Because I felt like starting some s**t today, I bring you — The Black Church: Why it’s not always a good place for a single woman in her right mind

Thanks to Kenda Bell, a lovely, fabulous and talented author who I had the pleasure of meeting on Facebook and then becoming acquainted with in real life, I discovered an article from relationship advisor Deborrah Cooper. It was rather inflammatorily titled “The Black Church: How Black Churches Keep African-American Women Single and Lonely”. The link to the article is at the bottom of this blog entry.

As a Black woman with a long, somewhat acrimonious relationship with Black churches of all kinds, I was drawn to the title, and began to read. That is how this blog entry was born. I would welcome anyone sharing their experiences with church regarding their marital status. I am especially interested in single women. I want to know if what happened to me ever happened to you.

And now…to the article and my two cents.

Ms. Cooper puts it like this: “…Going to church makes you malleable and predictable, and narrows your thinking and thus limits your options. Going to church for single Black women is a waste of time…” Harsh words, right? But as I cite some of her points, I’ll tell you about my experiences with them.

Ms. Cooper says “many single women are in church for women’s group, Bible study twice per week, some special committee meetings, singles ministry, fellowshipping through the community, and attending service all day on Sunday. When exactly is it that this single Black woman would have time for a man in her life?”

When I would join churches, it always shocked me how the ministries would try to recruit the new members without knowing much about their skills, abilities or talents. They clearly wanted to capitalize on the “new Christian” enthusiasm and energy that people who join churches feel initially. I always felt like that wasn’t wise, that it might be wiser for a new Christian to get at least a little more solid footing in their “Christian walk” as it is often called before they go ministering. Most times I limited myself to Sunday praise and worship services, Sunday School and occasional Bible study. But often the new Christians would greedily and excitedly sign up for everything they could; the new female members in particular seemed to want to engulf themselves with things “not of the world”. They had a vision of themselves in their mind’s eye as this devoutly virtuous God fearing, God serving woman, and that evidently required being at church every day of the week. It is almost as if these women don’t trust themselves to behave in a Christian manner outside of church with the unwashed, unsaved folk. (And don’t you dare remind them of the company Jesus kept on a regular basis, prostitutes and the like.) I often wondered what these women’s men did while these women were in church all the time. Over the years I’ve had platonic male friends with highly devout good Christian wives or girlfriends, and I could always count being able to hang out with these guys on Wednesday or Thursdays nights – the nights most often devoted to Bible study at Black churches. We could grab a bite to eat, catch a movie, watch a game, or get a drink. And it never occurred to these women that it might not kill them to skip one of these church events to tend to their men, especially if they were wives – doing that is just as much service to the Lord as anything they were doing in church. I would think a responsible pastor would send some of these women home sometimes, since they are so fond of encouraging women to be submissive to their men. But that rarely happens.

Ms. Cooper also says, “…In most Black churches marriage is held up as the ideal state of existence; women that remain single are deemed to have some major flaw in attitude or ability. Thus, no single woman in the church wants to remain single because women are expected to marry and to bear children. For sistahs in the church, the pressure from family and fellow church members to marry can be so intense it may motivate her to make a fear-based decision to marry someone totally inappropriate.”

For that statement I have three words — “Single Women’s Ministry”.

At some point I always visit the Single Women’s Ministry in churches. In some churches it is just the Singles Ministry with the men and women together, but more often than not there is a single women’s ministry and a single men’s ministry, but even in the most populated churches the men’s version is always smaller than the women’s, which is why in many churches it doesn’t exist for both genders.

I initially thought the single women’s ministry was meant to help single women learn to function healthily and happily as singles, and in keeping with God’s instructions for unmarried people. I didn’t join this ministry to be “hooked up”. I wanted to find peace within myself and with God as a single woman. I never felt ashamed of being single at all, it never occurred to me to feel shame. But it always seemed the Single Women’s Ministry was all about creating and feeding into shame about being single, about not being “found” by the man who is supposed to “findeth a wife”, to “findeth a good thing”. It makes these single women so unsure about existing by themselves that they would do damn near anything to get married. And decisions made in desperation are always horrible ones.

I also was looking for some women to talk to in this ministry. I thought the Single Women’s Ministry might help me develop some friendships with women. Women I could maybe hang out with, have a glass of wine with, commiserate with, and yeah, perhaps even come across some men to have interesting, intelligent conversation with. I wasn’t necessarily looking to be married at that moment, but I did want to socialize with men. But women in the Singles Ministry have no interest in socializing just for the sake of social interaction, pleasant discourse, etc. They’re all about finding husbands, AND NOTHING ELSE. To them the time you waste socializing could be better spent planning the wedding. Every exchange with men must be clearly and definitively designed to get them one step to the altar. It is a 24/7 quest for these women, the search for that God fearing, God loving spouse. Their dissatisfaction with their single states is unbelievable, and it troubled me to think that people so clearly unhappy with themselves were actively trying to focus on bringing someone else into their lives to make it right. These women treated singleness like a disease they needed to find a cure for. Being unmarried was an affliction, and a husband was the remedy. No one wanted to be single. To be single was to be the Devil’s handmaiden, an agent for the forces of darkness and evil. And because I was not desperately seeking to heal myself from the sickness of singlehood, I was delusional and sinful almost beyond repair. The women didn’t understand my desire to grow, flourish and blossom as a sole entity at least a little bit before I introduced another party into it . I never ever once said I didn’t hope to be married one day, but that wasn’t my primary objective at that time, and it certainly wasn’t something I was attempting to address through attending church. Evidently, this meant I was a whore. A slut. This also meant I was after all the married women’s husbands – which I guess I could have easily been since I wasn’t always up in church and had more time to spend with their husbands than they did. But I honestly wasn’t. And the pressure to marry was everywhere! I was constantly being “introduced” to men whom were possible candidates for me because they were male and single and…well, that was pretty much all they offered. Evidently that was all that was required. I guess it should have been enough for a single woman like me. It bothered me that the church didn’t feel I was not enough, just me, that God didn’t want me or care about me if I was single, and I inevitably always left these groups.

Ms. Cooper also states “…Single Black women trying to live a sanctified lifestyle won’t be caught dead in the places where men are likely to be found. These church women refuse to go to parties, sports bars or sporting events, or clubs where there is drinking, card playing, domino throwing, shit talking and cussing – you know, the things that most men who enjoy life like to do. Instead these single Black women sit at home alone, or get together with their friends and read the Bible, then pray that God will bring them a husband…”

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I suggested to my Single Women’s Ministry colleagues that we go out to some event or activity that might allow us to have a good time, expand our social circle, let us to enjoy common interests and to meet people…yes, even men too. I never suggested we go out and get totally wasted, or that we hit the nightclubs and grind on strange men deep into the night, or that we throw ourselves at random strangers at art galleries or restaurants. But I did suggest that we collectively pursue our interests, and in the course of doing that, see who we came in contact with. But oh no. These ladies never wanted to do anything that wasn’t church affiliated or that put them on an express train to matrimony.

And now we’ll get to the part I always found most disturbing about my experiences in church – the horniness of these single women. Ms. Cooper explains it like this. “…If you are a single Black woman attending a traditional Black church, you will be surrounded by sexually frustrated single women who feel guilty and confused about their physical desires and emotional hungers….You will be told that your sexuality and sensuality must be contained or you lose value as a woman…”

If you ever want to see a group of adults subtly dry-humping each other and feeling each other up in public, drive past any large Black church when Sunday services are letting out. The madness begins while the services are going on. I tell you I would SMELL the sexual frustration in the air, it would leave me with a slightly nauseated feeling, like sitting next to a person wearing loud cheap perfume and being forced to inhale the scent. You see the women crossing, uncrossing, re-crossing, uncrossed, and re-crossing their legs, gently rubbing their upper thighs together under their skirts and dresses, a definite sign of sexual frustration. You see them, eyes glazed, lips slightly parted, admiring the deacons, the musicians, the assistant pastors, and so on. And then the sermon comes, and – a lot of church going women don’t want to admit this but I’m gonna tell it because I’ve heard it said quite a bit – well delivered sermons can often arouse and inflame a lot more than a woman’s…well…desire to serve the Lord. Especially if she’s already abstaining, or trying to . Passion is passion, and when one’s spirit is highly charged and moved, often other parts of the anatomy follow. So now you have all these worked up women, the doors of the church fly open when service is done, and the “fellowship love” commences.

Fellowship love is my personal term for the kissing, hugging, groping and grabbing that good Christian folk do to each other after church. The hugs are especially funny – some women do the “butt-out hug” where they make sure no part of their lower body comes in contact with his. Generally that means they’re trying not to let men touch them because they are so hungry for a man’s touch they fear they’ll have an orgasm on the spot. Plus it allows other men to check out their asses. (SIDEBAR – I was asked to point out that butt-out hugs also occur when men are trying to avoid contact with women’s bodies so they won’t get erections, which is particularly difficult to hide in dress slacks.) Then you get the full body hugs from women who always squeeze just a little too tight, too hard, too close or too long. You get the people who kiss the cheek while touching your face softly, rub their cheeks against your face, and generally treat you like a lover they are tenderly saying goodbye to in the morning light after a night of lovemaking. Some women grab the arms, backs, necks and shoulders of men as they hug them, squeezing and rubbing all the while. Some go around giving little massages to the male members. If you are just a casual observer, you may not see it or get it at first. But get close to it and you can’t miss it. And just so you don’t think I’m blaming the women, the men ain’t any better. I got to the point where I would never hang out outside the sanctuary after services because I didn’t want to be molested.

The real problem with all of this for me? The church does little to help single women handle their “physical desires and emotional hungers” as Ms. Cooper calls them, other than offering matrimony. I understand that sex outside of marriage is a sin in the eyes of God. But even so, God does know that human frailty is going to cause us to fall short, and He lovingly forgives us if we ask forgiveness of Him. But God’s love of us and His infinite understanding of human nature and His infinite ability to forgive all things is something these women never embrace. The church doesn’t always seem to see the value of  teaching women to leave shame behind as they learn to trust God, including shame about their sexuality. That means women need to be given the tools, space and time to figure these things out, free from the pressure to wed. But the church doesn’t give the lesson that sexuality is not the problem. Context is. As long as they don’t give that lesson women will be ashamed on some level of their sexual selves, and shame keeps women under control.  And the level of shame that these women feel about something that is a natural part of who they are is a problem. God does not frown on sexuality in and of itself, He just wants it put in its proper place. Worst of all, horniness and everything that comes with it – loneliness, sadness, etc., are rarely openly addressed in church either, and made worse by the constant marital push. And often women aren’t given any real tools to maintain abstinence if that’s what a woman strives to do. You just have to wait until you meet this man that marries you (because then you can have sex – and honestly, I think a lot of these women who end up succumbing to the pressure to marry were just tired of not getting laid!), and in the meantime you press your thighs together as tightly as possible and hold on until he shows up. And of course it is always the woman’s fault if a man “falls from grace”. It is always her wantonly displayed seductiveness that caused him to fall, so church women often must be on guard so that they don’t entice some horny old deacon.

Ms. Cooper comments rather simply and powerfully towards the end of her article, “…if you’ve been participating in your church for 10, 12, 18 years looking for love and a husband to make your life complete, and you haven’t found him yet, it’s time to try something new…” While trying something new might not mean leaving your church home, it at the very least means a serious change in attitude for these women. I think where some of these types of women make their mistake is they think of their relationships with God as a quid pro quo arrangements – quid pro quo is Latin and it means “something for something”. Some women take the idea of a spouse being a gift from God quite literally – they truly see him as a reward for a job well done in service of the Lord. Its as if they expect God to go around handing out husbands to His good and faithful single female servants. They believe that a combination of submission, service and supplication will make a groom appear. They take very literally that verse that declares God will give them the “desires of their hearts”. A husband is their personal little pot of gold at the end of their spiritual rainbow.

Once I asked a girlfriend of mine who was attending church seeking a husband about this, and she mentioned this whole “desires of your heart” thing to me. I then asked her if she would ever want anything outside of God’s will or God’s plan for her. She said “of course not”. I then asked her if God, for whatever reason, didn’t want her to have a husband at this time, or perhaps ever, would she, as a good Christian, submit to His will graciously? She was stumped. She just kept going back to the “desires of your heart” thing over and over. She ran down a laundry list of things that she did for the church, all of the choirs she sang on, all the ministries that she had served on, all the bake sales, car washes, and clothing drives she had organized. She cited her faithful attendance of praise and worship services, Sunday School, and Bible  study When she was done, she looked and me and nodded, convinced that she had proved her point. Why wouldn’t God give her the desires of her heart after so much hard work?

I didn’t bother pointing out that doing things for the church and doing things to serve God are not always one and the same because it seemed like I was already blowing her mind. I then pointed out that “His ways are not our ways, and His thought are not our thoughts…” and, in keeping with that, would she be prepared to consider the idea that God, in His infinitely mysterious wisdom, intended her to be on this road? She finally got exasperated with me, and cut me off with “I just don’t believe that’s what God intends for me.”

Well ummm…okay

I have struggled with all the things Ms. Cooper sites in her article in Black churches. It makes me feel bad because I really do want to have a church home, but it seems almost impossible. I don’t subject myself to a lot of nonsense in most aspects of my life, and church is no different   In spite of it all, including not having a church home, I still have a relationship with God – a combination of faith, works, prayer, love, humor and endless patience for this growing and learning process that is my life that puzzles me more than anything. And now that I have exposed myself and my struggles so publicly, we’ll see what you have to say!

Comments would be GREATLY appreciated…PEACE!

You can read Ms. Cooper’s article in its entirely at http://survivingdating.com/?p=1229.