The Church and Black Womens Marraige

11 Aug

Not really a surprise here. Early on in computer dating I found a sister who seemed to fit the bill. Attractive, intelligent, extremely well dressed, and well educated. The conversation quickly moved to the Religion part, where she announced she only dated men with the spirit in them. End of that story.

More than one of the guys here has noted the same thing. There is a huge differential between the number of black men attending, especially evangelical churches and women. Church lady may be fine, but that highly structured belief set may be a giant red stop light to a majority of the guys who might be interested. Especially if that church is decidedly hostile to those who don’t follow it’s path.

Does the black church keep black women single?

Legs covered in skin-toned stockings, her skirt crisp to the knee, Patty Davis slips on the black heels she has shined for the day.

“Got to look good in the Lord’s house,” she says as she spritzes her neck with White Diamonds perfume and exits her black Lincoln Town Car.

Davis, 46, of Union City, Georgia, has attended African Methodist Episcopal churches since before she could crawl. She sits proudly in the pew every Sunday for service and is among the first to arrive for bible study each Wednesday.

She moves swiftly, with confidence, a weathered Bible clutched in her right hand, the day’s passages dog-eared and highlighted. She’s the type of woman who can recite scriptures with ease, her love of faith evident in her speech.

“Every day is a blessed day for me,” she says. “Jesus is the No. 1 man in my life and any man who wants me must seek me through Him.”

The unmarried Georgia native is a committed follower of the Christian faith, striving to live and breathe the gospel in her daily life. Yet, according to relationship advice columnist Deborrah Cooper, it is this devout style of belief and attachment to the black church that is keeping black women like Davis — single and lonely.

Clinging to the gospel

Cooper, a writer for the San Francisco Examiner, recently made claims on her blog that predominantly black protestant churches, such as African Methodists, Pentecostal, and certain denominations of Evangelical and Baptist churches are the main reason black women are single. Cooper, who is black and says she is not strictly religious, argues that rigid beliefs constructed by the black church are blinding black women in their search for love.

In raising the issue, Cooper ignited a public conversation about a topic that is increasingly getting attention in the black community and beyond. Oprah Winfrey, among others, recently hosted a show about single black women and relationships after a Yale University study found that 42 percent of African-American women in the United States were unmarried.

Big Miller Grove Missionary Baptist Church, a predominately African-American Baptist church in Atlanta, is holding a seminar on the question of faith’s role in marital status on August 20.

“Black women are interpreting the scriptures too literally. They want a man to which they are ‘equally yoked’ — a man that goes to church five times a week and every Sunday just like they do,” Cooper said in a recent interview.

“If they meet a black man that is not in church, they are automatically eliminated as a potential suitor. This is just limiting their dating pool.”

The traditional structure and dynamics of black churches, mostly led by black men, convey submissive attitudes to women, Cooper says, encouraging them to be patient — instead of getting up and going after what they want.

Nearly ninety percent of African-Americans express “certain belief in God” and 55 percent say they “interpret scripture literally,” according to the 2009 Pew Research Center study “A Religious Portrait of African-Americans.”

Dr. Boyce Watkins, a professor at Syracuse University and advocate for African-American issues, responded to Cooper’s article online. Though he applauded Cooper’s courage to voice her opinion , he agreed — and disagreed — with her.

“I don’t think the church keeps black women single,” Watkins says. “But I do agree that some black churches teach women that they must only date a man that goes to church regularly.”

Watkins, who is African-American and whose father is a Southern Baptist minister, described his interactions with southern women who are devout churchgoers. “I am a male and I know that I will treat a woman well, but I have been rejected many times because I don’t thump a bible with me everywhere that I go.”

All in the numbers

One of biggest reasons black women are single, Cooper says, is because of a lack of black men in the church. According to the PEW study, “African-American men are significantly more likely than women to be unaffiliated with any religion (16 percent vs. 9 percent). Nearly one-in-five men say they have no formal religious affiliation.”

Watkins believes the social structure of the church keeps black men from attending. “Those appealing, high-testosterone guys have a hard time getting into the ‘Follow the leader, give me your money, and listen to what I have to say’ attitude.”

“Many of us have a difficult time submitting to the pastor who is just another man.”

The male pastor, Cooper says, is the “alpha male” for many black women. Over-reverence for the pastor – or any religious figure for that matter – creates barriers for the black man, she says, because he feels like he must compete for the No. 1 spot in a black woman’s heart.

“It doesn’t make you more attractive if your life is filled with these ‘other’ men,” Cooper says. “If they feel like they have to compete, you are not going to be interesting because you’re not feeding his ego in the way it needs to be fed.”

Mark K. Forston, son of a black preacher in Forest Park, Georgia, says some black women “put their pastor on this pedestal and have a large amount of faith in him because he is a living source of salvation.”

Sometimes women even focus their romantic feelings on the pastor, says Forston. “Regardless if he’s married or not, sometimes human desires will transcend beyond certain parameters and that’s dangerous territory. Pastors are humans just like anybody else.”

The Rev. Renita J. Weems, a bible scholar who holds a degree in theology from Princeton, strongly disagrees with Cooper about why many black women remain single and says she is reinforcing one message: “It’s the black woman’s fault.”

“To claim that women are sitting in their chair getting heated about watching their preacher strut across the pulpit is illogical,” Weems says. “The black church is not a Sunday morning sex drama.”

Weems, who is African-American and has written several books on women’s spirituality, has her own criticisms of the black church. 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.”

Weems says Cooper fails to examine deeper threads. “What the black church does and what religion does is helps you create core values for your life and allows you to see what you appreciate in others.

“The reason why black women who go to black churches are not married is because they are looking for certain values in a man,” Weems says. “It is not the church that keeps them single, but the simple fact that good values are lacking in some of our men.”

Choose or lose the church

Cooper says her goal is to empower black women. If their strategy for meeting men is failing, Cooper offers two suggestions: Find another church or leave-and go where the boys go: tailgates, bars and clubs.

“Black women need to open their eyes. You want to know the reason why the black man isn’t in church? Because he left church to go to the Sunday football game,” Cooper says. “Going to these sites is discouraged in the black church because these places are seen as places where ‘sin dwells.’ But if women are compassionate, as the bible preaches they should be, then they need to be more open about the men they choose to date and where they might meet them.”

“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.

Weems disagrees. “Telling black women that they should spend their two hours on Sunday elsewhere and drive them away to go to the bar to find a date is not helpful to our communities.”

“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.”

Patty Davis, the long time churchgoer in Georgia, says all the arguments over what the church preaches miss the point. What truly matters, she says, are women’s motives.

“The real question is: What are you coming to church for?” she says. “To feed your spirit? Or your carnal desires?”

The church’s effect on the romantic lives of black women cannot be gleaned from a mathematical equation or a select bible passage, Davis says.

“It is a woman’s own actions and decisions that will determine the outcome of her love life, not the church’s,” Davis says. “Because the last time I checked, the church ain’t no dating service.”


Posted by on August 11, 2010 in American Genocide, The Post-Racial Life


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14 responses to “The Church and Black Womens Marraige

  1. brotherbrown

    August 11, 2010 at 9:03 AM

    I have a longtime friend, 51 years old. This is her Facebook Profile comment:

    Ok, it is finally time…this is the first year that I have ever claimed a year….going to settle down…find my King and rightfully take my place as Queen…2010..the new saga begins…

    Earlier this year, she was all excited about a new fella she met-he had all the qualities and qualifications. Then, about a week after she first announced how smitten she was, she posted that it was over and her search was continuing. Brotherbrown already knew the deal, but one of her concerned friends asked her what happened. “He was a non-believer,” was her reply.

    After a series of virtual high-fives from her sister-girls, Brotherbrown waded in: “My wife and I are about to celebrate our 27th anniversary, and I am a non-believer. You know my father, my brothers and me, you know the kind of men we are. You may have met the man of your dreams, but all relationships must be willing to compromise.”

    Her reply? Still waiting…


    • btx3

      August 11, 2010 at 9:27 AM

      I know what you are saying, but over the last 20 years or so, more than a few Churches have moved into a “us or them” mentality. It may be very good for the fiscal health of the church – but it doesn’t do a damn thing for it’s members.

      The second thing any organization does after creating itself – is to seek to perpetuate itself…

      Even at the cost of those who built it.

      I don’t lay this one entirely on black women, I lay it on the Ministers who perpetuate this self serving hypocrisy.


  2. Yes

    August 11, 2010 at 1:38 PM


    You have read my mind again! I hear the usual question: “Are you a Christian or do you love the lord?” Does that make me a bad person if I’m not? What really infuriates me is that Black women are missing out on a lot of good things due to this mentality.

    I love this one: “I’m waiting for the Lord to send me a man.” Also Majority of these women have been burnt by men and have left them scarred.

    @ Brother Brown.

    Do you know how many women face book profiles have that same speech that are friends with me? Too many!!! Then they miraculously found religion after giving a man all of there power.


  3. nanakwame

    August 11, 2010 at 3:42 PM

    Remember a old friend saying she was married to Jesus, she still not married a human. Sad


  4. brotherbrown

    August 11, 2010 at 8:10 PM

    It’s beyond sad, it’s damn near criminal.

    BT, I understand laying it at the feet of ministers. Every time I hear some woman repeating a line that almost sounds like a script, I have to resist the temptation to roll my eyes. And this woman Weems (who probably is not married) typifies the problem. this is God’s way, they say.

    However, women must be able to think for themselves. I have never gotten a sister to explain to me how, if Jesus himself was never married, could he show the way to a successful marriage. But there are followers in the church who parrot the minister by saying there are three people in the marriage, the husband, the wife, and Jesus at the head. Sorry, that is a non-starter, and a lot of the women who state that the loudest are the ones who don’t understand why their husband left them.

    I’ve even taken the step of showing black women a certain bible verse that I will share here:

    1 Corinthians 7:12-14

    12But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.

    13And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

    14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

    Which in contemporary language, reads thusly:

    12To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.

    13If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.

    14For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband.(Q) Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy

    Since most bible thumpers don’t actually comprehend the bible (particularly the KJV), they don’t know what to do with that bit of information. The next time you get that from a woman, send her to first Corinthians seven and twelve, and then ask her to interpret what she read.


    • btx3

      August 11, 2010 at 10:11 PM

      Wow! BB – That was awesome!


  5. T-shorts101

    August 12, 2010 at 3:52 PM

    Were these women always “saved”? Did they come out of the womb praising Jesus? Meet people where they are, not where you want them to be, otherwise you are doomed to perpetual disappointment.

    One more question: Unless these women think they are perfect, what will the man in thier life have to put up with?


    • btx3

      August 12, 2010 at 5:49 PM

      One of the diseases which the evangelicals caught when they decided to join the political fray, is the very anti-Christian concept of “they”. What they bought into was religious chauvinism. A religious chauvinism which is, of in itself a political tool and methodology to control believers – making them the most loyal, trustworthy voters willing to support and abide by things which are the very antithesis of Christianity. Virtually every conversation in that world starts with “they hate us”, “they” don’t share our beliefs. Nothing is seen in the context of shared humanity – because no one who isn’t fully in accordance with the principles of these evangelical churches, or fully opted into the belief set…

      Has the moral character to discuss such issues. And of course, everyone who is opted into the program already agrees 100%.

      There is a certain degree of cross pollination between black evangelical churches and majority white ones. What better way to guarantee seats in the pews each Sunday, than to preach the Gospel of chauvinism. The faithful will remain “faithful” through manipulation, through fear driven by “crisis” whether manufactured or imagined.

      A Church is a compact. Teaching Religion is just part of it. The other, more important part is the care and well being of the people in the Church.

      Way too many of these Churches are failing on that second part with that Gospel of exclusivity.


      • btx3

        August 12, 2010 at 6:02 PM

      • brotherbrown

        August 13, 2010 at 1:13 AM

        All I can say about that pray together article is: interesting.

        I’m sure you have to delve in to the stats and the sample to fully understand the poll. However, I would say intuitively most women are happy when their husbands go to church with them, which ultimately pays dividends for the man, but let’s face it, couples can go to church 53 weeks a year and Wednesdays and choir practice to boot still not be happy for a myriad of reasons.


      • btx3

        August 13, 2010 at 12:12 PM

        Black folks are some of the most religious folks in America. 90% of black people claim they believe in God. If you grew up in, or have close connections to the black community, it is a virtual certainty you have connections to one or more black churches. The Church is deeply interwoven into the life of the community – especially in the South. Indeed, in days gone by one of the strategies used by young men to meet quality marriageable women was to visit other Churches, whether Baptist, Methodist, or AME. It can be a little scary doing the usual stand up at the beginning of the Sermon to announce yourself, but I personally have never been made to feel unwelcome in any of the mainstream black churches. Sitting down with the older folks for Sunday Dinner conversation would often lead to a discussion of Church news – who got a new Minister, a new building fund etc. – as well as sometimes spirited discussions on which Church had the best Choir (Skip the Sermon – Let the Fat lady sing!). Perhaps the reason the marriages, at least in the mainstream churches prosper, is that “community”.

        There always has been a bit of a rift between mainline and “Holiness” Churches. The Pentecostals versus the Baptists. Some of that wall was/is socioeconomic. Some even followed internal racial divisions.


  6. jacquiemdc

    January 18, 2011 at 12:02 PM

    I’m sorry I’m so late to this blog, but I had to comment on the scripture used. 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 is talking about the condition a person was living in when they became a Christian. So if someone was married and became a Christian, they didn’t have to divorce their unconverted spouse if they didn’t want to, but if the spouse wanted to leave, the Christian spouse was not bound to stay married to the unbelieving spouse if BOTH agree to separate. If the poster who cited verses 12-15 had posted verses 16-20 also, the full context of the scriptures could have been understood. 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 does not support the idea of Christians intentionally marrying unbelievers. If it did, then how would you explain 1 Corinthians 6:14-18… It’s real easy to misuse scripture to support anybody’s ideas if the right scripture is used selectively. Please present scripture in their complee context so the full meaning can be understood. That’s only fair, regardless of whether you are a Christian and believe the Bible or not.


    • btx3

      January 18, 2011 at 8:17 PM

      Better late than never, Jacquie!


      • jacquiemdc

        January 18, 2011 at 8:45 PM

        Thanks! And for the record, the church isn’t keeping Black women single. Some of us choose to be single, some of us have been hurt too many times and are healing, some of us are completely and utterly unmarriable, and some of us haven’t met the man we want to marry who wants to marry us yet. This whole thing is a two-way street, and the responsibility can’t be laid on one group of people. In defense of Christian women, though, I readily admit that I want a man who has a solid relationship with Christ before He met me. He doesn’t have to be a “Bible Thumper,” go to church 5x a week, or speak in tongues, because I don’t do any of those things. But he does have to have a relationship with Christ, he does have to place a priority on spiritual worship and service in his life, and he does have to live by Biblical principals. I completely get that this eliminates a lot of men. But that’s exactly the point. I’m not looking for a lot of men, I’m looking for one. If men can have preferences about height and weight and they’re considered completely valid and legitimate (and they are; if a man isn’t into slightly fluffy women like myself, I’m not mad at him, there are plenty who are), then just as much respect should be given to my preference to prefer and choose a man of faith. I’ll talk about some of this stuff in my own blog, when I add more content.



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