Single, But Married To Jesus

The most recent salvo in the tired, trite racial newlywed lame game is the CNN piece, “Does the Black Church Keep Black Women Single?”, written in response to a blog post on Surviving Dating. My answer is yes, d’oh! So does the white Pentecostal and evangelical church, but of course that’s not the subject of the piece.

So why am I upset? Well, for starters, I think the subject is complicated, asinine, and fraught at the same time. I should know. After all, I wrote a book about African-American women, and found that many of the women I studied in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) historically either had outlived their husbands, been divorced, or were too busy doing church work to be tied down to a husband. Having a husband meant that they could not give their ultimate all for the number one man on most African-American womens’ lips, and it’s not Denzel. It’s Jesus.

For many women in churches like COGIC, being in love with Jesus means that most other men, whether desirable as a husband or not, stood in the way of the number one relationship. One person I interviewed even had a name for it: “being loosed” from your husband to do the Lord’s work. “Being loosed” could happen because the husband left because the wife was at church too much, they divorced, or the husband died. Others were in horrible marriages, often with physical and emotional abuse involved. Some never married. Yet the church held to the belief that marriage was the most important, desirable state. If a woman was not married, someone was either praying or fasting for her husband to come, or introducing her to any man who walked through the door.

My book covered the years 1912-1964. What is the problem in the 21st century?

I’d have to agree with the original blogger Deborrah Cooper that “blind faith” is the crux of the issue. It’s a bit difficult for pinpoint when the “black women can’t find a husband” meme started, but perhaps it’s a combination of an article written in the Washington Post back in 2006, “Marriage is for white people,” or perhaps it’s the Tyler Perry phenomenon, or the latest salvo by Steve Harvey, “Act Like a Lady, Think like A Man.” The spate of over-the-top weddings like those of Star Jones and Juanita Bynum, both whom claimed God gave them their spouses, surely played a role. But both are divorced, one spectacularly.

Bad theology is also to blame. The “waiting on the Lord” theme, being told to be like Ruth and wait until your Boaz finds you, and my favorite, “Let the Lord be your husband” are just trite pacifiers designed to keep women in the pews, sexually inactive, their purses open.

Lest you think I wax sentimental, let me push my “I am sick of this black woman marriage story” one step further. The original blogger, Ms. Cooper, stated in a one-off line that “the machinations used (by the black church) to keep single black female members alone and giving money to the church has caused a shit storm in black America.”  The real story is not about marriage, its about money. The amount given in tithes and offerings by black women faithful to the scriptural admonitions is, I would surmise based on my historical observations, substantial. T.D. Jakes figured that out: he became a megachurch leader with “Woman Thou Art Loosed.”  

But many black women are anything but “loosed.” A March 2010 study by the Closing the Gap Initiative found that the median wealth for single black women ages 36-49 is five dollars. Five dollars. Damn. The wealth of a single white woman in the same age range is $42,600. If a black woman marries, it doesn’t help that disparity much either. A married black woman’s net worth is $31,500. Married white women: $167,500. This is story, folks, not the lack of marriage for black women. Most of these women don’t have a house either, because they were offered subprime loans that had balloon mortgages, putting them into bankruptcy.

So yes, I am calling out “evangelical” black churches on this one. By relentlessly pushing marriage and prosperity as the only gospel message, idolizing “the pastor and the pastor’s wife,” and not dealing with the real stressors in black women’s lives, this situation is not going to change. There are black women across the high and low end of the economic spectrum; however, the majority of them have five dollars of net worth in the bank, trust Jesus, and hope that a man who is like “The Pastor” will emerge when the doors of the church open.

Despite my sarcasm, I can tell you that this is the story in many a black church on Sunday morning. So before Steve Harvey and any of that jackleg, scripture-spouting, church-hoppin’, marriage-worshipping crowd starts to talk about how I am a hater, please, please tell me how getting a husband is going to change this horrific situation for millions of black women in this country.

As for CNN’s shoddy report, ignoring it is the best remedy, right along with Faux News. There are more important things to talk about, such as that eye-opening survey on black women’s net worth, and the fact that unemployment in the African-American community is 15.6% across the country. Why can’t the media cover that for a change? Look, black women can marry, unless they want to marry another woman, which they can’t do in most states. I don’t see how this marriage thing is an important story when poverty and hopelessness are driving women to kill their own children. Seriously, we are all being played to focus on stupidity while the country burns and people suffer from unemployment, angst, and anger.

Now that I got that off my chest, can I and all the rest of black women who don’t care or want to be married get some peace. Sheesh! The only white I want to wear in the immediate future is my Philadelphia Eagles football jersey.

Anthea Butler [@AntheaButler] is a Contributing Editor to Religion Dispatches. Her forthcoming book, in’The Gospel According To Sarah: How Sarah Palinin’’s Tea Party Angels are Galvanizing the Religious Right will be out in 2013.