The Gospel according to St. Mark's: Methodist women embodying a liberating theology from the Social Gospel Era to the Civil Rights Era at a deaconess-run settlement house in the French Quarter of New Orleans
AbstractThis study focuses on St. Mark's Community Center and St. Mark's United Methodist Church, which share a building in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1895, Methodist women, motivated by Social Gospel studies, adopted a struggling mission, and in 1909, expanded the work to the French Quarter, where Methodist deaconesses established a settlement serving white immigrants Women's work at Methodist settlement houses has been undervalued, discounted by the church as too secular, and by non-sectarian settlement workers and historians as too religiously motivated. I argue that examining the work of southern Methodist women who embodied the Social Gospel reveals gender differentiation in the movement's praxis, alters understandings of its duration, and demonstrates the unproductiveness of characterizing female reformers as social and theological conservatives. Far more nuanced understandings of their motives and experiences are required Despite attempts in the early 1990s by Ralph Luker and Ronald White to combat assertions that the Social Gospel was racist, in 2001, scholar Darryl Trimiew still insisted it was by definition a racist movement. The perception is common that female Social Gospel/Progressive reformers pursued conservative, if not racist and classist, agendas. However, several white deaconesses who served St. Mark's joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the 1930s, held radical views about social and economic equality, and operated as racially open a facility as possible within Deep South mainline Protestantism Denied ordination because of their sex, deaconesses nevertheless exerted profound theological influence on two young New Orleans clergymen (including a deaconess's son) who agitated prophetically for school desegregation in the mid-1950s. In 1960, the pastor of the St. Mark's congregation broke the white boycott of William Frantz Elementary School by keeping his daughter in school with the first black student. Deaconesses were leaders in the congregation, and many members had joined because of their relationships with the women of the Community Center; thus, deaconesses played decisive roles in determining the congregation's response during the school desegregation crisis. Studying six decades of deaconess work at St. Mark's reveals strong links between female Social Gospel practitioners and the Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans
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