Making structural change with relational power: A gender analysis of faith-based community organizing

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© 2019 by the authors; licensee Cogitatio (Lisbon, Portugal). This article presents research on faith-based community organizing in the US to examine how congregation members engage in structural change efforts related to marginalized populations. Examining the case of one organizing model, justice ministry, congregations focus on power defined through relationships, cultivated in informal spaces, and communicated through personal narrative (traditionally private, feminine spheres), and change is enacted by creating tension in public (traditionally masculine) spaces with decision-makers. A growing body of literature presents nuanced gender analyses of policy advocacy, social movements, and community change efforts both in terms of strategic models of action and revisiting our understanding of historical movements. We ask questions about how the expectations and work are constrained or facilitated by cultural expectations of gender roles and power dynamics. Examining the organizing model of justice ministry through a gender lens helps to understand how an emphasis on relational power (traditionally gendered as feminine) facilitates and strengthens the use of a range of tools, including publicly challenging authority (more frequently gendered as masculine). While the private/public, feminine/masculine dichotomy has severe limitations and risks oversimplification, the utility remains in helping name and challenge real power differentials based on gender.