Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Conflicted (black) (woman) (Christian)

Out of sheer laziness, I'm going to base the following on personal opinion and observation. I am not the only observer of such things, but it's midnight and the only reliable source whom I can think of who has engaged the issue is Deborah Gray-White. Maybe Charles Payne a little bit. But I digress.

What I've been thinking about is ongoing conflict/bitterness between black men and women. What I want to write about is how disheartened I am because I think black churches exacerbate it and tend to place all the responsibility squarely in the laps of women, making it another sign of "Eve's curse. "

An example--two Sundays ago, the pastor at the church I attend here, was making a joke about men who "pop their suspenders" and announce that they are "the man of the house." "If you have to do that," he noted, "then you're probably not the man of the house" (and no, I'm not getting into defining what "man" in this context means and what attributes are assignable to that being). And his next phrase was, "And if you live with a black woman, she probably tells you, 'You'd better sit down and be quiet, contribute something to this house,' but I won't go into that." Indeed, he didn't have to go into that because he quite often makes his point about bossy, emasculating black women. The problem with black families, in his opinion (and in that of many others), is that black women don't let black men be men. He has preached about how evil (yes, evil) it is for black women to assume certain positions inside the church--namely those of pastor and deacon. It is a bid for power that is not supposed to be ours, he says, for how could women, commanded by God to be submissive, lead a church?

And lest ye think that I have only observed this at my local church, let me describe a conference the pastor at my home church had with the young women of my church. I'll begin by saying my church at home is not so rigid--as in many black churches, women are the majority and the most active. And the church acknowledges that indirectly--women participate on most committees, head different organizations, and are quite vocal. The latest pastor was elected, in part, because the women of the church pushed for him so forcefully. Women are still left out of the pastor-and-deacons circle, but that actually causes a lot of woe for the deacons. They make decisions, pass down these edicts, and if the women of the church don't like them, they make it known. And when the women in my church don't like something, it has very little chance of succeeding. But back to this conference.

You see, Rev wanted to talk to us about relationships between black women and men. And, I will admit, we had some pretty stinging observations--everything from "They cheat," to "They're insecure," to "Lord, I hope my son turns out differently." (And remember, these are based on the experiences of one group of women and should not be construed to encompass or describe all black men). Still, every single one of us was determined that if we were to spend our lives with another person, we wanted it to be a black man. After listening, Rev, quite politely and in his usual intelligent-and-endearing tone, excoriated us.

Had we ever considered that a lot of the problem was us? What is it that we demand? Don't we realize we are more likely to have a higher education and thus, may earn more? Why, in this day and age, were we looking for someone to take care of us? (none of us had said that!) Why would a man keep coming to a house (or, more importantly in his estimation, I believe) a church where he felt he wasn't needed? Did we second guess all their decisions? Did we berate and browbeat them if they made mistakes? Did we control everything, thereby (once again) preventing him from being a man? And on and on.

Our responses to this conference, left all of us with a bad taste. You see, having been reared in the church, we didn't dare disrespect Rev. But our polite refutations did not sway him. "Pray," he advised, "that you learn to let go of some things. That you learn the role you are to fill."

And that was it. For me, this is increasingly a problem with my church experience. How can I happily go to a place where I am repeatedly told that, by simply being myself, I am preventing someone, potentially a someone I care much about, from self-actualizing? Where I am cast as a burden on the notion of black manhood? Where black womanhood and manhood are so narrowly defined, and defined in terms that don't correlate with our historical experiences? Where I am told that being who I am has disastrous effects on black homes, black churches, black communities? Where I have to contend with the idea that black women "run off" black men--something that is particularly troublesome for me because 1) it assumes that if a black man does not live in the home with a woman and her child(ren), he is fully absent, not emotionally or financially responsible which, for the millionth time, is not always true 2) it assumes that a man willing to run out on his familial and communal obligations is prompted mainly by a "controlling" woman. Hello--any guy who does that lowdown mess most likely has serious internal, not external, issues.

At the same time that I cannot imagine going to such a hostile place, I cannot imagine leaving black Baptist churches. It makes me a hypocrite, in a sense, a role with which I am increasingly uncomfortable.


Anonymous said...

i don't know about black baptist churches, but i want to hope that there are some which are not the way that you describe.

i have experienced the same thing in a Latino baptist church in the south. not to say that this sort of thinking does not happen elsewhere, but I hope that you can find a less narrowminded church.

good luck.

elle said...

Thank you!

Though I can't imagine leaving the home church, I am thinking about attending a new one here. But it's hard starting over and honestly, I'm skeptical that the message will change much.

Gwyneth Bolton said...

It is really unfortunate that this happens. Women are the backbone of the Black church. If we took all of the women out of the congregation, there wouldn't be a congregation left in some churches. I struggle with a lot of the same issues you list here when I listen to some sermons. It makes it hard to attend sometimes...

animeg said...

That always bothered me about the churches I've been to. Why would God care about your gentialia anyway?

Dondre said...


Let me tell you...In order to grow, I had to go through a similar realization. I grew up in what I believe to be very similar circumstances to yours. However, God did not bless me to be a Black Woman. I am a strong, proud, intelligent, opinionated, black, homosexual man! Although I grew up Catholic, my dad is Baptist and I have spent many a day in a Baptist church. For me, church is all about realizing a "higher" me and finding my personal closeness with God. I have always had issue when a Pastor/Priest (read Rev) :) feels the need or shall I say duty to tell me how I should live my life. Now let's get something straight here, I don't purposely go around leading my life in an immoral way in any way, shape or form, but I also happen to lead what some might term an "alternative" lifestyle...Well, lo and behold, the answer I find is through my spiritual connection with God...I hope th is isn't coming across as too mystical. Elle, I really feel that if we take the time to listen to what "God" is truly telling each of us personally, the world will be a much better place. This is not to say ignore "Rev" completely, but it is definitely to say that one should never put complete faith in the ideas and thoughts of another man. Trust the little whispers we all hear if only we take the time to listen. I'm sure you will come through this in grander fashion than you began it, but when questions arise, keep hope alive.

elle said...

shannon, from what i've been taught, God has a keen interest in our genitalia b/c it dictates everything we do (or are not "allowed" to do) in life. seriously, i know that's not God.


Where have you been???? Thanks for the post.

Dondre said...

Studying like a fiend for the LSAT...I'm taking it on December 2nd. Keep great thoughts out there for me...Miss you.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...