All the single ladies! At church.

Lexington Presbyterian Church

Image by J. Stephen Conn via Flickr

CNN is now asking if African American church-going women are single because they go to church.

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.

Apparently, “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.”

Yeah, you know what’s really bad? Wanting to date someone who shares your values. Only wanting to be in a relationship with someone who understands your connection with god, with someone who not only doesn’t mind that you go to church very frequently, but wants to be a part of that aspect of your life.

Orthodox Jews often choose to date only other Jews. Hell, reform Jews often choose to date only other Jews. Plenty of Catholics, Hindus, and Protestants of all stripes have told me that they would only date people within their religions, or that they would date people outside of their religions but only ultimately marry someone with it.

“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.”

I agree: if you can’t find a man to marry who shares your values, you should dump your values and go find MANLY MEN. WHO ARE ALWAYS DRINKING. AT BARS.

The assumption in this statement is that for someone with such a strong connection to the church, it’s even remotely possible for these women to build solid relationships with men who don’t maintain that same relationship.

For those of you who think that this should be easy, let me clarify: in my extremely limited experience, being a person who believes in god while dating a person who doesn’t is not simple. It takes a lot of compromise on both sides, and sometimes, the compromise is kind of fucked up. I had a religious crisis last year, and I could explain it to everyone except the person who I wanted to talk to the most. To someone who doesn’t believe in God, my confusion was going to be utterly incomprehensible. As incomprehensible as the fact that I keep returning to the Jewish community every Friday night, even when logic dictates that I stay as far away as possible. Even when my friends want to go out for dinner, and often even when I have an a cappella concert in thirty minutes. How do you explain that drive to someone who doesn’t feel it?

I mean, sometimes you can explain it. You can put the feelings into semi-adequate words a thousand times over. But it’s never, ever going to be understood. If religion is so important to you…how do you overcome this? How can you ask someone to take a chance that the most important feelings and values she has are not going to be understood by the man who’s expected to be the most important person in her life?

“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…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.”

So, what? There are no worthwhile men in the black church because they all like football better? Apparently, yes:

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.’”

I should clarify who this “Watkins” is that he thinks that those “high-testosterone guys” are always the “appealing” ones:

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.”

Cold, bro. These are the same guys who think feminists are “bitter.” Hello, irony!

But Dr. Watkins of Syracuse University (AHAH! ladies and gentlemen, we have found the culprint – Hoya Saxa) may actually have a point: both he and Cooper point to men who don’t want to play second fiddle to a pastor, who don’t want to sit down and listen.

Maybe the problem, then, isn’t what the black church teaches women. Maybe the problem is what society teaches men they are supposed to be – masculine. They are “high-testosterone” and don’t want to “submit to the pastor.”

As a short side note, the concept of “submitting to a pastor” is something only a cult of masculinity could dream up. If men did it, too, it wouldn’t be referred to “submission.” It would be “admiration” or “compliance” or something. As it stands, only women are “submitting,” so we permit that kind of rhetoric. Because that’s what women do. We submit.

Weems [identified as a bible scholar and a reverend], 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.”

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

Okay, I wouldn’t go as far to say as only religious people share many of the “good values” that we value in society. But I would suggest that if you take out the word “good,” Rev. Weems’ point holds strong: the church is not keeping these women single. What’s keeping them single is that they can’t find men who value what they do. And perhaps it’s because the culture of masculinity in which we live suggests that men shouldn’t become a part of the church structure.

I’m not saying that all men who aren’t religious are so because of a masculinity issue. My best male friend doesn’t go to church anymore because they’re too rigid in gender roles and don’t respect sexual freedom, among several other perfectly legitimate complaints. Another close male friend doesn’t attend church because he’s simply never believed in God. None of these reasons for not attending church, synagogue, temple, or where ever you go are mutually exclusive to men. But it’s reasonable to suggest that there is a reason that’s mutually exclusive to men that would explain why “African-American men are significantly more likely than women to be unaffiliated with any religion (16 percent vs. 9 percent),” according to PEW, and why “nearly one-in-five men say they have no formal religious affiliation.”

I think “masculinity” is part of that problem.

And I guess the biggest problem with this whole debate is the assumption that the most important thing a woman can do is get married. If she’s having trouble getting married, there must be something wrong with her, right? Oh wait, that’s absurd. Is it possible many of these women, who have made the church such a large part of their lives, are actually single and happy rather than “single and lonely?” Is it possible that these women don’t think romance is the most important thing they don’t have?

Can we just leave these women alone?

    • Eileen
    • August 19th, 2010

    Fun, semi-related story to add to this post: I was at a bar one night and got to talking to this one guy who told me that he was really thankful for the women’s liberation movement because it was helping him to get girls. Why, you may ask? The guy was pursuing a graduate degree (or at least claimed to be), and most women prefer not to date men who are less well educated than they are. However, there are currently more women than men in higher education, so, this guy figured, the more time he spent in school, the better his odds of dating a pretty girl.

    Now, this guy was kind of weird, and if he was trying to pick me up, he should have stopped after “You’re very pretty.” But he kind of has a point – education and intellectual curiosity are important to me, and if I’m going to date a man, I want him to share my interests. In other words, it’s possible that I’d like a man to be able to do more than buy me things and get me pregnant. It’s possible that I can buy my own things, thanks, and haven’t put “getting pregnant” all that high on my list of short-term priorities. I guess I have more in common with church-going black women than I thought.

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