Does the Black Church Keep Black Women Single?

Liane Membis, CNN, August 10, 2010

Legs covered in skin-toned stockings, her skirt crisp to the knee, Patty Davis slips on the black heels she has shined for the day.

“Got to look good in the Lord’s house,” she says as she spritzes her neck with White Diamonds perfume and exits her black Lincoln Town Car.

Davis, 46, of Union City, Georgia, has attended African Methodist Episcopal churches since before she could crawl. She sits proudly in the pew every Sunday for service and is among the first to arrive for bible study each Wednesday.

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“Every day is a blessed day for me,” she says. “Jesus is the No. 1 man in my life and any man who wants me must seek me through Him.”

The unmarried Georgia native is a committed follower of the Christian faith, striving to live and breathe the gospel in her daily life. Yet, according to relationship advice columnist Deborrah Cooper, it is this devout style of belief and attachment to the black church that is keeping black women like Davis–single and lonely.

Clinging to the gospel

Cooper, a writer for the San Francisco Examiner, recently made claims on her blog SurvivingDating.com 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.

{snip} [A] Yale University study found that 42 percent of African-American women in the United States were unmarried.

Big Miller Grove Missionary Baptist Church, a predominately African-American Baptist church in Atlanta, is holding a seminar on the question of faith’s role in marital status on August 20.

“Black women are interpreting the scriptures too literally. They want a man to which they are ‘equally yoked’–a man that goes to church five times a week and every Sunday just like they do,” Cooper said in a recent interview.

“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.”

The traditional structure and dynamics of black churches, mostly led by black men, convey submissive attitudes to women, Cooper says, encouraging them to be patient–instead of getting up and going after what they want.

Nearly ninety percent of African-Americans express “certain belief in God” and 55 percent say they “interpret scripture literally,” according to the 2009 Pew Research Center study “A Religious Portrait of African-Americans.”

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All in the numbers

One of biggest reasons black women are single, Cooper says, is because of a lack of black men in the church. According to the PEW study, “African-American men are significantly more likely than women to be unaffiliated with any religion (16 percent vs. 9 percent). Nearly one-in-five men say they have no formal religious affiliation.”

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.”

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The male pastor, Cooper says, is the “alpha male” for many black women. Over-reverence for the pastor–or any religious figure for that matter–creates barriers for the black man, she says, because he feels like he must compete for the No. 1 spot in a black woman’s heart.

“It doesn’t make you more attractive if your life is filled with these ‘other’ men,” Cooper says. “If they feel like they have to compete, you are not going to be interesting because you’re not feeding his ego in the way it needs to be fed.”

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The Rev. Renita J. Weems, a bible scholar who holds a degree in theology from Princeton, strongly disagrees with Cooper about why many black women remain single and says she is reinforcing one message: “It’s the black woman’s fault.”

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

Choose or lose the church

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.

“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,” Cooper says. {snip}

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