A nascent #ChurchToo movement could improve gender equality in the black church

University of Southern California
June 27, 2019

By Susan Bell

The first advice the Reverend Najuma Smith-Pollard gives male pastors is not to use terms of endearment when addressing women clergy.

“What I tell them is, number one, she’s not your baby, she’s not your boo, she’s not your sweetie-pie. She needs to be Reverend or Elder or Minister or Miss,” she said. “Recently, I’ve had pastors self-correct, so where before they would have said ‘baby,’ now they say, ‘Oh, Reverend Najuma.’”

Two years ago, Smith-Pollard, a pastor and program manager with the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement at USC Dornsife’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC), says those conversations were not happening with anywhere near the same level of concern. The catalyst, says Smith-Pollard, whose work and expertise focuses on the African-American Church, has been the #MeToo movement, which has gathered momentum since late 2017 following the scandal surrounding widespread allegations of sexual abuse by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and other well-known, powerful men.

Like #MeToo, the nascent #ChurchToo movement is starting to mobilize and empower women to address long histories of abuse. Smith-Pollard says concerns are growing in the African-American church that #ChurchToo will reveal widespread sexual and physical abuse of women within the black church — revelations that, as they ripple out across congregations, could be devastating for many church communities and their leaders.

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