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Kicking Over Sacred Cows in the Church!

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.

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Posted by on July 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Alicia Keys, Chad Michael Murray, and Un-Thinkable

When Alicia Keys released her new music video “Un-Thinkable”  last month I felt haunted by it. I say haunted because it stayed with me for days on end and no matter what I did, I could not shake the image of Keys and Murray as star-crossed lovers fighting against racial, familial, and societal norms throughout the decades all the way up to present day. I think “Un-Thinkable” really struck a chord with me because it is the perfect backdrop against popular conversation regarding black women expanding their options to dating out, even if that means dating white, but also because it dovetails so nicely with my research interests in chatting with professional women of color about dating, love, and relationships, or lack thereof.

On another note, (pun intended), I was also deeply moved on an emotional level as well. As a singer myself I have a deep appreciation for the lyrical quality and melodic nature of the song, but also for the way Ms. Keys used it to tell a story and highlight a complex social issue. I gained a new found respect for her talent as a artist and actress and for that of Mr. Chad Michael Murray, whom prior to the Alicia Keys video I had not seen in anything yet but really liked and appreciated in this role.

I was completely blown away by the intensity, passion, and tension conveyed between Keys and Murray in just a single glance, in their facial expressions, and their body language. At times, the chemistry between them was so palatable that I couldn’t even hardly stand it. However, I think for me the moment of truth was after the fight scene between Murray and Keys’ brother, when Murray yells “What am I not good enough?” while Keys is pulled away by her friends, clearly heartbroken and devastated as indicated by the look on her face.

That one statement alone is laced with so many racial undertones–charged meanings. In one fell swoop “Un-Thinkable” cuts to the heart of the issue and calls into question why black women/white male interracial unions have always been such a volatile issue. It hearkens back to the 1967 Loving vs. Virgina Case which outlawed miscegenation in this country, making it 100% legal for interracial couples everywhere to get married.

The video also raises the issue of racism as so clearly depicted in scenes where Keys and Murray are eying each other from the other side grocery aisle while a white female cashier and white male customer look on unapprovingly in utter shock and disbelief.  They are obviously uncomfortable with the exchange passing between Keys and Murray, a fact that is still of concern to white society and a sore spot in the black community too.

“Un-Thinkable” manages to deal with conflicts surrounding black women and white men unions sensitively but also truthfully. Just as the white store clerk and customer are not pleased by Keys and Murray romantic overtures neither is Keys’ brother pleased either. This not an issue many of us like to discuss in the black community but it is out there and it affects the dating options and choices that women of color have for themselves.

Call it a stigma, a double standard if you will but all I am saying is nobody yells when men of color exercise their options but then there is some code that requires women of color to be “loyal to their men”. This whole notion of an “IBM”, the ideal black man (or any other man of color) is especially limiting for us sisters who desire relationships but do not traffic in spaces where there are lots of men of color to pick and choose from liberally. Not to mention we have to question what makes a man of any race “good”? Isn’t that what Murray was alluding to when he asks “I am not good enough”?

In other wards the underlying message is “yeah, you’re not good enough because you are not black”. I’m inclined to believe that romantic compatibility is not based on race.  I am not saying race doesn’t matter. I am saying that race is something that has to be negotiated in interracial relationships which might be a little tricky but not impossible. It’s not unthinkable. As single successful sisters we are at a critical juncture in our personal and professional lives. We are on the move, earning our degrees, and moving into high places of power. It’s about time for us to let go of these notions that dating outside our race is unthinkable. Instead we ought to move toward relationships where there is reciprocity, and finding partners who are both good to us and good for us, whatever race they may be.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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