White followership: creating a pathway toward black-centered leadership and experience from the reality of white hegemony in an evangelical, urban, multiethnic church
Lee-Norman, Rosemary A.
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The movement of evangelical multiethnic churches, which occurred in the late-1990s and into the early 2000s, sought racial justice by developing racially diverse congregations as their core distinction of Christian discipleship. These evangelical multiethnic churches are situated in a longer historical narrative of black-led, black-centered ecumenical leadership focused on a theological framework of racial reconciliation, cross-racial interpersonal friendships, and diverse cultural expressions. However, research of these churches reveal they actually perpetuate the very inequalities they seek to dismantle. White hegemony remains intact in these multicultural Christian communities through its maintenance of white dominant structures and cultural norms, even with black-led senior leadership. The problem this project seeks to address through the concept of “white followership” is the lack of experience and skills among white evangelicals particularly in multiethnic churches to yield normative power and institutional culture to another cultural expression and organizational power arrangement. Utilizing Dr. Patsy Baker Blackshear’s definition of an exemplary follower, this project will develop the construct of white followership and the particular behaviors and characteristics white congregants in a minority-led multiethnic congregation can adopt. While this project relies on research of evangelical multiethnic churches across the United States, the focal site in which the construct of white followership will initially be applied is The Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which is where I, a white female pastor, serve as its Associate Pastor. The methodological approach of this project is interdisciplinary, integrating history, anti-racism research, and white racial identity studies to elucidate the problem of white supremacy in the United States and the American church. The project relies heavily on: 1) sociological studies of religion, race, and power to enumerate the problem of white hegemony in evangelical multiethnic congregations, 2) theological and biblical studies to outline the imperative shift of power needed in white-dominated evangelical multiethnic churches; 3) business and leadership studies to introduce the concept of followership and enrich the construction of white followership; and 4) observing resistance among white congregants as change produces shifts in the status quo, adapting Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) and autoethnographic stories to measure change. White followership, in the scope of this project, focuses primarily on a pedagogical approach, institutional strategy, and overall ecumenical culture primarily expressed at The Sanctuary. It does not address more granular aspects of the communal worship experience, external evangelistic service, and community engagement and action, though those are important considerations as the applied work of white followership expands. Overall, the construct of white followership, while not exhaustive for the remedy of white hegemony in evangelical multiethnic churches, provides an innovative, malleable, and promising solution forward for white congregants to employ toward greater racial justice.
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