Dante Bowe is one of the most popular new singer/songwriters in the Gospel and Contemporary Christian worlds. He loves to sing to God. He was briefly off the public scene in 2022 after leaving Maverick City Music, but has returned to form with his own record company and new music. His new album and new label have sold thousands of records. His new label True Music seeks to share authentic worship. UrbanFaith contributor Maina Mwaura sat down with Dante to discuss his creative process, his artistry, and his journey.
Sojourner Truth Memorial in Florence, Massachusetts. Lynne Graves, CC BY-ND
Each semester I greet the students who file into my preaching class at Howard University with a standard talk. The talk is not an overview of the basics – techniques of sermon preparation or sermon delivery, as one might expect. Outlining the basics is not particularly difficult.
The greatest challenge, in fact, is helping learners to stretch their theology: namely, how they perceive who God is and convey what God is like in their sermons. This becomes particularly important for African-American preachers, especially African-American women preachers, because most come from church contexts that overuse exclusively masculine language for God and humanity.
Yet, America’s Christian pulpits, especially African-American pulpits, remain male-dominated spaces. Still today, eyebrows raise, churches split, pews empty and recommendation letters get lost at a woman’s mention that God has called her to preach.
The deciding factor for women desiring to pastor and be accorded respect equal to their male counterparts generally whittles down to one question: Can she preach?
The fact is that African-American women have preached, formed congregations and confronted many racial injustices since the slavery era.
Here’s the history
The earliest black female preacher was a Methodist woman simply known as Elizabeth. She held her first prayer meeting in Baltimore in 1808 and preached for about 50 years before retiring to Philadelphia to live among the Quakers.
An unbroken legacy of African-American women preachers persisted even long after Elizabeth. Reverend Jarena Lee became the first African-American woman to preach at the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. She had started even before the church was officially formed in the city of Philadelphia in 1816. But, she faced considerable opposition.
AME Bishop Richard Allen, who founded the AME Church, had initially refused Lee’s request to preach. It was only upon hearing her speak, presumably, from the floor, during a worship service, that he permitted her to give a sermon.
Lee reported that Bishop Allen, “rose up in the assembly, and related that [she] had called upon him eight years before, asking to be permitted to preach, and that he had put [her] off; but that he now as much believed that [she] was called to that work, as any of the preachers present.
Lee was much like her Colonial-era contemporary, the famed women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth. Truth had escaped John Dumont’s slave plantation in 1828 and landed in New York City, where she became an itinerant preacher active in the abolition and woman’s suffrage movements.
Fighting the gender narratives
For centuries now, the Holy Bible has been used to suppress women’s voices. These early female black preachers reinterpreted the Bible to liberate women.
In a skillful historical interpretation of the scriptures, in her convention address, Truth used the Bible to liberate and set the record straight about women’s rights. She professed:
“Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, because Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”
Like Truth, Jarena Lee spoke truth to power and paved the way for other mid- to late 19th-century black female preachers to achieve validation as pulpit leaders, although neither she nor Truth received official clerical appointments.
The first woman to achieve this validation was Julia A. J. Foote. In 1884, she became the first woman ordained a deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion AMEZ Church. Shortly after followed the ordinations of AME evangelist Harriet A. Baker, who in 1889 was perhaps the first black woman to receive a pastoral appointment. Mary J. Small became the first woman to achieve “elder ordination” status, which permitted her to preach, teach and administer the sacraments and Holy Communion.
Historian Bettye Collier-Thomas maintains that the goal for most black women seeking ordination in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was simply a matter of gender inclusion, not necessarily pursuing the need to transform the patriarchal church.
An important voice was that of Rev. Florence Spearing Randolph. In her role as reformer, suffragist, evangelist and pastor, she daringly advanced the cause of freedom and justice within the churches she served and even beyond during the period of the Great Migration of 20th century.
In her sermons she brought criticism to the broken promises of American democracy, the deceptive ideology of black inferiority and other chronic injustices.
Randolph’s sermon “If I Were White,” preached on Race Relations Sunday, Feb. 1, 1941, reminded her listeners of their self-worth. It emphasized that America’s whites who claim to be defending democracy in wartime have an obligation to all American citizens.
Randolph spoke in concrete language. She argued that the refusal of whites to act justly toward blacks, domestically and abroad, embraced sin rather than Christ. That, she said, revealed a realistic picture of America’s race problem.
She also spoke about gender discrimination. Randolph’s carefully crafted sermon in 1909 “Antipathy to Women Preachers,” for example, highlights several heroic women in the Bible. From her interpretation of their scriptural legacy, she argued that gender discrimination in Christian pulpits illustrated a misreading of scripture.
Randolph used her position as preacher to effect social change. She was a member and organizer for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which led in the work to pass the 18th Amendment, which made prohibition of the production, sale and transport of alcoholic beverages illegal in the United States. Her affiliation with the WCTU earned her the title “militant herald of temperance and righteousness.”
Today, several respected African-American women preachers and teachers of preachers proudly stand on Lee’s, Small’s and Randolph’s shoulders raising their prophetic voices.
Bishop Marvin Sapp is a pastor, musician, author, artist and now filmmaker. He’s working on learning how to cook. He has over a dozen Grammy nominations, Stellar Awards, BET Awards and more as a Gospel Artist. He is the co-founder and pastor of two churches in Grand Rapids, MI and Fort Worth, TX. He is the Bishop serving over 100 congregations. He is a gifted preacher, speaker and leader. He most recently released a film with TVOne telling his testimony and was an executive producer and star of the film. To put it lightly, Marvin Sapp is a busy man of God. But it is his love for people, his incredible testimonies, and his heartfelt authenticity that have helped him be a vessel for the Holy Spirit for decades. UrbanFaith sat down with this legendary Gospel artist and minister and talked about everything from film to football and ministry to mental health. The full interview is above, more about Bishop Sapp is below.
Bishop Marvin L. Sapp is a passionate orator and biblical teacher, who desires to be a living epistle glorifying our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ both in word and in deed who is the Co-Founder of Lighthouse Full Life Center Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and the Senior Pastor of The Chosen Vessel Cathedral in Fort Worth, Texas as well as a Metropolitan Bishop that oversees more than 100 churches in the Central Deanery of Global United Fellowship.
Bishop Sapp is a multiplatinum selling artist who has enjoyed a decorated music career receiving 13 Grammy nominations, 24 Stellar Awards, 2 Soul Train Music Awards, 2 BET Awards, 4 Dove Awards, 8 BMI songwriter’s awards for sales, Black Music Honors Gospel Music Icon Award along with many other accolades and honors from national, regional, and local institutions.
Cece Winans is one of the most celebrated Gospel music artists of all time. She has won fifteen Grammys in addition to Dove Awards, Stellar Awards, and many others. As she surpasses the achievements of some of the great artists and exemplars of the faith she looks up to such as Andre Crouch and continues to push her contemporaries and fellow Detroit natives the Clark Sisters, you would think her most important legacy would be music. However for CeCe Winans, the greatest legacy any believer can have is passing on their faith to the next generation. CeCe Winans explores her journey of lifelong faith and her pursuit pass it on to the next generation in her new book Believe For It.
CeCe Winans had an upbringing that most people could not imagine. She was raised in a home with ten siblings who formed multiple musical groups with faith in Jesus Christ at the center of their lives. She was raised in the Church of God in Christ, and like many of her contemporaries brought up in a strict but loving Christian home. She highlights that it was a very intentional decision by her parents to create a home filled with love and faith after neither of them had grown up that way. CeCe contends that it is the intentionality alongside the handwork of raising children to be strong believers that can make a difference for young believers today.
In her book she does not simply tell stories of singing and success. She provides practical principles that she is applying in her own home and church today to ensure her faith in Christ is passed down. Each chapter is broken into easily digestible principles and interlaced with testimonies and stories from Winans’ life. True to her Sunday School roots she ties everything back to scripture as she talks about the importance of starting with faith in the home that translates into the world.
What is fascinating about CeCe Winans sharing this testimony now is that she is the co-pastor of Nashville Life Church that her and her husband started in her living room that is filled with young adults. Churches across the country are struggling today with how to pass on faith to the next generation, how to do multigenerational ministry, and how to preserve the traditions that have preserved us for generations while remaining relevant. And through this book CeCe Winans gives simple and practical keys on how her and her family are doing it. She regularly engages in these topics on her YouTube show Generations, but through the book we get the depth, structure, and narrative that helps us apply the lessons to our lives.
One of the most important keys is relationships. CeCe Winans was shaped by her relationships with her family, church family, and community as a child. Her relationship with Jesus was profoundly shaped by her relationships with other believers. As we embrace new technologies, strategies, and demographics we cannot forget the value of relationships in helping us grow and persevere in faith. I love this book of wisdom. Wisdom is gained from experience and discernment, and as I read it I was able to do both as I consider the impact I have on my own children’s faith. Her legacy for music is also a legacy of sharing faith in God. There are many more keys CeCe shares and her voice through this book is wisdom the Church needs today as we share our faith with the next generation. You can find the book everywhere books are sold this week and check out her latest award winning music video below!
Tamela Mann is a Grammy Award winning artist, an actress, and a co-author with her husband David Mann. UrbanFaith contributor Maina Mwaura sat down with Mrs. Mann to discuss her most recent album, her career, and how her faith has led her to be an overcomer through every trial she has faced. The full interview is above.