Having or expressing a belief in or respect for women and their talents and abilities beyond the boundaries of race and class; exhibiting feminism that is inclusive especially of Black American Culture. 1
My feminism is womanist. My Christianity is sexist, misogynistic, and oppressive.
There is an undeniable tension between my identity Black Womanist Christian. My recognition of the role that Christianity has played in upholding hegemony [define: hegemony], more specifically white supremacy. I’m not afforded the privilege of choosing one identity while denying the other. Like the rest of my life, my feminism and faith are intersectional.
Like the victim of intimate partner violence, my love for God and the faith is both inexplicable and unacceptable for many. Do you know what it’s like to stay with an abuser and then justify why you choose to stay? To be “angry enough to leave but love them enough to stay all while promising to do both?”2 My increasing self-awareness ignites fiery anger within me for how the church has mistreated me. Despite feeling compelled to leave, I find love and familiarity pulling me right back.
When the Church is not a Refuge
I’m not jumping to a quick judgment in saying the church is oppressive. Too often, there is little respite from white supremacy even in the Black church. When Michael Brown was murdered in cold blood in Ferguson, Dr. Kevin Cosby of St. Stephen Baptist Church in Louisville, KY remarked on the incident as being isolated and that it shouldn’t cause such emotional arousal3. He went on to cite the same stale black-on-black crime counterargument to those decrying police brutality. Forget that intra-racial crime rates are always higher (even for whites) than interracial crime because you’re more likely to be killed by someone you know. Just consider his words. A leader of a mega-mostly Black-congregation with three campuses that collect Black money every Sunday and Wednesday echoing the same sentiments your typical race dense ass white person would.
Though I know that not all Black pastors or congregations feel like Dr. Cosby, I’m painfully aware that he is not alone in his thoughts. The church that was once the cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement has become nothing more than a megaphone to echo failed respectability politics. Pastors who preach that respecting ourselves by virtue of proper dress and college educations will somehow save us from our continued marginalization and erasure at the hands of white supremacy. Pastors who would rather blame and pathologize Blackness while collecting Black dollars than advocate on behalf of humanizing Black lives.
I’m agonizingly aware of all these things and yet, I continue to remain.
I remain associated with a body that I know privileges maleness. I remain where I know that the scriptures have been extrapolated to support systems of oppression and harm. I look around the congregation and see that WELL over half of them look like me: Black women of all ages and stages of life. Yet, the pulpit is only filled with men who’ve been (self) elevated to positions of power and authority. I’ve often said that the pulpit is the only place in the world where a Black man can experience and exploit others in the same way as a white man. The pulpit offers him a power and respect that the world will never give him on account of his skin; a power that comes at the expense of Black women’s liberation.
Why do I remain devoted?
The answer is both simple and complex: I’ve learned to separate the Deity from the disaster of theology. I can’t undo the knowledge that my education has granted me. I can, and do, change the approach I take to the scriptures and to my relationship with faith. My decision to refocus my lens of perspective in my view of God and the scriptures allows me to challenge patriarchy while cleaving to my faith. I firmly believe God has pushed me to grow stronger in my identities as both Black and feminist as a means of deepening my faith. Challenging the patriarchal culture of the church forces me to read the scriptures for myself and also do my own homework. I have to work diligently at seeing myself in God and seeing God in myself as a Black woman.
Sexism is not a creation or reflection of God.
It is a system of oppression established by small-minded men taking scriptures out of context for their own selfish purposes. If we are to really be honest, it’s a system of oppression created by small-minded men who wrote scriptures out of context only to have them continually reinterpreted to uphold the imbalance of power.
Not everyone who reaches this intersection chooses God—and their experience is no less valid. Still, there remain a few of us who are determined to be both Black and feminist while upholding our faith through Black liberation theology.
Many thanks to The Churched Feminist for inspiring this post!