Does the Black church want to keep its women “barefoot and pregnant”? More women are in leadership roles today, yet patriarchy among Black Christian congregations remains as ingrained as it was 50 years ago.
The tide is turning, though, among a new generation of Black women who are fighting back against entrenched mysogeny. Roles are shifting within the Black church, and Black men must take a hard look in the mirror and accept a changing dynamic.
Naturally, some older Black men are resistant to these changes. Therefore, I shared this point of view with the men at my grandfather’s church during a breakfast meeting recently.
“We have to take the church back,” one of the elders said. “We shouldn’t be catering to them [women], they should be following our lead and obeying our instruction. And that’s not coming from me – I’m telling you what the Bible says.”
“But elder,” I shot back. “More than 90 percent of the congregation is female. They’re paying tithes and offering faithfully to sustain the upkeep of this church and your bank account. Do you really believe they’ll sit and listen to you demean them without resisting? They don’t need you or this church. You need them.”
An eerie silence fell over the room. I could feel everyone staring, their eyes flickering with contempt. It was as though I had committed blasphemy. I didn’t take long to realize that I had opened Pandora’s Box and it would be difficult to explain my affront to God.
“Young brother,” he fired back, “You need to man up. We put money in their purses. They fill the collection plate with our money. God put men in charge. And I’ll drop dead before a woman takes the lead in this church. If they won’t fall in line, it’s our job to break them down.”
The men nodded in agreement. The sexism was so palpable that it would have appeared we had gathered at a strip club.
“What about the young women who aren’t married and earn their own living?” I asked. “What about the ones who have advanced degrees and can’t be manipulated into supporting the misogynistic orthodoxy of the Christian Church? How do you plan to keep them around? More importantly, how will you replace them and their donations if they choose to leave?”
“So what are you saying brother,” the elder quickly answered. “Are we supposed to look away while God’s house is transformed into ‘The View’? This isn’t a stage for women to flex their muscles and independence. If they can’t submit to the authority of their spouses and the clergy of this church, they can leave.”
In recent years, more women have stepped into roles of leadership within the Black church. There are more women pastors across all denominations.
Last weekend’s Women’s March not withstanding, many orthodox Christians (male and female) share a strong prejudice toward notions of women calling the shots on Sunday morning.
For Black male baby boomers, women’s rights in the church appears out of the quesiton. The women, though, are at odds with this entrenched dogma.
“If you hear a hen crow – kill it,” advises Los Angeles resident and veteran evangelist Margie Houston, 78.
She is a founder of The Missionaries Ablaze, an organization dedicated to promoting the use of women’s gifts and ministry in the church.
“That’s what my father in law would say whenever he was asked about sharing the pulpit with women,” Houston said. “He was a bishop in Tyler, Texas and oversaw four different churches. He always used that analogy because a hen doesn’t crow, a rooster crows. Just like women aren’t called to be pastors and decision makers in the church. These duties have traditionally belonged to men.”
While the Black church has generally been controlled by men for generations on end, Houston explained that women are no less capable of teaching the gospel or “leading their own flock.”
“I don’t see any reason why there can’t be male and female pastors,” she mused. “It’s 2017 –women are smarter and more assertive than we were. Some things will have to be adjusted – and soon – to accommodate the changing times.”
In smaller Black churches across the nation (particularly in the South), male leadership has traditionally promoted the ideals of marriage and family structure that more often clashes with the core values of modern feminism. Some congregants believe the Black church may experience a sharp decline in women’s attendance, especially among the 30-and-under crowd.
Less women are attending church. Analysis conducted by the Pew Research Center finds that between 1972 and 1974, an average of 36 percent of women and 26 percent of men reported attending religious services at least once a week – a 10-percentage-point gap. During the previous three decades, weekly attendance at religious services declined among all Americans, but it declined more among women than men. In the past eight years alone, the gender gap in attendance had narrowed to just six points, with 28 percent of women and 22 percent of men saying they attend religious services at least weekly.
There appears to be a power struggle simmering between men and women in the US, and it’s spilling into the sanctuary. The latter group has taken massive steps forward in academia and in the professional world.
The elder’s candid remarks—which he later apologized for – caused an immediate ripple effect among the women congregants
“He ain’t talking to me,” muttered a woman under her breath, visibly annoyed.
“Me either,” snapped another.
“Why would he go there?” howled a third woman angrily.
These reactions are a sign of changing times. Recent studies indicate that more than 80 percent of all African American church-goers are female, and unlike women from previous decades, the current generation consists of professionals bolstered by college degrees.
On Sunday mornings, the collection plate more often than not is being filled with cash from independent women.
As well, more women believe the patriarchy demonstrated in the Black church is outdated.
Chelci Burroughs, 21, a civil engineer earning a six-figure salary, indicated her money may become off-limits to any church that won’t embrace gender equality.
“I earn a comfortable living,” Burroughs said. “The gains I’ve made in life haven’t been easy, and no man can take credit for what I’ve achieved. The church promotes sexism. I’m not supporting any religious body that condones the marginalization and subjugation of women.”