You’ve heard the age old adages that churches spew left and right, “Come as you are!” or my personal favorite, “All are welcome here!” But we also know the reality of this is far from the words they use. As a Black woman, I was never welcomed as I was. I was always seen and treated as other with the brightest smiles and the “best” intentions. This has been the basis of community in American churches. Although the Bible has always spoken clearly on the diversity of the Kingdom at hand and that we are all created in the image of God, the American church has made it clear that only white assimilation is godly. White culture is the American church. It began with “civilizing” Indigenous Peoples and enslaved African Americans and now it extends to mission trips and church planting in foreign countries. But where do we find God in all of this?
At the close of my freshmen year in college, I started attending youth/young adult events at my church. It was something I felt I needed to stay connected throughout the Summer. After one such event, I was approached by a young woman who asked me to lunch to discuss an internship with me. We ate, discussed life and faith, and eventually I was handed a packet filled with information about the internship. After ignoring the packet most of the Summer, I eventually watched the DVD and applied to join it. The downside was that I would have to take a year off of college to complete this internship. The upside, at the time, was that I would get closer to God and build everlasting Kingdom relationships.
While I absolutely did build everlasting relationships, I also experienced micro-aggressions that chipped away at who I thought I was supposed to be in Christ. I remember constantly being questioned about the way that I spoke with others. I was seen as aggressive or overbearing. I was loud and opinionated. I was not considered quiet in spirit and amenable to the culture. It wasn’t until many years later that I understood why the comments and experiences bothered me so much.
Years later, after completing the internship, I spoke with a Black pastor’s wife at my former church and she expressed some of the same concerns. She didn’t fit in because she was career-minded, assertive, and wasn’t seeking parenthood as her godly qualifier. The women “othered” her because her idea of marriage and life were not rooted in the same ideals.
As Black women in multicultural churches, we often find that our matriarchal upbringings do not align with white culture. We don’t parent the same; we don’t love the same; we don’t speak the same. However, rather than seeking to understand our cultural differences, we’re told to be more gentle, meek, and accommodating to the men in our life. We’re told to be mothers and help-mates and to turn away from seeking joy outside of our homes. We’re told to be less so that our spouses can be more. Any issues with children, should we choose to have them, are our burden alone because the home is the woman’s place.
This need to culturally assimilate extends beyond our home lives. The way we dress, the worship music we grew up listening to, the way we speak and our personalities are deemed ungodly. Of course, it’s never stated that way. But we’re not taken seriously when we don’t change these things about ourselves. We’re seen as of the world and unable to be molded by our mentors. I distinctly remember having a meeting one time with a pastor’s wife who gave a teaching on modesty. Majority of what was shared would only work if I were a thin, shapeless woman. I brought up this point when it came to the clothes I wore and was told I needed to lose weight or buy bigger clothes. Ironically, I was actually 50 lbs lighter and was gaining muscle from our required morning workouts. Thankfully, a friend of mine stood up for me and pointed out how poor the comment was and we moved on. But it’s these ideas, these thoughts, these comments that make us feel that we’ll never match up to Christian ideals of womanhood.
I’m speaking from my own experiences and perspective but I understand these ideals also extend to Indigenous Peoples, People of Color, and LGBTQIA+* identifying believers. We have continuously fought to not have to whitewash who we are to be followers of Christ. The American church proclaims, “teach Jesus and the Gospel only,” yet allows their cultural ideals to change the narrative of our faith to make us fit in. We are made in the image of God and bring our unique cultural perspectives to worship that strengthens the faith we have and those around us. We do not and should not have to change in order to honor God and be seen as equals in the body of Christ.
Believer, if you’re still currently gathering in a place that makes you feel you have to hide parts of who you are to be fully loved and seen by God, leave. You are whole in God. Nothing more outwardly is required of you to be seen by God. Know that God requires nothing more than your heart and your belief that God is who God says God is. End of story.
“…but God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.“1 Corinthians 12: 24-27
*Updating Queer to LGBTQIA+ as it is not an umbrella term and is viewed by many in the community as a reclaimed slur. I wasn’t called out on this but as someone who is not presently identifying as an LGBTIA+ member, I believe it is important to correct this language as not to offend and cause harm. I apologize for all who are affected by the language used by myself in this post and will continue to make strides in learning how to better speak about my friends.
Always with love,