Real True Buds
Real True Buds
Celibacy and Same-Sex Desire across the Color Line in Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement
This essay focuses on the Philadelphia-based Peace Mission Movement, led by the African American religious figure known as Father Divine and centered on the belief that he was God in a body. The movement, in which committed followers lived celibate lives in sex-segregated communal residences meant to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, saw its peak of membership and influence during the 1930s and early 1940s. Observers frequently painted Divine as a charismatic manipulator who demanded celibacy of his mostly African American female followers, but took a wife in what he described as a spiritual marriage. Such criticism resonated with American Protestant discourses about papal control of Roman Catholics and the sexual deviance and social dangers of celibacy. The essay turns attention from outsiders’ preoccupation with Divine to ask questions about religion and sexuality among his followers. It examines the case of a group of women in the movement who embraced Divine’s requirement to reject all human relationships and mortal desire, yet expressed connection to and longing for one another through the Peace Mission’s theological language. This case of relationships within the Peace Mission underscores for historians of sexuality and of religion the need to understand religious celibacy as a complex practice and identity, shaped and inflected by the particular theological frameworks and institutions that support it as well as by the broader social context in which its practitioners are located.
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