Making Structural Change with Relational Power: A Gender Analysis of Faith-Based Community Organizing

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Making Structural Change with Relational Power: A Gender Analysis of Faith-Based Community Organizing


  • Sarah B. Garlington Department of Social Work, Ohio University, USA
  • Margaret R. Durham Bossaller Department of Social Work, Ohio University, USA
  • Jennifer A. Shadik Department of Social Work, Ohio University, USA
  • Kerri A. Shaw Department of Social Work, Ohio University, USA


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Abstract:  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.

Keywords:  faith-based community organizing; gender; justice ministry; power analysis; relational power; religion

Published:   24 June 2019


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v7i2.1961


© Sarah B. Garlington, Margaret R. Durham Bossaller, Jennifer A. Shadik, Kerri A. Shaw. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.