#Black_Women_Married_To_Jesus: “These images are buttressed by the stereotype of black women’s unswerving Christian faith, or, what journalist Jamila Bey characterizes as the “long-suffering, strong black woman who needs only herself and her Jesus to get through life.”

“During the 2010 “Science and Faith in the Black Community” dialogue sponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation and Howard University’s Secular Students Association, I was approached by a woman who said that some Christian black women describe themselves as being “married” to Jesus. In the midst of stressful single parenting, work, and other family care giving obligations this is the most viable “relationship” alternative for some. Personalization of the Jesus relationship is a hallmark of evangelical faith. Evangelicalism contrasts with the hard line literalism and foreboding of fundamentalism. According to evangelicals the Gospel is “good news.” Jesus becomes an intimate buddy figure, spiritual guide, and moral compass in life’s turbulent storm. Relating to Jesus as an intimate allows for rapturous release and unbridled expression that might not be tolerated or understood by a living breathing partner. Projecting a desire for intimacy onto Jesus is a “safe” way for black women who feel demoralized and devalued on a daily basis to achieve comfort.

Spiritual marriage to Jesus is yet another example of the deep emotional investment that black women have in patriarchy and heterosexism. Because biblical scripture does not allow women any real equity with men in the church, the family or everyday life, an intimate relationship with Jesus is an alternative way for women to assert agency. As Naima Cabelle notes:

“African American women aren’t often viewed as being fit for humanity not just in the wider society but often inside of our own communities as well. We are, of course, very useful. We are supposed to do what women are seen as being fit to do: nurse the sick, care for children and the elderly, work inside and outside of the home; finance, build, clean and maintain the church; help keep the church coffers filled by giving until it hurts and then hurts some more; keep the pews filled by making sure that we hound family, friend, and foe to come to church, and remember our rightful place is to help, not think on our own behalf and to carryout decisions, but not make them especially on our own behalf. We also play a significant role in the community with respect to community-building; political, social, and economic life…Yet, even as a substantial and disgraceful number of women remain on the bottom rung of society, we are always admonished not to go too far; not to seek liberation on our own terms but as our men dictate, and of course, don’t show-off by stepping out in front of men.”

~ Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson

“In a “controversial” article published on her blog “Surviving Dating,” feminist dating advice columnist Deborrah Cooper challenges the Black Church’s centrality in black women’s lives. She says, “It is my belief that the Black church, structured around traditional gender roles which make women submissive to and inferior to men, greatly limits females. Single Black women sitting in church every Sunday are being subtly brainwashed, soothed and placated into waiting without demand for what they magically want to come to them. Who is doing this to Black women? The male standing at the front of the Church in the role of spiritual leader, that’s who!” Cooper argues that many single black women give their all to the Church in the mistaken belief that it will help them find a husband. Rather than flail through the rituals of an oppressive institution where marriageable black men are largely MIA, Cooper advises black women to get out of the Church and focus on themselves and their children. She rightly warns that black women’s lives shouldn’t revolve around “a religion which Black men use to castigate and control an entire race of women.” Yet her focus on “hooking up”, coupled with her broad heterosexist caricatures of black men who do frequent church (those who do are either gay, aging “players” or terminally dysfunctional because “no man of strength or purpose is going to church and have another man tell him what to do”), are problematic. Cooper condemns the Black Church’s relentless marriage, home, hearth, and help mate propaganda. Yet she reinscribes this reductive onus by advising women to leave the church to find greener pastures for partnership. Certainly many black women frequent church to find eligible partners, but many also do not. Many argue that they derive genuine spiritual, cultural, and communal fulfillment from their involvement with the Church, separate and apart from the now all too hackneyed media-hyped quest to find a “good black man.” In order to fundamentally challenge black women’s allegiance to a belief system that socializes them to accept misogyny, patriarchy, and sexism as a way of life and identity it is important to understand why this is so. While critics of the Black Church abound, few with an avowedly atheist or humanist sensibility, who question the basic relevance of all regimes of organized religion to black identity, black socioeconomic sustainability and social justice, have achieved mainstream visibility.”

~ Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson

“Yet, as I have argued throughout this book, gender justice remains the most pressing unfulfilled challenge for African American communities. As they pray their brains out, black women are burdened with some of the highest health and wellness risk factors in the U.S. They are more likely to be killed in cold blood by a boyfriend or husband. They are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS from a boyfriend or husband. And in desperately poor communities they are more likely to lay down their burdens in churches where black patriarchs drive the leadership and black male parishioners are conspicuously absent.

Black atheist humanist belief offers a critical intervention into these culturally destructive models of masculinity and femininity. Seeking a rational refuge from centuries of moral indoctrination, black women atheists express the need to educate, if not proselytize, other black women about the culturally specific threat Christianity poses. Atheism and secular humanism are appealing to black women freethinkers who find even “liberal” interpretations of Judeo Christian and Muslim faith unpalatable. Commenting on the degree to which Abrahamic religions fixate on the woman as sexual and moral provocateur, black atheist Alfreda Howard noted:

“In about every religion the woman is the one igniting the war and causing men to go astray from god and his purpose, creating a stigma. With African American women we often get an even worse stigma because whites already tend not to value us and when we are in positions of power whites tend to fear us. We get called manipulative and Jezebels because of the negative images of women from the Bible and in other religious doctrines.”

Again, biblical stigmas against female sexuality are a double-edged sword for black women. In the mainstream mind, women of color are constantly relegated to the position of the “bad” fallen woman and temptress in contrast to the white virginal ideal. For example, in the decidedly Judeo Christian universe of Hollywood film, depictions of voracious black female sexuality and smothering black motherhood reinforce each other in an industry that has barely moved beyond Jim Crow. Over the past two decades mainstream Hollywood film roles for black women have rarely deviated from that of sex objects, caregivers to hapless white folks, and hard-driving mother figures. From comedian Monique’s portrayal of the pathological ghetto mother from hell in the film Precious to Halle Berry’s hackneyed turn as a violent hypersexual single mother in Monster’s Ball, Academy Award winning depictions of black womanhood embody tired black female stereotypes that confirm all of white America’s Moynihan Report-influenced beliefs about the “black matriarchy.”

An inversion of traditional patriarchal European cultural norms, the myth of the black matriarchy goes hand in hand with stereotypes of black female religiosity. As I discussed in Chapter 2, images of the strong indomitable black woman who “rules the roost” in her home and community abound in American culture. These images are buttressed by the stereotype of black women’s unswerving Christian faith, or, what journalist Jamila Bey characterizes as the “long-suffering, strong black woman who needs only herself and her Jesus to get through life.”

~ Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson (Experts from, “Moral Combat – Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Value Wars)

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