Longing-womanIn a controversial blog post, writer Deborrah Cooper argues that the Black church is a major reason why Black women fail to find good men. Sure, she’s angry and misinformed, but is Cooper on to something?

A couple weekends ago, I was winding down my Sunday night by doing a quick scan of all things African American on the Internet, and I stumbled upon an article written in response to a provocative blog post about “How Black Churches Keep African American Women Single and Lonely.” I read the response but didn’t read the blog to which it was responding. It all sounded a little sensationalistic to me, and too much like the normal spate of “angry Black women” fare that has been circulating in cyberspace for several years now. But as the week wore on, it became clear that a response might be in order.

Reading Deborrah Cooper’s blog post was kind of like reading a scathing and very unflattering letter written about a family member; you’re reflexively poised to defend, and defend hard. On the other hand, reacting to Cooper’s opinions about why Black women should stop spending so much time in church is not unlike recoiling from someone who’s shouting in your face — until you realize she’s shouting that your clothes are on fire.

Her basic premise is that because single Black women are not getting what we want from all the time and energy being invested in church — namely a man, or at least a promising relationship — we should stop investing so much in it and “broaden our horizons” to other places, people, and experiences that will increase our chances of meeting our needs. And she posits reasons why we cannot hope to experience fulfillment, empowerment, or success through the church, primarily because the male-dominated hierarchy keeps us pinned under its thumb with talk of submission and such. She supports her premise with all kinds of illogical fallacies, misrepresentations, and even humor.

Wading through the Cooper’s leaps in logic and outright falsehoods definitely turned me off to what she had to say — to a point. For example, she references results of a 2007 Pew Research Center study, “African Americans and Religion,” which reports that almost 90 percent of African Americans say they have an “absolutely certain” belief in God; 80 percent of us say that religion is “very important” to us; and 55 percent of us admit that we “interpret Scripture literally.” She combines those results with another finding from the same study that men are more likely than women to claim no religious affiliation, to arrive at six conclusions Black women should draw, including the following:

  • Going to church is not making you more attractive and interesting to men
  • Going to church is not going to teach you to be fiscally responsible, investment savvy, or empower you to achieve greatness as a woman
  • Going to church is not going to broaden your horizons, make you more tolerant and accepting of all God’s children, nor is it going to encourage you to be free of the chains of patriarchy and oppression of your feminine energy

Umm … no. A + B does not equal C here.

On the other hand, Cooper’s profiles of the four types of single men in most Black churches had me ROFL, especially her characterization of the “elderly reformed players.” That’s funny stuff. And let’s be honest, ladies. Almost all of us have run across the “opportunistic player on the prowl” who’s after what he can get, including a little nighttime nookie if you’ll let him.

But that kind of thing aside, I asked myself if any of what she is saying has validity. And in spite of myself, I think maybe it does. I disagree with her conclusions and almost all of her reasons for coming to those conclusions, but when I simply considered individual points she makes, and listened to the emotional tone of the piece, I came away with a few conclusions of my own.

First, I think Ms. Cooper has probably had more than her share of hurtful and disappointing experiences in the church. On her accompanying podcast for the blog post, she describes how she’s heard pastors tell women congregants to walk away from men who are not in the church, to accommodate men who won’t work, and to keep praying for a man to come without giving any practical advice to hasten that man’s arrival.

She also spends a lot of time badmouthing what she considers to be ill-advised and unbiblical submission to men. In her mind, this is egregious behavior and it comes through that she takes this very personally.

I would bet that she’s not alone in having endured these types of experiences. I agree that they’re out there, and I think we’d be hard pressed to find a Black woman who’s been part of the Black church for any length of time who hasn’t heard pastors butcher the submission doctrine, or display some type of chauvinistic mindset. The difference might be that Christian women who are not just churchgoers can test what pastors are saying against the word of God, separate the meat from the bones, remember that pastors are people too and are not perfect, and if necessary remove themselves from churches that are consistently off the mark. I’m not in any way excusing leaders who are guilty of these things, but I think that Ms. Cooper’s reaction highlights one of the differences between Christian disciples and people who are religious churchgoers.

Second, and maybe more importantly, I think underneath all the criticism and disillusionment, Ms. Cooper is expressing a profound disappointment with the Black church. She is telling us that rather than men who twist the Holy Scriptures to their own advantage, she expects spiritual leaders who genuinely care for and protect their flock against the type of manipulation and deception she has witnessed. Maybe she’s saying that instead of church hierarchy limiting women’s potential and steering them into social and spiritual dead ends, she wants the church to recognize their inherent worth and encourage vitality, purpose, and achievement in their living. Her unmet expectations speak to a hope that the church will be a place of refuge, accurate spiritual instruction, and guidance for women, particularly single ones who might often feel the press of loneliness and frustration.

To me, that’s good news, because it says that while the church is too frequently missing the mark, there is still an understanding — even by those who are not part of the church — of what the church should be about. And while I don’t relegate the church’s role to simply functioning as a dating service for single women, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the church to be a safe space for socializing and possibly finding a spouse, if that’s a woman’s desire.

So what do you think the church, particularly the Black church, should take away from Ms. Cooper’s scathing critique? As for me, I’m trying to get the smell of smoke out of my clothes.

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