Preying Masked As Prayer: Can These Viral Sermons For Singles Stop Targeting Black Women?
R&B singer Ciara found herself in the middle of a firestorm this weekend when she posted a sermon clip telling single women why they haven’t found Mr. Right yet. Using the hashtag #LevelUp, Ciara shared a message preached by John Gray in which he says “too many women want to be married but are walking around in the spirit of a girlfriend…if you begin to carry yourself like a wife, a husband will find you.” Many sisters took offense to what they considered shaming single women. They kindly reminded Ciara that it was these same women who defended her co-parenting and relationship with her husband Russell Wilson when Black men were unnecessarily cruel.
Responding to the criticism, she later posted a message explaining the #LevelUp hashtag and her decision to share the video. In part, she says “I was once that girl wanting to be loved a certain way but making the wrong choices…I realized the perfect love I was looking for was how God loves me, how he wants me to be loved…” I believe Ciara. I believe the dissolution of her relationship with her son’s father and ex-fiancé, Future, caused her to do a great amount of soul-searching. I believe, as with all intense heartbreaks, it led her to a deeper love of herself. Rediscovering self-worth is never a problem; telling single Black women they don’t have any is. Yet, for all the darts thrown at Ciara this past weekend, the issue isn’t with her. It’s with John Gray and pastors like him who push these messages.
Let’s be very clear: God didn’t say single women aren’t married because they don’t have the spirit of a wife; John Gray did. Though he initially came onto the scene as a Christian comedian, his messages aren’t funny in the least bit. If all it takes is carrying yourself as a wife for God to honor it with a mate, then why are we watching so many Christian wives go through the public humiliation of their husbands’ infidelities on social media and reality television? If all it takes is the spirit of a wife, how do we explain the ending of Ciara and Future’s relationship- an example that actually fits John Gray’s narrative? If a wife “isn’t the presence of a ring but the presence of your character”, what is a husband and why have we never seen sermon excerpts holding men accountable for the unethical behavior they exhibit in relationships?
The answer is simple. Relationship theology is only for Black women. Books, conferences, social media memes and everything in between are all geared towards making women believe their singleness is a consequence. It preys on heterosexual Black Christian women’s desire to be coupled and does nothing to undo the false narrative that their singleness is their fault. John Gray preached that sermon to Black Christian women, the demographic statistically considered one of the most religious groups in the world.
Daily, the women he suggests lack the character of wives possess enough character to have fulfilling personal relationships with God, care for their families and engage in civic responsibility- which includes a commitment to their local church. It would seem that one would have a more informed and constructive understanding when it comes to Black churchwomen but these messages do not. And they don’t have to because, as long as they perpetuate the notion that some women are more deserving of relationships than others, they will always have a cult following.
This is possibly why some Black women took offense to any critique of this sermon and vigorously defend other sermons and books like it. This competition among Black Christian women is an old one but rears its ugly head in church and on social media any time women who possess sexual autonomy and agency are discussed. Sisters celebrate the disrespect these women experience in the belief that it shows they are of a higher quality, deserving a ring and holy matrimony. Black Twitter calls this the “Pick Me” syndrome but the truth is it is engrained in us as the right thing to do. Many Black Christian women have been indoctrinated with an insecurity and jealousy that masquerades as faith and righteousness. And messages like these don’t help to combat it. They continuously make sisters the scapegoat for all that is wrong within intimate relationships and pit us against each other when nobody will have our backs but other Black women.
Thankfully, there are entire discourses dedicated to our spiritual lives. Womanist theology and Black feminist religious thought articulate the particularities of Black women’s faith walks. Delores Williams, Wil Gafney, Marla Frederick, Tamura Lomax, Chaneequa Walker-Barnes and others engage in scholarship that explains why ministry for Black women must be critically nuanced and compassionate. Georgia Southern professor Monique Moultrie’s recent book, Passionate and Pious: Religious Media and Black Women’s Sexuality, is all about the impact of messages like John Gray’s on Black Christian women. Additionally, there are Black clergywomen and spiritual teachers who couch their ministries in liberation. Leslie D. Callahan, Neichelle Guidry, Cynthia Hale, Valerie Bridgeman, Renita Weems and many more preach and teach from womanist and Black feminist perspectives that enable sisters to become free without shame.
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Granted, these women have no problem telling us when our actions diminish our power and worth. Yet, they’re also publicly holding brothers accountable so that the community, as a whole, can be well. We rarely see this from Black male pastors and leaders. Where they have keen theological analysis on racial injustice, they fall flat when it comes to gender and sexuality. It requires too much self-reflection and truth-telling. I hope John Gray and others will begin to preach about the spirit of toxic masculinity from the pulpit because that is what is hurting us. With intimate partner violence in our community becoming too prevalent to ignore and brothers running from doing their emotional work, we would all benefit if Black men spent less time talking to women and more time talking to each other.
I love seeing Ciara happy. I love seeing Black women happy. Too much in this world tries to keep happiness from us. And it is possible to be happy with the person you think is best designed for you without claiming to know why other women haven’t met that person yet. The range of Black women’s experiences is just too vast for the answer to ever be that simplistic.
ruLife has never been that black and white; we have always lived in the gray. What is needed, as we move forward, is less emphasis on what Black women are doing “wrong” and a commitment to communal uplift. We need more books, sermons and conferences that deal with the totality of Black intimacy and provide us with solutions so we can all heal and love each other better. That’s what needs to go viral; anything else is counterproductive and unnecessary.