speakers’ list for the funeral.”

    Well, exactly whose fault was THAT? Wasn’t the Franklin family in control of the invitations and seating arrangements? Where was the Franklin family on THAT problem? Shirley Caesar is a preacher, why wasn’t SHE put up there next to Rev. Jesse Jackson, instead of putting Slick Willie (who was drooling at Ariana Grande’s mini-dress) up there?

    See, that’s the real deal. If you’re focusing on problems that took place with the Aretha Franklin funeral, then not even the Franklin family who wants to throw shade at the Rev. Jasper Williams Jr, comes off totally unscathed.

  6. Perhaps I should have written “The issues with ordaining women have zero to do with sexism in the Catholic Church for faithful Catholics.”

    For the author of ““Actually, I think that ‘sainting’ by public approbation can be far more valid that the formal process. The canonization of JP2 is a clear case in point, from my perspective.” not so much.

    Btw, there are not shades of validity.

    Canonization is an exercise of the Church’s infallibility charism.

  7. You’re not a real black person. You’re a paid Russian troll.

    Black people should have figured out by now that lynching gay and trans people is wrong, yet for some reason they have not.

  8. You are a sexist pig, who gets off on lynching gay and trans people.

    Get a new hobby, already.

  9. Perhaps you should not have written anything at all.

  10. What are you, exactly? A paid Russian troll like floydlee?

  11. Stop trying to stop the people murdering children in the womb, the environment that was designed to be a safe space for children.

  12. LMFAO. Stop forcing people to breed against their will. Abortion is between a pregnant person and their doctor, not you.

  13. No..murder is a concern of all people.

    “selling slaves is between the owner and the buyer”.

  14. Most black people are actually against abortion…because they see the connection to what happened with slavery….when the government gave white male land owners the right to determine full personhood.

    Most white liberal, profane, progressive women aren’t smart enough to draw the connection.

  15. It’s unfortunate that the boy didn’t have a real family – like I mentioned above. Most (not all), but most children have much better childhoods with a two parent family.

  16. Let’s set aside your stupid comment.

    You know very well if that if a woman’s doctors told her not to abort the child because it increases the chances that the woman will be on anti-depressants and will have suicide ideation, she’d simply go to the next doctor, and she’d likely sue the first doctor.

    If you were forced to live with your own assertion, you’d shop around…so don’t tell a thinking person that “abortion is between a pregnant person and their doctor”.

    Your ideas are as worthless as your women’s study degree.

  17. I have an engineering degree. Abortion is kinder than giving birth to the likes of you.

  18. Then why discriminate against LGBTQ+ couples? At least they don’t torture 10-year-olds to death for being gay.

  19. Actually, slavery was all about breeding as many slaves as possible, against their mothers’ will. Have abortions, not babies to molest.

  20. Forcing people to breed against their will is sexual slavery.

  21. No one forced them to copulate which has natural consequences.

    It’s unnatural to decouple unity, killing a natural outcome of human love.

    The perfect state of human love is that it spills outside of itself. Love is difffusive.

  22. More evidence that universities have shortchanged its students making them trades people, unable to draw connections, outside of their little trade.

  23. Not if women are dying die to complications in pregnancy, because you think their fetuses are more important than they are.

  24. From an engineer to a fellow engineer, ask yourself about the actual circumstances of 99% of abortions.

    Let’s get back to the numbers, to reality, to the real motives that cause so much loss of life. In the end: selfishness, not self-giving love.

    – Lack of love
    – Lack of wanting to take responsibility
    – The desire to have fun without the responsibility naturally accompanying the act.

    Is it really a good thing that we have separated:
    – sex from marriage?
    – marriage from children?
    – love (real love, as a sacrifice, as self-gift) from sex?
    – sex from responsibility?

    Moreover, the sexual revolution has sadly driven a deep wedge between men and women, between one’s mind and one’s body, between our emotions and our bodies, between our intellect and our emotions, between our will and our intellect.

    Our wills now serve our emotions, and not our intellect (which used to have a grasp on real enduring truths).

    Think, engineer, about the real societal effects of these “separations” that have occurred since the 1930s.

  25. I have a Ph.D. in industrial engineering from a major research university in the US. It may be a bit rusty today, but when I finished my advisor told me to use my off hours to fill in what a rigorous engineering education didn’t teach. And so I did.

  26. You didn’t learn respect for the bodily autonomy of pregnant people, clearly.

  27. You need to drive a wedge between your sick obsession with fetal idolatry and pregnant people’s health care choices.

  28. I’m quite sure you got more women’s studies palbum than diff EQ

    “Bodily autonomy”.

    How about a review of logic.

    Is a child part of a woman’s body?

  29. It’s not a sick obsession to want people not to kill the life growing in them.

    It’s a hope for more Yes to life and less Yes to mere self.

  30. You have no idea what an ectopic pregnancy is, do you?

  31. If it’s located inside her uterus, yes.

    I got an A+ in Diff Eq, and a B+ in Finite Element Analysis.

  32. So in your system of logic, a pregnant woman has two heads, twenty toes, 4 hands and often is both male and female.

    Interesting.

    What an awful education.

  33. I used the 99% number above to indicate even generously such an event, but you weren’t quick enough to catch it.

    Engineering education is even more of a trade than when I went through.

  34. Pregnant people don’t need your approval to have abortions.

  35. Did slave holders need approval to test black people as 3/5ths of a person?

    Truth exists outside of our opinion of it, even the opinion’s of judges and half educated engineer trades women.

  36. All restrictions on abortion pose an undue burden on the free speech of pregnant people, Your Honor.

  37. You aren’t quick enough to catch the number of unplanned pregnancies due to rape and incest.

  38. For both, well less than 5%.

    So engineers like to design for 2 sigma cases.

  39. If you let rape victims die of ectopic pregnancies, you are a bad person.

  40. I’m focused on the 99% who are simply selfish and irresponsible who hide behind a few rape victims so that they can feel better and entitled when they murder their own children. But thanks for the low advice.

  41. Fetuses are not children. You just get off on slut-shaming pregnant people, no matter what their circumstances.

  42. And black people were only 3/5ths of a person for many years.

    White men used to decide personhood.
    Today, women get to do that, mostly white women have most of the abortions.

  43. Nonsense. Abortion affirms that women are 100% in control of their own bodies, and men don’t get a say in their reproductive choices.

  44. Abortion is more complicated….another life…wholly unique, genetically independent hinges on a choice made by that woman (to have sex).

    This makes simpleminded people ABEND, but it’s the reality.

    Here’s something to run through what remains of your frontal lobe:

    Development doesn’t provide the identity of the person.
    It’s the identity (intact from the moment of conception) that “drives” the development.

    The genetically unique, totally complete identity DRIVES all development, not just up to birth, but until death as well!

    It’s not that development gets to a point where a unique complete identity results.

  45. Abortion is a common medical procedure that you needn’t concern yourself with, because you don’t have a uterus. Learn to respect the bodily autonomy of people with uteruses.

  46. It results in the cessation of a fully unique, genetically complete life.

    It’s not simply taking out one of your bunions.

  47. Fetuses are a part of another person’s body. They do not have rights, nor do you have rights over people with uteruses.

  48. No. A developing child is not “part of” a mother’s body.

    If A is part of B and B is part of C, then by inference, A is part of C.

    If a little finger on a developing baby is part of the arm of that child, and that arm is part of the mother…then a mother has two heads, two sexes, 4 hands, two stomachs.

    Ergo….a fetus is not part of the mother.

    Any more than you are part of the biosphere.

  49. A right exists because it allows the completion of a natural duty!

    A child has a right to life, because it has a duty to love others.

    No mother has a right to terminate a life, even her own.

    You have a gross deficiency in your understanding of rights.

    Moreover, there is a priority to our rights. Not all rights have equal standing.

    the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” have a built in contingecy in them. There is an order to them.

    And this order helps resolve content of rights between people.

    A slave holder’s right to his pursuit of happiness, cannot depend on a denial of slave’s right to liberty.

    And a woman’s right to liberty, to free action, cannot obstruct a child’s right to life.

    Life is the highest right.

    Again, your understanding of rights is shocking for a supposedly college educated person.

  50. A fetus is located inside its mother’s body, which is entirely her property, to do with as she pleases.

  51. So if a homeless person breaks into your house….you can do anything you please with her.

  52. No wonder respect for life and civility has taken such a nose dive. You see matters in terms of property.

    You’re a materialist.

  53. You’re the one who keeps making false-equivalence comparisons between abortion and slavery.

  54. You are familiar with “stand your ground” laws, yes?

  55. You forgot the rights of pregnant people not to die in childbirth.

  56. People don’t have a right to not die from natural causes. What planet are you living on?

    who will you sue next?

  57. Please do some frontal lobe work..and tease out the supposed differences that make a difference.

    I’ll warn you..it’s been tried and found wanting.

  58. Your position has been tried and found wanting: it’s called Roe v. Wade.

  59. Whoever is paying you to troll this forum, perhaps?

  60. It’s rare that I spend so much time with someone who is so bereft of ideas and knowledge.

    I guess I felt sorry for a fellow engineer and was trying to make it seem that you weren’t so empty-headed, as an act of professional courtesy. Waste of time.

    Engineering is becoming a dismal field. A bunch of technicians, not truly educated people.

  61. Then how did I manage to graduate magna cum laude and go on to have a successful career in robotics, pray tell?

  62. Technicians aren’t necessarily educated people. Magna cub laude is a joke.

    The universities have pushed women through engineering programs on the cheap. You know it, and I know it.

    You’ve bought a lie. And you don’t have the capacity to penetrate the fog you have been breathing.

  63. Describe yourself some more, old man. I have more relevant job skills than you do.

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