I’ve recently begun to question much of the church’s doctrine and position on dating, marriage, and relationships. As an African-American woman whose been church-ed for all my natural born childhood, and adult life I am quite familiar with the “don’t be unequally yoked,”, “the man is supposed to find you”, and “just focus on God, the husband will come” rhetoric. The problem with the “just wait on God” mantra which the church espouses so liberally is that it doesn’t match up with real life experiences of many women of color who like me have done nothing but focus on God and their career and still aren’t married. In her article How the Black Church Keeps Black Women Single Deborah Cooper claims that black churches play a key role in keeping black women single and alone, waiting for Mr. Right, all the while taking care of the churches’ business. (Follow this link for Deborah’s article: http://survivingdating.com/black-churches-how-black-churches-keep-african-american-women-single-and-alone)
It’s that old “if you take care of God’s house, he will take care of your house” adage. And it’s not just traditional black churches which espouse such traditional notions about a single woman’s place in God’s house. Growing up in the Pentecostal faith tradition with mostly white congregations, I can attest to the fact that many of us are taught it is a man’s job to pursue us and our job is to wait–anything more smacks of and/or constitutes Jezebel or harlot like behavior in the eyes of the church. But what exactly are we waiting for? I hate to say it but I’ve come to the conclusion that Mr. Right is probably not in the church, at least not for educated and/or professional sisters of color. Of course, a lot of it has to do with the church and it’s perpetuation of traditional gender roles which does not jive well with the self-assured, independent “woman vibe” that a lot of women of color subscribe to. Gender equality is something that women of this generation demand. However, because the church maintains such rigid views on a man and a woman’s place in the marriage relationship, it causes ruptures and tears for many of us female egalitarian sisters of color sitting on the pews.
The other “elephant in the room”, is the “do not be unequally yoked” doctrine which presumes to tell us single gals that all we need to be concerned with is the spiritual state of our future spouse and as long as that is settled everything will be alright. I heard my Pastor say it this way “anyone whose not a born-again Christian, you can take them off the table”. Well, now that raises some interesting questions. If I can be unequally yoked with a man spiritually isn’t it possible that I can also be unequally yoked with a man naturally? In secular terminology we call it compatibility. Are you telling me that all us church-ed sisters need to be concerned about in a potential mate is his spiritual status without regard to his emotional, mental, and financial state? I submit that it is foolish to do so. My bible says that “a man who does not work should not eat”. (2 Thessalonians, 3;10, NKJV). I interpret this to mean that a man’s propensity or motivation to secure gainful employment is just as important a consideration as his relationship with God. Also, lets not forget about factors such as educational attainment, income level, economic stability, financial independence, socio-economic status, race, culture, shared interests, similar values, etc…which weigh heavily in one’s choice of a future spouse or partner. Would the church have us believe that none of these other things matter as long as we have Christ?
I find the “all we need is Christ” doctrine dangerous and think it does a major disservice to women of color and of faith since we have to negotiate most or all of these factors in our romantic relationships. This “all we need is Christ” doctrine also fails to acknowledge that such factors make us appear all the more or less attractive as possible marriage spouses. So, just because I might not regard race, cultural, or socio-economic differences as reasons not to date and/or marry someone in my church, does not mean someone else may not. And to illustrate my point, I’d like to share a story with you. During the spring of 2005 I was serving as a youth leader for my church youth group. It was my second year as a youth leader and I was absolutely loving it. One night after youth service when all the kids had been dismissed, we youth leaders were lounging in the café area having a lively discussion about relationships, dating, and marriage partners. A lot of people were talking about what they imagine their wedding day and/or partner might possibly be like. Suddenly, out of the blue, one of the white male youth leaders blurted out he would never marry a black or Italian woman b/c as he put it “I simply do not find them attractive”.
I felt stung and mortally offended. It was as if someone had literally stuck or stabbed me in the back with a knife. As a black woman of course his comment cut me deep but perhaps what was even more hurtful to me was that he had also offended a very good friend of mine who happened to be born and raised Italian and also a youth leader as well. My initial reaction was so quick. How can you say that? You don’t know who you will marry! I had always been taught that we don’t regard the flesh as Christians and it doesn’t matter what package the person comes in as long as they are the right person God intended for you to be with its all good. In utter shock and disbelief I protested vehemently along with several other women of color youth leaders and my Italian friend but to no avail. This youth leader proceeded to defend his racist statement to the ground. The intense anger I felt swelled. What if there had still been teens, especially black teen girls in the building who heard what he had said? How can he stand in front of a group of racially diverse teens every week and beckon them to enter into a deeply intimate and spiritual place in worship and harbor such racist feelings towards black and Italian women?
At the risk of not causing more strife among the youth staff I kept quiet about the incident but I’ve never forgotten it to this day. Sometimes, I wonder if the youth pastors deserved to know what kind of person they had serving on their staff but I digress. I share this story to show the flaws with the “Christ is all we need” doctrine when it comes to relationships. Obviously, racism exists in the church despite the doctrine and rhetoric about there being no “Jew or Greek” and sadly that extends to romantic relationships too. Perhaps, that explains why over the last nine years the last 11 weddings I’ve attended at my church have only been for young white couples in their early to mid 20’s. So as much the church would like us sisters to believe that white or rainbow man sitting on the pew next to us could be “the One” there might be ghostly matters of race, culture, and ethnicity lurking in the back of his mind that need to be addressed publicly and honestly.
In the end we educated/professional women of color and of faith are juggling our Christianity with our race, class, and gender, which is quite a balancing act. To assume that shared faith in Christ trumps all these identity markers is foolish, unrealistic, and insulating in many ways. We need partners Christian or no Christian who are willing to negotiate these issues with us and unfortunately I have not met any men in church that can do this. So, despite your protests I’m not “taking anyone of the table”. Sorry Pastor.