Black Femininity and Fundamentalism
My research topic looks at the ways in which Black women comprehend, as well as construct their notion of self from the Biblical and theological teachings at Chicago International Christian Church, a fundamentalist church with global and domestic congregations. Black femininity’s nexus to religion is pertinent to understanding the ways in which Black women are taught how to be women. Church and religion have aided in the liberation of Black Americans. It has served as a resting site for escaping slaves via the underground railroad, as well as an organizing space during the Civil Rights era. This research was formulated by observing the influence of the church on Black women’s experience of their womanhood given the strong impact that religion serves for many Black Americans; especially Black women who were socially relegated to the church after emancipation. This project is concerned with the knowledge production that Black women gain from church about their subject position. The ethnographic side of the project was conducted over the summer of 2021. The church where I conducted my research was Chicago International Christian Church. The church is part of a larger global congregation of churches founded by Thomas Kip McKean. McKean was also a leader of the ICOC Churches, which is the International Christian Church of Christ. He founded the International Christian Churches in the early 2000’s after he was asked to take a forced sabbatical from ICOC. All the churches take their teaches and guidance from the McKean, who are the main pastors of the Los Angeles congregation. While ICC itself is multicultural, the branch where I did my fieldwork was predominantly Black. The racialization of the church is pertinent because fundamentalism is a literal reading of the Bible. This means that the interpretation is not contextualized to the current American Zeitgeist. Since McKean preaches in this manner, all the other church under him mut do so as well. While the Chicago International Christian Church Far South branch was predominately Black, the sermons were not interpreted to include the issues that Black Chicagoans were currently encountering. This preaching habit is noteworthy because it directly opposes the socio-historical underpinnings of most Black churches in Chicago. From interviews and other forms of participation observation, I began to understand the attraction to this form of preaching, as well as why some of the Black women in the church choose to follow a religion that does not work to benefit or improve the social conditions that directly impacts their subjecthood. It became clear that the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible allowed some of the women in the church to reimage themselves outside of their racial category. Chicago International Christian Church served as a space where the women could simply be themselves without their racial markers. Doing so allowed the women to self-explore their identities in a supportive and caring community of disciples. Key to this self-exploration is the removal of the present, towards the future. Being a disciple for God means that the women can imagine a life where they are not bound by their oppressive present, but rather a life where they can simply be whoever they choose to be. Chicago International Christian Church gave them the tools to do this imaginative work. While this project started as an exploration of identity, it resulted in a conversation about ways in which religious spaces can offer Black women the opportunity to reimagine themselves outside of their social category. The women showed me that one does not have to accept the social images placed onto them by society but can exist outside of them.