Sisters and Citizens, Part 2: Open Letter to Black Christian Women
My Dearest Sisters,
How many of you remember the song Trade Winds? Some of us might hear Randy Crawford in our heads as we look at the words; some of you younger ladies might hear The Winans.
Here I stand looking, looking around me
While all around me, what do I see?
Unhappy faces behind a painted smile
Heartache and loneliness dressed up in modern style
Unhappy people livin’ in sin and shame
Reflections of myself, life is no easy game
We’re caught in the trade winds, the trade winds of our time.
There’s no indication that this song was intended to be a “Christian” song, but I hear the call of God in it as surely as I hear His call to Moses at the burning bush, or His call for justice and unity through Dr. King’s Dream. As each of these men were, we are now today living in a time that is ripe for action because it is rife with opposition to the word and will of God.
When I look all around me, I, too see so many things. When I look out my back door, I see young men sending up smoky tendrils of hopelessness as they puff their lives away with cigarettes, both legal and illegal. When I look out my front door, I see women and families going through the mundane routines of life, and when we say “hello” I see the fixed glaze of people who have resigned themselves to a certain existence. When I look across the pews in my church, I see people who raise their hands in worship but who sometimes seem uncomfortable extending their hand in fellowship. I also see those who are fervently seeking God for how to make a difference in the world around them. I hope to see more of those people.
When I look at Christian websites and media, I see us catering to the temporal, fleshly part of ourselves by showcasing the talented, the beautiful, and the up-and-coming, rather than the needy, the lonely, and the down-and-out. Do we have anything to say to those who need a friend, to those whose marriages are sinking fast, whose children are God knows where doing God knows what with God knows whom? Is there a Word stored in our hearts that can penetrate the weary and sin-sick soul of that mother of three in prison for the second time? Or can we only repeat what we read in the pages of our Essence magazine, recite lines we heard in the latest Tyler Perry flick, quote language from Michelle Obama’s last public appearance, or maybe cite one of those “sayings” we heard our stylist borrow from her mother during our last visit to the salon? Sisters, we need to give more because our times demand more. Nothing short of the gospel will bring a change.
When we look around the media and read other women’s explanations for why we are still sleeping with our boyfriends – or girlfriends for that matter – do we not hear God’s call to to act? Does His Spirit, whom the Bible tells us knows the mind of God, not remind us that He is holy yet forgiving? A Washington, DC minister, in response to the issue of many Christian singles being sexually active, is described in Essence magazine as encouraging black Christian women to “embrace both sides of their nature [sexual and sanctified] by recognizing all people are sexual and many church practices are from a different time.” Do we have a response to that? Can we tell anyone that God designed sex to be experienced between a husband and wife and that if we are experiencing it some other way, our experience is contrary to what He wants for us? Does anyone have the courage to further explain that if a woman is not now living up to that standard, God forgives and can empower her to live according to His will going forward? And when we are chided for being out of touch can we brave enough to echo 1 Thessalonians 4:8 – “anyone who refuses to live by these rules [regarding sexual sin] is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God”? Or are we joining the chorus of other voices excusing sexual misconduct based on arguments citing the “complexity” of our lives?
Sisters, when we look around at the women in our families, the women with whom we work and play, and we see slumped shoulders too accustomed to carrying the weight of their worlds, do we know how to tell them of God’s sufficiency for their struggle, and that they can rest in His strength? Or do we simply become the company that misery loves by telling them to “be strong and keep it moving”? Where is the demonstration of the remedy we carry within us? What has happened to the power of the gospel we say we believe? Could it be that we are speaking one of those “other gospels” that has the power to manipulate but is powerless to change us? Our brothers, sisters, children, bosses, preachers, doctors, celebrities, and politicians need to know Jesus. They need His strength, wisdom, compassion, and grace. We are in a unique position to lead them to Him. We have been at the bottom of this country’s social, economic, political, and ecclesiastical structures forever. We know the sting of gender and the stigma of color, but our weaknesses qualify us to be vessels through which His power can flow. It’s time for us to live boldly in that power so that people can see the difference it makes in their lives to know and trust God.
If we need inspiration, we can look back a couple hundred years or a couple thousand years. Anna Julia Cooper of the post-reconstruction era black clubwomen’s movement put in perspective our need to rise:
Now the fundamental agency under God in the regeneration, the re-training of the race,…must be the black woman. With all the wrongs and neglects of her past, with all the weakness, the debasement, the moral thralldom of her present, the black woman of today stands mute and wondering at the Herculean task devolving around her. But the cycles wait for her. No other hand can move the lever. She must be loosed from her bands and set to work.
What are these bands that bind us? Consider the strongest one. Our color, rather than being a prism reflecting the beauty, power, and tenderness of Jesus, has become a cord that ties us to people and ideologies which oppose Jesus and His teaching. Christ has become subject to color. Thus have we forfeited the very source of our true power. When faced with opposing positions we almost always choose the one with color at its foundation. Consider poverty. Policies targeting poverty are almost universally based on ties to color. We’ve heard the reasoning that blacks are in poverty primarily because they are black. Yes, color-based discrimination is a factor, but the Bible also speaks of several other reasons people end up in poverty, not the least of which is their relationship to, or rebellion against, God. We rarely acknowledge any of the biblical reasons; yet we without fail heartily embrace the solutions which put race at the heart of a problem. Similarly, if a person whom we hold in high regard ascribes to ideas directly opposed to the word of God, we often vocally support him/her, justifying ourselves by pointing out the need for blacks to advance in society. In these ways and many others, color is our governing allegiance, relegating the supremacy of Christ to the back of the bus.
Our color alone can’t save anyone, relieve anyone’s suffering, or provide a solution to their generational bondage. But our color nailed to His cross and taken up as our cross allows us to enter into the fellowship of His suffering through the shame and rejection that comes because of our color. And if we are partakers with Him in suffering, we are also beneficiaries of His resurrection power. It’s time we brought this power to bear on the entrenched problems of our communities and our world. Sisters, let us be loosed from this band and set to work. Let us no longer stand mute wondering at the task before us. The voices of the white and black feminists, the white female conservatives, and the new black atheists are being heard. Now it’s our turn. Let the voice of the black Christian woman rise as we contend for the faith that has been given to us once for all time.