Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name



Religious and Theological Studies

First Advisor

Arthur C. Jones, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Mark George

Third Advisor

Edward Antonio


African American leadership, Black biblical characters, Gay biblical characters, Queer biblical interpretation


This dissertation focuses on the evolution of traditional African-American religious leadership as it evolved during the first half of the twentieth century. It traces the two primary models of Black religious leadership that emerged from White, cis, benevolent and dominating models of patriarchy. This task is accomplished primarily through a survey of the ministries of Adam Clayton Powell Sr. and Jr. (1908-1970) and their consecutive sixty years of ministry at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, Harlem, New York. It intentionally engages the issue of homophobia, demonstrating how it operates in Black churches generationally.

Determining these historical patriarchal models of leadership to be inadequate, the dissertation proposes a new model of leadership: Black, queer, inspired leadership. It constructs this new model of leadership by identifying six major attributes. These attributes are self-knowledge, discernment, agency, creativity, liminality, and power tempered by compassion. These six attributes surface through a juxtaposition of the leadership qualities of two queer males of African descent, Bayard Rustin of the Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) and Ebed-Melech, servant to King Zedekiah at the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, two men whose lived experiences are separated by more than twenty-five hundred years. Each man, in his own social orbit, experiences the impact of "othering" in response to his ethnicity and sexual expression.

Both men are Black and queer. Yet, despite the negative hegemonic forces that each encounters, each man attains an undeniably high degree of self-actualization. Given their empowerment, each man moves to exercise his individual agency toward an act of appreciable social change, acts that they determined or felt they were uniquely positioned to fulfill. The biblical exposition of Ebed-Melech, his rescue of the prophet Jeremiah, and his blessing from the divine disrupts the negative biblical stance toward queer people and suggests that, in fact, they are a blessed people. This points us toward a biblically based Black, queer narrative of leadership. It may, at some future point, bring us to a Black, queer theology, but that is not the purpose of this project. Our focus is to disrupt the viability of the two dominating leadership models by proposing a third. To the extent that Western biblical interpretation has prejudiciously minimalized the significance of Ebed-Melech's contributions, this dissertation seeks to serve as a corrective.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.


Received from ProQuest

Rights holder

Arthur Leon Tredwell

File size

253 p.

File format





African American studies, Biblical studies, Gender studies