Publisher’s Description: In The Labor of Faith Judith Casselberry examines the material and spiritual labor of the women of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc., which is based in Harlem and one of the oldest and largest historically Black Pentecostal denominations in the United States. This male-headed church only functions through the work of the church’s women, who, despite making up three-quarters of its adult membership, hold no formal positions of power. Casselberry shows how the women negotiate this contradiction by using their work to produce and claim a spiritual authority that provides them with a particular form of power. She also emphasizes how their work in the church is as significant, labor intensive, and critical to their personhood, family, and community as their careers, home and family work, and community service are. Focusing on the circumstances of producing a holy black female personhood, Casselberry reveals the ways twenty-first-century women’s spiritual power operates and resonates with meaning in Pentecostal, female-majority, male-led churches.
Excerpt: The contours of Apostolic women’s negotiations of intraracial gender politics, majority status, and the requirement that they submit to male polity within COOLJC may be better understood by examining various intersecting sites of religious, raced, and gendered experience and expression, specifically the ways women understand themselves as holy Black women in divergent contexts. This article examines three such sites: first, the church founder’s Black cultural consciousness and “vindicationist” theology, which centers women in the Black religious experience; second, the church community’s adherence to mainstream Black traditions of struggle for full societal inclusion; and third, an interpretive gap in tenets of submission, fostered by the intersection of female spiritual authority and race politics, which translates into practices of what I term “leading from the background” and “acceptable disobedience” in intra-racial gender negotiations. This article teases out Black Apostolic women’s lived experiences and expressions in differing contexts to highlight the methods employed as they navigate apparent contradictions and negotiate real conflicts at the intersections of religion, race, and gender. Interrogating these particularities shows that religion, race, and gender are co-constituted categories of identity and, “are always already inextricably linked…[and] wholly dependent on each other for their social existence and symbolic meanings” (Goldschmidt 2004: 7). Self-identification as “Black holy women” shapes, and is shaped by, the areas they identify as oppressive or empowering, as well as the ways they develop resistant, complicit, and assertive strategies for righteous living within the church community, in their professional lives, and homes. Black Apostolic women move through the world wrapped in the legacy of Black political culture while “wearing the breastplate of righteousness.