Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Black women in church: non-religious writers opine

Reader Merrilee Stevenson brought to my attention a CNN article titled Does the black church keep black women single? (NOTE: I could play the video in IE, but not in Chrome.)

Now I, as the expression goes, "happen to be white."

ASIDE: By the way, that expression — "X happen(s) to be {skin-color}" — always cracks me up. It's the speaker's way of saying, "Don't be offended! I don't mean anything by it! I'm just sayin'!" But the expression sounds as if I was just walking along one day, minding my business, not a care in the world, and WHAM! Whiteness fell on me, from the sky! I mean, "happen to be" as opposed to what? As opposed to setting my will on it, working really hard, and then one day waking up — shazam! White! Or maybe fleeing it for all I was worth and yet, one day, despite my best efforts — whack! Ghostly pallor everywhere!

But I digress.

Me being melanin-deprived and non-XXed, I'm sure I don't know this experience from the inside. I've attended an almost-exclusively black church a couple of times, and a mixed church for years, neither of which grants me more than a taste, which is far short of expertise. So I won't comment on what I can't comment on, though I'd welcome input from those who can.

Here's what I do notice. It is the viewpoint both of writer Deborrah Cooper and (clearly) of the reporter that there is a disconnect between black women and black men on the matter of religion in general, and of church involvement in particular. That will form my focus.

The disconnect suggested by the article is that black women are more devoted to their churches than black men. Specifically, black men are into sports activities and partying, and black women are into church. Further, black women demand that black men share their devotion to church, or a big No Sale sign pops up.

Meanwhile, black churches are full of black women, and short of black men — though (generally) led by authoritative black men.

So, accepting the premise, what solution do CNN and Ms. Cooper propose?

Well, theoretically, there could be several, couldn't there? We could —
  1. Tell black women to lower their standards and decrease their church involvement
  2. Tell black men to raise their standards and increase their church involvement
  3. Challenge the whole concept of "black church"
Which one do you suppose the "not strictly religious" writer and CNN chose? Oh, come on. Guess.

Well of course black women must lower their standards and decrease their church involvement. Of course they need to start going to parties and games and such, hunting out these men who can't be bothered with God beyond lip-service. Because as we look at men in general, or at black men in particular, we certainly don't see that they need vital faith that affects their lives beyond a theoretical nod, right?

Oops, maybe I got a tad bit sarcastic there.

My first general reaction: isn't that always the prescription? Always the world is telling us to be less serious about our faith. "Okay, leave Egypt if you have to — but not all of you! And not too far!"

As I've said, the world hates hypocrisy — except in Biblically-faithful Christians. In that case, the world demands hypocrisy. We can say "Jesus is Lord" all we want, and pray privately as often as we want. Just don't let it spill over into our actual lives, choices, worldviews. Think what we will, but act like everyone else. Act like the world.

I've never yet seen a single study of men in general, or of black men in particular, that suggests to me that men need to be less committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, that men are too Biblically-discipled, too godly, too ruled by the Word.

Yet given the possibility of one group or the other changing, of course it is the women (who are practicing their faith) who must change. Certainly not the men, who are either hypocrites, or faithless, or little boys in grown-up, babymaking bodies.

So what do I think is a better direction?
  1. Preach the Word. Well duh, you knew I'd say that.
  2. Break up any racist church ghetto, regardless of its center. If a church doesn't at least roughly reflect the composition of its community, it should do some soul-searching and outreach, and seriously consider reforms.
  3. Disciple everyone in the church, male and female alike.
  4. Evangelize.
  5. Challenge men to rise to fulfill God's revealed calling.
  6. Minister to singles in the fellowship — stop ignoring them. I've been there and experienced that, and it wasn't fun.
Obviously each of those could be expanded on, but perhaps it will serve as-is to launch some lively discussion.

Join in.


Brad Williams said...

After reading this post, I have an odd hankering for fruit stripe gum. I don't know why.

Also, I would just like to add that, while this seems like bad news for single, Jesus loving black women, there have got to be some single, Jesus loving black men going...SWEET!

Robert said...

I don't see how people think this is just a "black church" issue. I see it in our church...hardly any men serve and lot of women do. Although, I think one of your points is critical if the church is going to see men involved in service. Minister to everybody (I'm expanding your thought of ministering to single men). Don't get caught up into hanging out with people just like you...the main thing we have in common as Christians is the name of Christ. Paul became all things to all men and he wants us to imitate him as he imitates Christ. Jesus didn't nitpick like we do as far as who He talked to or discipled.

I see this article as just another attack of the world on the church. Sadly, I think that a fair amount of people will listen to this lady and let fear of man conquer fear of God...choosing folly instead of wisdom. How sad.

DJP said...

Of course, I'd challenge the assumption that it has to be black men, anyway.

Chris said...
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Chris said...
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SolaMommy said...

Yeah, I'm really not following why their husbands would need to be black. You would think if they are believers they would be attracted to a man's strong faith first and foremost and the color wouldn't matter much.

DJP said...

You know, I wasn't really going off on that, but do think about it.

Re-cast the article. Suppose it were about white women and white men, how hard it is for them to find white men who measure up.

Well, do I need even to say any more? Wouldn't fixating on the white women/men's skin color alone suffice to brand it a racist article built on racist premises?

Sir Aaron said...

I did enjoy when the article discussed the "alpha male" as if talking about a pack of wolves.

I don't know how it is elsewhere, but I've worked my job in two different field offices, Los Angeles and now Houston. In both places, African Americans intentionally segregate themselves. That is they meet together, go to lunch together, and work together. It seems to me that they do the same with church. That's not to say they wont welcome others who come to the church, but the idea seems firmly planted that African Americans should seek out "black churches."

Sir Aaron said...

BTW, the problem isn't limited to one ethnicity. I remember reading a blog not too long ago that discussed the fact that Christian women are going to have to expand their search for Christian mates to include a greater range of ages (i.e., significantly older or younger men) because the ratio of women to men going to church is going to be at least 2 to 1 based on current trends.

Frankly, I think the trend generally, is more men waiting to grow up and do something with themselves. More women than men now go to college. Men are waiting longer to get married. Mom and Dad need to kick the men off their video games and make them get a job.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Thanks for posting this story, Dan. There are SO many issues to be looked at from that single article, it's hard to know where to begin. And it certainly could stir up a lively discussion that I wish I could participate in--while at the same time peeling peaches in my kitchen before they spoil...(sigh) So I'll try to be quick about it.

The article states that Cooper's goal is to empower black women. "I'm not against religion, or against the church, I'm against women limiting their choices and putting themselves in a box because they do what their church tells them to do," Cooper says.

The men who were quoted in the article demonstrated two (wrong) extremes: men who wouldn't submit to another man's authority, and/or men (or women) who consider their pastor a "living source of salvation."

And, finally, "Rev." Renita J. Weems: the literal interpretation of certain scriptures can lead to subjugating women, Weems says. However, positive scripture messages, about love and justice, do exist and can be used to empower women rather than keep them "single and lonely." "Black women are the backbones of their community and without them a lot of charitable work would not get done, social justice on the ground would be diminished and outreach to poor people would be severed."

So as I see it, there is a power struggle going on over who is in charge, and there is a lot of pride and unwillingness to submit (women to men, men to men, people to Scripture).

Kevin Rhyne said...

"Happen to be white"..."despite my best efforts - whack!"

You kill me, Dan.

Barbara said...

I'm with Merrillee - just way too many things wrong with that article, beginning with the assumed man-centered focus in the questions regarding why thye're attending church (to feed which part of you?). It's not inherently God-centered. And as one who lives and works in the same state as the women interviewed in that article, and surrounded by highly legalistic, emotive, man-centered african american theology, I'm going to pose another issue from an African-American MALE, Eric Redmond, on the syncretistic nature of religion in the african-american

To which I respond with the fact that while the ladies don't need to lower their standards, it is still imperative that we seek make sure that the cup is being washed from the inside out, not the outside in.

Deborrah said...

You being melanin deprived is not an issue. lol!! That was funny!! :)

But what I think it important to say is that people really should take the time to read the original piece before they rush to judgment and start posting reviews and comments about something they haven't read.

In the piece entitled THE BLACK CHURCH HOW BLACK CHURCHES KEEP AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN SINGLE AND LONELY are statistics which prove that Black women are just too dang religious for their own good.

Nobody needs to go to church 3, 4, 5 days a week! Nobody should love Jesus more than they love a real man that can love them back. Nobody should have their head so into a minister or pastor and HIS words that they refuse to turn on their brain and think for themselves.

If you have been praying for love to come for years while also being told to be patient and wait for God to bring you your husband, and you've followed that and no husband has ever come CAUSE THERE ARE NO MEN IN CHURCH, wouldn't logic tell you that ya might need to look elsewhere?

One of my suggestions IN THE ARTICLE that women go to a different church. In a different area, or maybe a non-demoninational church which people tell me attracts more men of all races.

With Black women being more single than any other race of women, it is time to examine every single reason why that is. And after reading articles about Black women and their singleness in the NY Times, Washington Post, and seeing CNN, Nightline and ABC specials on it, I wrote about one of the reasons I saw that people were ignoring.

Thanks for taking the time to review.

Barbara said...


I think the general consensus here is that a better understanding of the Gospel contained in Scripture would lead to a completely different culture than the one you observe and the one you suggest.

Might I suggest a wonderful book by a very gracious redeemed sinner and godly man entitled, The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Roots to Cultural Captivity by Thabiti Anyabwile. He gets it right - not by having people lower standards, but by raising the bar as Jesus did to the point that we realize that our only hope - and that new heart, new birth, new life - is in Christ.

I can assure you it's not just a "black" problem - to suggest that it is so is to be either willfully ignorant or simply naive.

Rachael Starke said...

Your article does do a good job of identifying some of the surface causes of the problem of extended singleness with black women, but your comment here does good job of calling out the root cause. With respect, both women and men must love Jesus (who is the realest man who has ever lived, and does indeed love them more deeply and perfectly than any sinful person can) more than they love anyone else. These women are simply revealing how little they understand about the nature of that love and how that love is to be expressed. Jesus Himself loved God perfectly, but didn't demonstrate that love by being at the temple twenty-four seven. He also loved in a way that demonstrated clearly that being identified with Him transcends being identified by race or ethnicity.

That's just for starters, but I'm in the backwoods of Fresno with only my iPhone so this is all my two thumbs can manage until I get home tonight, but Thanks to both Dan and you for the opportunity to weigh in. I didn't get married until I was twenty seven and my husband was forty, and I actually had prayed to marry someone of a different race, as I thought it would make for a family that could more richly express the gospel. God sent me a blue-eyed German who could give Dan a run for his money with the while melanin-deficiency thing, but, like Dan, I'm still interested in making Jesus' church more integrated than it currently is.

Barbara said...

By the way, since you're interviewing in the Atlanta area, may I point you to some churches in the area that are tackling the problem at its root - the sin-nature - and not stopping at the symptom: the culture that results from the sin-nature and the constant temptation to bow and sacrifice to cultural idols to meet felt needs:

(1)Dhati Lewis, et al at Blueprint Church, a new plant in Atlanta which a couple of rappers from the 116 Clique have moved to Atlanta to take part in forming. The same folks involved with Blueprint were also involved in developing a good curriculum geared toward urban youth and young adults, 13 Letters.

(2) Roger Skepple of Berean Bible Baptist Church. Dr. Skepple was featured in a book entitled, Glory Road - another good read.

(3) Also in the Atlanta area and also featured in Glory Road and frequently featured at The Gospel Coalition is Anthony Carter of East Point Church.

These gentlemen and their congregations could point you to a different viewpoint, one that is based on the whole of Scripture in context and the Spirit and heart of the Gospel of Christ. The Church was never meant to be a social club that we can just switch up at will as our needs and desires change, but rather a covenant community of "called-out ones" who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and brought into His Kingdom to take up our cross and humbly serve Him and one another from a heart that flows from the outworking of the Gospel of Christ. I'm melanin-deficient too, but as a nurse in rural Georgia I work alongside and care for more African-Americans than melanin-deficient people and I can attest to the spiritual hunger and thirst for the Christ who graciously saves to the uttermost that shows up in both men and women who have been enslaved to external morality that had no power to cleanse the inside - once exposed to the truth that they are NOT hearing in their churches...and which they then begin to take back to their churches and which affects the rest of their lives and the lives of those they touch.

Marie said...

I think if a black woman in a black church desires to marry, and there are no possibilities within her congregation. . .

she should sign up with a Christian singles ministry, and/or visit or attend some other churches, where perhaps there is a good single man who would be happy to see her.

Sir Aaron said...


If there are so many single black women, what's going on with the black men? Certainly if the ratio is close to 50/50, there must be an equivalent number of single black men. If the ratio is lopsided with many more women than men, wouldn't that account for the number of single women?

Christopher said...

@ SolaMommy,

B-I-N-G-O! Sounds like the "problem" is not the non-malanin challenged women's standards, rather a desire to have a black man as their mate vs, for God to point them to the man that He has made for her if in fact the LORD has a man in mind for them (Matthew 19:11-12).

The more important issue though sounds like church might be more about meeting prospective mates vs meeting Christ in the lives of some of these ladies. Then again the article is an opinion.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Deborrah wrote,

If you have been praying for love to come for years while also being told to be patient and wait for God to bring you your husband, and you've followed that and no husband has ever come CAUSE THERE ARE NO MEN IN CHURCH, wouldn't logic tell you that ya might need to look elsewhere?

That comment right there stood out to me. If there are no men in church, and that has been the situation for years and years, then I think the question should be, "Why isn't the gospel reaching our community?"

See, I think part of the problem is that if all these single ladies are going to church and praying for love to come and find them, maybe instead they need to be concerned that the life-changing message of the gospel isn't transforming their community. Maybe they are going for the wrong reasons, as one of the people you interviewed suggested. Maybe the church they attend is not preaching the gospel, or maybe they're preaching "another gospel," one which says that if you come to church all the time, give regularly in the offering plate, and do good works in the community, then God will bring you that husband you've always wanted (or any other thing you've been longing for). And they scratch their heads wondering why that hasn't happened. Because that is not the gospel.

artfling said...

I agree with the statements which say that this is not a black church phenomenon. I don't understand all of the dynamics, but church has become a place that seems very feminized. Men feel like they need to check their manhood at the door to enter. My theory is that somehow church seems irrelevant to men. Many have bought into the seeker model and are about feelgoodness. Men need to be told that they are sinners and that there is an answer. And the church needs to speak the prophetic truth about what is going on in our society. Tell the truth about non-marital sexual relationships. Tell the truth about men taking responsibility in all areas. Teach men to be leaders and women to be submissive. Tell the truth about hell again. STOP worrying about entertaining anyone. Teach the whole counsel of God. In love. I'm sure there is more to it than these, but I think these are a big part of it.

Sir Aaron said...


The non-marital sexual relations, I think is a huge issue. Men will get married a lot quicker if they didn't get any until they were married. But they are, so why get married?

Deacon Blues said...

Break up any racist church ghetto, regardless of its center. If a church doesn't at least roughly reflect the composition of its community, it should do some soul-searching and outreach, and seriously consider reforms.

Good post. This has nothing to do with gender here, but I do think that predominantly Asian churches are less than deserving of the title "racist ghetto". These churches have their roots in the initial language barrier that existed when previous generations emigrated to the United States. And today, there continue to be a large influx of immigrant students and professionals who need a local church in their mother tongue.

Eventually, English-speaking ministries also exist for the immigrants' children and when it comes time to plant a church, the planters will most likely be homeogeneously of Asian descent. Although ethno-centricism is usually avoided in these plants (there won't be any or in the name), the numbers will not reflect the spirit behind it. While there will be community outreach, personal evangelism is still done mostly among peers and friends, who are likely of the same ethnicity.

In addition, many unchurched Asians (immigrant or American-raised) also tend to shelter themselves off to people of similar ethnic backgrounds, even if their neighborhood is integrated or predominantly white. Christianity still may be viewed as "white-man's religion". So the good news and saving grace of Jesus Christ may very well be carried by someone whom these lost people will listen to. This is not a post modern or pragmatic "change the message" strategic effort. It seems to be an outworking of many social factors that have been in play for over fifty years.

DJP said...

I welcome your reasoned dissent, DB, but if I understand you correctly, I can't agree. I don't see the church as best serving Christ by helping people refuse to learn the language of the country they're milking for a living, or to stay isolated from it and its culture.

I think that by giving itself a name such as Filipino _____ or Chinese ____ or Japanese _____, a church in America is negating Colossians 3:11.

Homogeneous outreach, if a focusing strategy, is not God-honoring. If a church wants to work on ways to teach or tutor in ESL as ancillary ministries, fine; but to say in effect, from the outset, to anyone who is not Chiniese/Filipino/Japanese/whatever— "Sorry, you can come, but you're not our focus because of your skin-color or ethnicity," is not to be true to the Gospel.

I just ask myself: would I ever be caught dead entering a church named "White People Baptist Church"? The answer, of course, is never — unless it were to preach the Gospel to them and call them to repent.

Deacon Blues said...

You understand mostly DJP. But I will address your concerns.

If its a matter of ethnicity in the name, then I do think its a good idea to be more generic, regardless of the actual ethnic composition and language used.

As for the congregational make-up; from my observations, at least in Chinese churches in America, English ministries exist (or there is an interpreter to make the messages bilingual in a small flock) and having been involved in them, there is nothing ethnocentric about that portion. The fact is that newcomers end up being the same ethnicity because of relationships that preexisted outside of the church, (Chinese-American professional societies, Chinese campus student organizations, or longtime friendships dating back to childhood).

The same applies to the spawned church plants, there is no target demographic, it just ends up that way due to relationships. And the plants all intentionally remove anything ethnic from their names, as have many of the original churches.

Finally, I opine that when Chinese churches were founded fifty or so years ago, it may have been reactionary to the fact that the local churches in the area did not offer anything for Chinese immigrants.

Oh, btw, I may be incorrect here, but most "Black" churches appear to just be in so-called "Black" neighborhoods, rather than targeting the specific race. Unfortunately, they will get the label "black church".

God Bless!

DJP said...

Then let me be a little more direct, phrase it like this, see where it takes us.

I really think a title like [Foreign Ethnicity] Church might as well be converted to "We're a Failure as a Church Church."

I don't see the excuse for "niche" churches. Why isn't a niche-church built along ethnic lines self-evidently a contradiction in terms? A church should simply be a church, existing to disciple Christians in the area of that church, shouldn't it? How is it part of a church's "call" to make it easier for ANY group to isolate itself from society, except in terms of the issue of the Gospel?

Deacon Blues said...

Ah, I think I am in agreement with you on the name part at least.

Maybe I was too over the place, but I am primarily defending English-speaking congregations that are predominantly Asian in makeup that they are actually not ethno-centric. The planters were Asian friends (likely from an immigrant congregation), and a church was formed along the lines of the Gospel. The end result just happens to be a 20% white - 80% Asian in a 25% Asian area, based on who knows who.

For example, if one Asian person comes to saving faith, the people with whom he shares with first his friends or close associates, who will likely be of the same ethnicity. So while the Church's emphasis is on the community, there is still a higher individual commitment to evangelizing friends and family, which will not necessarily lead to balanced ethnic breakdown. Maybe in time by God's grace that will happen.

DJP said...

We probably attended, for awhile, an example of what you're saying now. IT was a large (to me) church in the 200 range, and the great majority were Asian. Monosyllabic last names ruled - Ping, Pong, Lee, Chan, etc.

But we didn't detect a racist atom in it. The people were terrific, welcoming, warm. Pastor was Anglo. Not a racist church-name. Services in English.

They had (I think) sprung from a ethnic-name church, but that wasn't their own trajectory.

Deborrah said...

Whoever said I am interviewing in Atlanta is wrong. I live in California. CNN is in Atlanta, not me!

Secondly, I have no need to have more information about religion to call something that is out of whack. It's simple logic. If you want to marry a christian church-going black man, yet there are few Christian church going Black men in existence, what kind of fool would you have to be to keep thinking year after year, that one is going to magically appear? That is the part I don't get. And its so convenient for Pastors to NOT reach out to Black men! What would they do that for?

Keeping things as they are gives them total control over their "flock" of desperate, lonely women that hang on their every word. They get to dig deep into those women's pockets every time they set foot up in the church house. Many of the pastors even use these women as their personal harem.

To choose a great guy that doesn't go to church is not lowering your standards! Who would think such a thing? A man is who he is, whether he is in church or not. Going to church doesn't make a man any better than anyone else, as many big time sinners go to church on the regular.

Women need to use their brain when selecting a partner, no matter where they meet him. Screen the guy, find out how he thinks and what his morals and values are. Don't think cause he can quote a few scriptures that he is okay and great! Any pimp or con man can do that and get over on you if you allow.

Ladies, wake up. Church is not the place for Black women to be. It's just not.

DJP said...

Thanks, but it seems you're not hearing the responses you've already received, Deborrah. Your answer amounts to saying, "Just get a guy, and forget about that whole 'Jesus' thingie."

How so? It was Jesus who said that the first commandment was to love the Lord God with all one's heart, soul, mind and strength. You, disagreeing with Jesus, say a "moral" man can be one who completely ignores what Jesus says is the first and great commandment. So in that, it's your opinion vs. Jesus' opinion, and Christian women are going to side with Jesus.

Much more could be said, but I want to keep it brief and cut to the chase.

For a much fuller development, check this.