First off, this is not going to be a post where I stand on a soapbox and scream about how horrible the black church is — or blame them for being the obstacle to my acquiring equal rights in America. Please know, also, that I will not declare at the end of this piece that I will never set foot in a black church again. Now that we’ve gotten that over with, here are some things you should know about me.
I have been in church longer than I can remember. If I didn’t know better, I would say I was probably conceived in during a sermon. Church is part of my everyday life and the core of my being, from the music that I listen to my pattern of speech. My beginnings in leadership, in event planning, in public speaking all start with my roots in church.
However, as I’m getting older, I’m realizing more and more how integral the black church is in indoctrinating the ideas of gender into our culture. I recognize the importance of ideas like patriarchy to its structure. In a world where gender barriers and stereotypes are being broken down daily, the church is one place where the gender barriers remain intact for what seems like all of eternity.To recognize the importance of gender roles in the black church there are some things we all have to remember.
In the earliest days, the black church was the ONLY place that a black man could get real respect. We are talking about people who lived deep in the Jim Crow south; a place where a 5-year old white boy could order around a 75 year old black man; where black men could not get decent jobs and really struggled to keep his head up to be respected as a man. In the face of so much racial discrimination and violence, the black men could only count on two places for respect and power — his home and his church. So, it was in the black church that black men earned respect as deacons, trustees and preachers. It was his work in that same church that church that transformed him into a strong pillar in his community (even if these titles only held weight with other black folks… at least they held weight).
Black women were conversely taught how to be a support system to their men, who had endured the most brutal of racial violence. They were taught that their role in the kingdom was to be good help mates, which included marrying, bearing the children and keeping up the house. How have our roles evolved after all these years? I’m sure you’ve guessed it — not much.
Even in this day and age, women in church are still being socialized to assume the supportive role in both their personal and community relationships. Even with new opportunities in ministry and leadership, women are seemingly taking a backseat in terms of power to men. I would even go so far as to say I have seen female ministers who were far superior in biblical knowledge and solid preaching being overlooked in favor of their male counterparts simply because they were women. In a culture where “young adult” ministries oft time resemble speed dating events, the objective remain clear. Find you a good man in the church to support and have babies…and do it fast!
So what in God’s name does this have to do with me as a Queer Woman of Color? It’s all about power and who in the church is allowed to have it. This debate is not limited to QWOC. It extends itself to gay/queer men of color as well. In the black community we learn much of what we think and belief about gender roles in church. We are taught to revere our male pastor no matter what. We are taught that the strongest of men are called as deacons and ultimately run the church while the female deaconesses are the caretakers and nurtures of the church family. We send our boys off on manly-men male retreats to learn what it is to be a strong black man. Any any skewing of these lines, any changing of what we already know of this power structure, this model the flows right into the homes of the parishioners is just short of treason.
There is a book titled “The Black Church: The Root of the Problems of the Black Community” by author Steve Cole where he addresses many of the social ills of the Black Community that are linked to the black church. It’s a very interesting read but I found the most interest in his almost apologetic tone in his foreword. Much how I talked about the fear in writing this piece. He speaks on how difficult it is to step outside of the black church and critique it. The church is one of tradition, of un-questioned tradition. So the idea of addressing the problems is foreign and incredibly difficult to do. I recall finding this title and even feeling edgy about reading it. But it is these fears that must be put to rest so that we can research how and why these traditions are failing us and ultimately causing discord and breeding all sorts of different ills in our community.
I can recall being at a church service one Sunday and hearing a guest preacher ministering on the subject of homosexuality and how it was wrong. Nothing shocking. He went on and on about the usual banter and scriptures that we are used to hearing. But in an attempt to make his point he stated “I may be from San Francisco but trust me I aint got no sugar in my tank…” And all I could think was wow. He just based his whole argument against homosexuality on gender bias. He basically stripped and entire segment of men of power and then stated this is why their sexual orientation was wrong. It was then that I knew that this was a bit of research I had to pursue.
See, it’s not a religious battle that is being fought in our churches, it’s a battle of fear; fear of change, fear of things not being what they have always been. Major wars have been fought based simply of fear of the unknown. We are fighting one now.
Queer people of color who are also members of the faith community have to stand up and be counted. we owe it to our communities to start the conversations that make us known; we should no longer sit in the shadows, afraid. It is up to us to stop walking away from the church and start showing that we are a part of this faith community, that we are included God’s love. And that love is for everyone.