Saved, Sanctified and Sad: On How Churches Fail Black Women


Before we begin, let me just say:

  • I haven't been "hurt" by anyone in the church.
  • I haven't been kicked out of any churches. 
  • I believe in God. I believe in having a true, real relationship with him first and foremost.
  • I LOVE when Black people are happy, together, singing, dancing and praising. 
  • If it doesn't apply, let if fly. 

With those things covered, let's get into this. I don't consider myself a "church girl" though a significant part of my childhood was spent at church. I was in the children's choir, youth choir, on the step team and did a brief stint as a youth usher. I'd venture to say there was a time that I loved going to church as much as I loved going anywhere else. My friends were there, it was safe and it was what I knew to be a place of community and family. I had the embedded love for church that most Black people have. I knew the songs, perfected my praise clap and even spoke a tongue or two. There were things I willingly ignored because I was taught, as most of us are, to not question the church---to do so was close to questioning God himself. As I matured, so did my relationship with God; however, the opposite was true of my trust in the Black church. 

I started to realize that church had less to do with community than it had to do with being a business. And as with any major corporation, the CEO needs loyal, unwavering, impressionable staff who are willing to put the well-being of the company over the needs/desires/health of themselves and their loved ones. They need staff who won't use their vacation days even when they're overworked, underpaid and burnt out. Staff who go above and beyond their job descriptions to help the company stay afloat on no other compensation than the promise of promotions at a later date.

See, if Black churches are the new corporations, Black women are the dedicated staff.

Black women work feverishly and, for the most part, completely free in order to keep the doors of the sanctuaries open. Most Black churches have 4 of 7 days in a week booked with something: prayer, bible study, choir rehearsal, rehearsal for a major event and/or 2-3 services on Sunday alone---and you'll be hard pressed to find Black women outnumbered on any of those days. Stop by a bulletin board the next time you're at a Black church and take a gander at any commemorative pieces listing names and photos of how many people are serving major positions at churches---then count how many of them are Black women. Then count how many have a title other than "Sis. Such and such" or the ever-coveted, "First Lady So and So". Often Black women are relegated to subservient positions in the Black church that require the most dedication while holding no true "position". And, because every good corporation needs to give their workers incentives, these positions are given merit in the form of shoutouts in the church announcements or a yearly thank you dinner---although they do nothing to make Black women healthier, happier or more financially free.

But if Black women are the dedicated, overworked and underpaid staff, Black single women are the interns.

Black single women are working overtime to not only prove they're worthiness to God but to the men that could possibly be their Boaz (if you don't know who Boaz is---ask a Black woman). They are giving offerings as the sole breadwinners in their homes. Bargaining with themselves for time to do it all because the church comes first. That's what they've been taught. A man who findeth a wife, findeth a good thing---and we all know that good things are only made in the sanctuary pews. So, they bring it all to God in prayer Mon-Wed and all day Sunday in their best below-the-knee fashions in hopes to tithe their way into promotion, marriage and purpose. But, unlike the Black woman who may have family help, the single woman depends on the church to give back what she gives to it. And more times than not, it fails her. The amount of Black women sitting in churches waiting for the promises of God that she's been told giving her very best and nothing less will amount to is innumerable. She denies herself affection, opportunities and any semblance of a social life in exchange for the land of milk and honey.

Apparent in both cases, is that the Black woman must give all of herself to the church if she is to be blessed. She must serve on a department. She must respond when called upon. She must dress, behave and speak as a representative of the church. She must freely give of her time and resources. If she's single---she must not attract too much attention from the men in the church as to not be labeled a harlot and yet attract enough to be crowned the title of "wife". If she's married---the marriage must be maintained, even if it means she forgives an adulterous husband who is allowed to save face and his position at the church---while she swallows whispers and stares. She must be the tail while the man is the head---even if he never steps foot into the church (which, of course, is her responsibility as well). She must appear to be happy, liberated and full of joy even if she is not---to show any need outside of what Jesus can do means she just simply "doesn't have enough faith"--meaning the mere mention of seeking professional mental help can make her a pariah in the eyes of the sanctified. After all, it's for the furthering of God's kingdom---not the maintenance of her person. She can be educated but not so much so that she questions the Bible, the church or the politics of religion. There is no room for healthy inquiries into why some of the holy script seems to be timeless while other parts are extremely outdated and never addressed. She is told to pick a woman out of the Bible to fashion herself after---Esther, Rachel, Sarah, maybe even Mary (but never Magdalene)---because shaping and molding her own identity is too farfetched. 

Would we accept any of these things from any other place that we give thousands of dollars to? We openly rebuke businesses that sit in our neighborhoods, take money from our community and yet stand stagnant as those very same communities crumble from poverty and lack of resources. So why do we accept it from the church? Why do we expect it from the church? And why won't the women in leadership positions in church speak up about it? Or do they? Are they silenced there as much as they are in the general workplace? Why is that ok? If we as Black women are willing to reclaim our time every other place, why can't we do it when it comes to the establishment that demands the most from us and gives us the least back? As Black women lead the charge in new entrepreneurship, how many can say that they received seed money from their church? How many Black women in church are still struggling to make ends meet after years of building funds, special offerings for prosperity and holy oil? How many Black women end up alone, broke and disappointed after years of serving the church? How many Black women are chastised for having babies out of wedlock although there is no open space for honest dialogue about romantic relationships and/or sex in the church? How many Black women in the church struggle with obesity that goes unaddressed? Depression? Financial ruin? Sexual abuse? All in the place and under the watchful eye of the servants of the Lord. And yet there they place the entire weight of their faith. Why?

These are my questions. My concerns. My fears for the way in which Black women have been used to build the business of the Black church while being ignored as human beings. And my hope that we can start having the conversations that are necessary---even when they're hard. 

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Iman Milner8 Comments