Beliefnet Who's Who:The Most Influential Black Spiritual Leaders

Beliefnet's guide to the most prominent and powerful African-American religious leadership.

In African-American communities, religious leaders have historically occupied a powerful position: Gurus. Advocates. Stewards. Preachers. Whether inspiring their congregations to stand up against social injustice or urging a focus on God-centered family values, African-American religious leaders are a crucial component of a rich and diverse spiritual landscape. In honor of Black History Month, Beliefnet has compiled a list of some of the nation’s most influential African-American spiritual leaders. While by no means comprehensive, the list represents some of today’s most prominent--and controversial--spiritual figures, as well as those whose lifelong efforts have earned them a place in history, and up-and-coming figures of note.

Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III
Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III

This pastor of the legendary Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and president of SUNY College at Old Westbury has been a prominent voice in headlining social issues for over 15 years. At times considered a firebrand for his outspoken criticism of New York civil institutions, Butts has managed to balance his dual roles as a pastor and a social activist. Perennially included in lists of likely mayoral candidates, he has focused his energies on a laundry list of social concerns: racism, education, images of women and minorities in the media, and, most of all, care for the poor. Butts helped establish the Abyssinian Development Corporation, which has overseen new and improved affordable housing.

Website:The Abyssinian Baptist Church

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell
Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell


The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell is pastor of one of the nation’s largest Methodist congregations, the 15,000-member Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston. Caldwell’s position as President George W. Bush's friend and spiritual advisor has been marked with some controversy—his somewhat less than religiously inclusive benediction during the 2001 inauguration drew sharp criticism. Still, as a leader with direct access to the president in matters religious, Caldwell is seen as a powerful national religious figure.

Interview:A Good and Faithful Confidence-Keeper
Website:Kingdom Builders

The Rev. Johnnie Colemon
Rev. Colemon
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