Dear Pastor: From a black female congregantBy Trillia Newbell | March 30th, 2012 | Category: Perspective | 49 comments
By Trillia Newbell
The topic of race and church life has been billowing about in the blogosphere. Maybe there is a renewed interest because of the release of John Piper’s book Bloodlines and the subsequent features on Desiring God. Whatever it is, I’m thankful. I’m thankful that there seems to be an open dialogue about race particularly as it relates to black and whites worshiping together. With that said, I do believe after reading books, articles, and blog posts I find one element of the black experience missing-that is the black female experience.
My pastor kindly asked me to read and review Bloodlines for him. His interest wasn’t merely in the book, rather he wanted to know how he could serve his congregants better, which I applaud and am most grateful for. Ever since reading Piper’s book I have been thinking about my experience at my local church and in my Christian walk. I have always been one of the few black females in my church, though I will say there are a growing number of young college females. The purpose of this article is to outline some of the thoughts I have had that I haven’t seen considered. I don’t presume to speak for all reformed black females but I do think these issues need to be addressed or at the least looked at by white pastors. I am black, female and reformed which makes me a bit of a “rare breed”.
To make it easier I’m simply going to lay out my thoughts in categories. I want to make sure that you understand I am speaking from a black, female, reformed position to white, male, pastors with predominately white churches. Might I also add that I live in the South? As a southerner in a predominately white city I am confined to go to a predominately white church if I am also most interested in a church that teaches/follows reformed theology. I will also add that it seems the majority of churches that are available to blacks that are reformed are also predominately white.
Finally, I want to say that I am happily married for nearly 9 years now to a white male who is my best friend and sweet servant leader. We have two children. I think that’s important to note.
John Piper wrote how Bethlehem Baptist Church has tried to be more inclusive. He wrote, “Being more indigenous to the diversity of our metropolitan cultural setting, both urban and suburban,” speaking on music and he continues, “With significant influence from Harold Best’s Music Through the Eyes of Faith, we continually attempt to define our musical center in corporate worship in such a way that it includes a range of ethnic expressions…” (Bloodlines, Appendix 3, location 3999 Kindle Edition).
Anthony Carter author of On Being Black and Reformed takes it further to say, “A theological perspective that fails to speak contextually to African-American life, whether orthodox or liberal, will not gain a hearing among people who have become skeptical of the establishment.” (location 72 Kindle Edition).
Overall the music, activities and general environment should consider the entire congregation. Did you catch that? I’m not just saying music, but really the activities as well. My church has had wonderful events, but they are often geared towards one audience. Some examples: cowboy olympics, pig roasts, horseback riding, bowling, etc. If your church is truly seeking diversity (in any way) your activities must be diverse as well. This also includes the activities for women. If you are prone to doing brunches only at a Country Club, that may not be extremely inviting for your black sister. Some ideas might be a fish fry, card party, and yes a brunch- just not only brunches.
I remember when we’d talk about “courtship” or dating in my church prior to marriage, I’d have a lot of questions. I’d think like most girls do: “Who might ask me?” “Is there anyone I could be interested in?” etc. But as a black female in a predominately white church I’d also think, “CAN anyone like me?” “WILL they pursue me even if they did?” “IF they did what would their peers or family think?” It adds another element to the prayers of a single black female. My prayers weren’t merely, “God please help me guard my heart;” they were “God help me to not be fearful, to guard my heart and to guard my soul.”
People are always asking me about my hair. It’s pretty much a constant conversation for the black female. I’m confident that my friends were not in any way trying to make me feel out of place or awkward. They just found it fascinating. I’ve been asked several times within the church if I would “burn” if I were out in the sun for long. It’s so funny to me. I answer “Yes, black people can burn but we do have a little bit more protection because of pigment but then again we also attract more sun which is why I have to layer on the sunscreen.” All this to say, young people especially, have a lot of questions and some have never interacted with another black person before. I met someone who had never spoken with a black person before meeting me at church. They were pleasantly surprised.
I grew up being told that I have to work triple as hard because I am black and then triple that because I am female. So, that’s what I did. I grew wanting to be Oprah but “better”. Because of the socio-economic position of many blacks this need to be driven is ingrained in us. And if we have opportunities like I did, we best take advantage of them. Many of the black females I ran with in college went on to be doctors, lawyers, etc. I was looked down upon by a research professor when I expressed my desire to stop grad school and do the internship with my church college ministry Volunteers For Christ. See, I was forfeiting all that the civil rights leaders had worked so hard for me to be able to do- I had gotten into law school and wasn’t going to go.
Be patient with young black females as God moves in their hearts to teach them about biblical femininity. I didn’t jump on the idea of submitting to a man. Why in the world would I? I definitely didn’t jump at the idea of biblical femininity and being “busy at home”. Though I realize “being busy at home” looks different in every home, before I understood this it looked like: wife, mom, and house-cleaner. It wasn’t all that appealing until I got to know people and saw their home and the beauty in it. But, it took time for God to reveal His Word and His heart to me. And now in marriage, because God has been so very gracious to me, I can/do submit, and even to a white man. I also love to be home with my children. This is a miracle that only God could do in my heart. I had to (and continue to) fight not only the world, not only feminist thoughts, but a culture that would say I sold out.
For some of you, these thoughts may have never crossed your mind. That’s okay! God is building His church and allowing for honest and open conversations so we can all know how to love and serve each other more effectively to His glory and praise. If you are reading this and considering it in any way, thank you. Let’s take the conversation further than merely black and white theology as we contribute to the needs of the all the saints.
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:9-13 ESV)