Linking Faith, the Academy, and Activism

By Julia Munemo

Earlier this year, Ahmad Greene-Hayes ’16 was awarded a two-year fellowship by the Just Beginnings Collaborative (JBC) to support his work to end child sexual abuse in the black church community. “I grew up in the black church and have dedicated much of my life to the central role the church plays in our communities,” Greene-Hayes says. “But the church is silent on child sexual abuse.”

Greene-Hayes is in a unique position to change the church’s treatment of child sexual abuse for three reasons: his academic background, his activist background, and his background in the church. “I see myself as a link between the academy and the church and activist communities,” says Greene-Hayes, a history major with a concentration in Africana Studies.

AGreene205He credits his Williams education with giving him the language to question the assumptions he’d grown up with. He took a class his first semester called Re-conceptualizing Evil, in which he studied Judaism, Christianity, and Islam through an academic lens for the first time. He says now, “I realized I had a theological question about the church’s complicity and perpetuation of sexual violence and how God becomes conveniently distant when survivors start wrestling with their own faith.”

But that theological question gained real-life traction when he started volunteering with the Black Women’s Blueprint (BWB) in Brooklyn his sophomore year. BWB is a national civil rights organization that aims to bring social, economic, and political equity to black women in the United States, and his work there brought him face to face with survivors of sexual assault. He was again faced with a contradiction. “The church says its main concern is for the salvation of children’s souls, but what does that even mean if they’re not safe to go to bed at night,” Greene-Hayes asks.

Those are questions he will continue to wrestle with when he enrolls in a Ph.D. program in religion at Princeton next fall.

But first, Greene-Hayes will convene the advisory board he’s organized through his JBC grant. “There are a lot of folks doing really great work around gender and sexuality in the church,” he says. “I want to bring them into a room with academics and with folks working to end child sexual abuse, so that we can start to create a new language to push this movement forward within the black church.”

Greene-Hayes will create a website filled with resources for black clergy that will allow them to address child sexual abuse in their congregations and communities. The website will include curricula and sample sermons that are decidedly not silent on the issue of child sexual abuse. “I want to draw on the wisdom, reach, and influence of grassroots faith leaders to use theology as a tool for healing, transformation, and reckoning,” he says.

Greene-Hayes also plans to host town hall events inside black churches, giving survivors an opportunity to give testimony. The first one will be in June. “I want to make a space for black adult survivors of child sexual abuse to tell their testimonies inside of the church,” he says. “Even if it’s just three people that speak, that would be radical, because we’ve never seen anything like that in the church.”

Greene-Hayes, who is considering an academic career or a career as an ordained minister, says, “Part of my calling, if there is such a thing, is to raise awareness about these issues.”

Read more about Greene-Hayes’s work and activism.


Photo credit: Brandon Nick