Chipumuro, “Breaking Bread with the Brethren: Fraternalism and Text in a Black Atlantic Church Community”

Chipumuro Todne Thomas. 2012. Breaking Bread with the Brethren: Fraternalism and Text in a Black Atlantic Church Community. Journal of African American Studies 16(4):604–621 

Abstract:  This ethnographic article examines the constitution of brotherhood at Dixon Bible Chapel (DBC)—a West Indian and African American Brethren church community located in Lithonia, Georgia, a suburb of the Atlanta metropolitan area. Based on my analysis of interview, oral history, and church historical texts collected during fieldwork from 2006 to 2008, I propose that DBC members conceptualize brotherhood as an egalitarian, closely knit form of religious belonging inspired by New Testament representations of the church. Furthermore, I argue that is through DBC brothers’ textual rituals that brotherhood is substantiated as a framework for male democratic religious participation and leadership. Though hierarchies of class, ethnicity, gender, and generation segment the ranks of DBC brotherhood and the church community writ large, church members invest in brotherhood as a social formation that they believe sidesteps the exclusions of mainstream religious institutions. Extending the implications of DBC brotherhood to the present issue’s emphasis of black fraternal organizations, I pose questions about the meanings and salience of fraternalism as a social model for Afro-diasporic institution building.

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