"You Owe Us. We Built You" Why The Church Should Apologize To Black Women
I was scrolling through Facebook recently and I saw a post from Caron about the single’s ministry in a Black church being comprised, entirely of women. The post spoke specifically about the single’s ministry. But I saw it as a doorway to have a conversation a larger conversation about Black women in the Black church. I didn’t know it at the time but Caron, with years in ministry and now having stepped away from the church, was the perfect person to talk about all of it.
Tell me what inspired your post about the single’s ministry to begin with?
I was in ministry for the majority of my life, for a long, long time and I saw a post-- I think it was from one of the churches I used to be affiliated with-- and it was an outing for their single’s ministry and it was all women. And somebody commented, ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ And I wrote a piece, maybe a year ago, about women conforming to standards that we were taught, instead of setting our own standards when it comes to everything from love and relationships to our image. And from time to time questions come to my mind like, ‘Why are all of us Black women in the church fat?’ and ‘Why do men never marry women within the churches they belong to?’ and ‘Why are women encouraged, almost threatened to divulge details of their personal and sexual lives in front of the entire congregation, while men’s personal lives are kept private until somebody gets pregnant?’
There’s always been the double standard and I’ve always challenged the fact that 80-85 percent of every church in this country is made up of women and yet none are really leading it.
In a lot of ways, I deeply love and respect my spiritual heritage because it is a rich spiritual heritage. One rich in music, one rich in faith but it’s also very rich in misogyny and a place of subservience that I never want to see again.
Take me back to the beginning, what was your upbringing in church? Did you come from a family where you had to be in church five days a week?
No that was actually self-imposed from a very young age. I used to go to church with my grandmother. I am a singer and I started singing very early on. My sister and I would be asked to sing at different churches as a duo. I had a voice at a very young age and I wasn’t afraid to use it and I had all this personality, so people would tell me to sing. They would get a real kick out of it. I sounded really good. My grandmother got sick and was no longer able to go and sometimes we were able to get a ride with somebody else and sometimes we couldn’t. And I had an aunt who would take us. And when that shifted and she began to go into places I couldn’t understand, I searched for places that I did. So I started to go with my neighbors, they lived around the corner from us and the entire family sang too. We ended up going with them in Baltimore. At that point, I was so hungry for spiritual knowledge, I was so hungry for Jesus, I would go to my best friend’s Catholic church, I would go to the Lutheran church, I would go anywhere they would have me because I just loved, loved, loved worship. I couldn’t get enough of it. I would go anywhere somebody would take me, especially if they let me sing.
Over time, I felt like I found my place or where I felt like I was going to get the most from, where I felt the most at home and the most comfortable. But it also had a set of rules I didn’t understand. I did understand because I had lived under it for so long but I couldn’t articulate it yet because I didn’t know stuff had names.
Because I just wanted to sing and just be in the spirit and laid out on the floor, in the carpet ministry. So that became my ministry and leadership, me wanting to become an ordained minister, wanting to devote my entire life to the Lord but I had a couple of issues there. I was cute, I was sexually active and I had a baby as a teenager. So with all of my wonderful gifts, I was deemed inappropriate In a lot of areas of serving the church, including becoming an ordained minister.
How did they say that to you, what was that conversation like?
It wasn’t just one conversation. Because there were more than three and I remember every last one of them like they were yesterday. When I first decided to step out and acknowledge the call to ministry, I was initially told that it wasn’t the right time, just pray a little longer, maybe I should attend more Bible study, maybe I should learn more. Of course, at this time, I’m in church five days a week. I’m already serving. I had the big microphone in praise and worship, all that good stuff.
So, that doesn’t work out.
I’m at another ministry, I’m at this one long term. I acknowledge my call. I’m accepted into this ministry training program which was a really formalized school setting, which I appreciated because I’m a wild child but I do really well with structure. And it was a very high-performing academic environment, which I adored. So I even went back to school and changed my major to philosophy and religious studies because I love studying, not just the things of God but the culture of the church. And I went to an HBCU so it wasn’t just the culture of the church, it was all the Blackness that ever existed in every church that ever lived. I went through two years of ministry training. I was young and I had a family, so I had to get back to work. I was a hairdresser and I had sacrificed almost two years of my biggest producing day, which was Saturday, to attend classes. And the rule was, if you had more than three absences, you would not be consecrated, you would have to start over. I had to go back to work and I had to do it when I was able to and with a kid, that was Saturday. And I missed three absences and I was told that I could not be consecrated. So, I was heartbroken for a lot of years over that. A loooot of years. Just distraught heartbroken because I believed that I failed God. I believed that I failed myself. I believed that any hope of redemption in my personal life because I could not do this, I could not finish.
Over time, I came to discover that my place wasn’t even in the church. As a minister, I was much more effective in the marketplace. I was much more effective as an example. I was much more effective as a human being, being a human being instead of a human being trying to convince everybody that I was perfect. So, I moved on.
And there were some other instances in between, one involving a pastor I was involved with. He wouldn’t acknowledge my call to ministry. I wanted to move forward in ministry and I was told I wasn’t holy enough... by a man I was sleeping with. So, yeah...All kinds of stuff. Those experiences don’t happen to or with everyone but they certainly happened to me and they scarred me for a long time. And ironically, once I stepped away from the church universal, the organized church, my relationship to God and my relationship to my faith, completely changed. And not in a bad way but in the way I felt it was always supposed to be.
In which ways would you say it changed?
It was so much stronger. It was as if I had been working out in the gym my whole life and didn’t realize it and I looked in the mirror one day and had all this muscle. That’s the way I felt. I felt I had built up all these years and had all this spiritual strength and this understanding, not just about the things of God and the things of the spirit but also the things of the church and the church is a thing. The church is not Jesus. The church is a building with people who talk a lot of shit and rarely tell the truth.
So I came in a ministry, the one I was devoted to, with a very strong academic foundation and a very strong spiritual foundation, as far as the culture of the church itself. But that comes at a price as well. Understanding and not being afraid to call out how women are treated is a problem. Understanding and actually saying ‘no’ is a problem. People who exercise authority that they don’t have and are intrusive with your personal life--I have an aversion to people telling me what to do and I have an aversion of people telling me who or what I should be because I’ve heard that my entire life.
So, when you have women who mean well--sometimes. If I’ve learned nothing else in this life, I’ve learned that words are weapons that’s why they’re my weapon of choice. People choose what they say to you because they know how it’s going to get you.
I’m going to tell you a story.
There was a very, very handsome man at my church, who was a very close friend of mine. He was cheating on his wife. I knew he was cheating on his wife. I didn’t know with whom. Because we would talk about stuff. I didn’t know who it was. I knew when it happened because I was probably the first call when it happened. We were very close. I used to consider him my best friend. But every woman in the church thought it was me. So, there’s this thing, if you don’t come from a spiritual lineage and you become part of a ministry, it’s kind of like you’re an outsider. I’m not related to anybody in the church, I’m not married to anyone in the church. I’m not dating anybody in the church, it’s just me and my cute kid. I happen to be single. I happen to be beautiful and I have hips. It’s a problem. So, I’m getting all these little snickers and these sneers when I walk down the hallway. Someone confronted me once in the bathroom about the “stuff I’ve been doing”. And, we were in the service one day and it was a high holy service and the Lord’s having his way if you will. And the prophet of the ministry comes to me and says, ‘If I don’t stop what I’m doing, the Lord’s going to burn my house to the ground.’
I was like *skuuuurrt.* She said, “If I don’t stop what I’m doing, the Lord’s going to burn my house to the ground.’ Now, I’m a lot of things V. I’m a lot of things. But a pushover is not one of them. I might go along to get along and decide not to rock a boat. But if you come trying to rock my boat, you’re going to get whatever you came for. We’re at the altar and she’s saying this in the microphone. I said, ‘Nuh uhh! I don’t receive that. You’re not putting that on me! You will not talk to me that way. I don’t know who you think you are but that’s not happening.’ She takes the mic and going on to other people, prophylying or whatever she’s doing, And this is someone I respected, somebody I knew and had hoped to become friends with, an older woman. Not a whole lot older but 50-ish. Seasoned. She was respected. She was feared by a lot of people because people get caught up in prophetic gifts and think that they’re psychics and that they can move things with their minds. That’s called telekinesis. That’s not psychic ability. Words mean things. Come on let’s read. One of the things I discovered is that folks will read the Bible and nothing else.
So, I became--and I was the girl who you never saw on a date. I kept my dirt out of my house and I kept it out of my church. I wasn’t bringing men to church, I wasn’t bringing them around my kids. But I had this stigma attached to me as a young, single beautiful mother, that I was after everybody’s husbands. Ain’t nobody want them broke negros! They were all broke! They were all broke. Girl, real talk. Every last one of them was living off of their wives and only five of them were straight, to begin with.
Once I realized somebody had the unmitigated gall to say some foolishness like that to me, on the mic, at the altar when I’m coming for prayer because I have real issues?
There’s another story. I decide that I want to get counseling. I’ve lived with major depressive disorder probably since my early twenties when I was first diagnosed. It’s well-managed but sometimes you need some help. So I decided to sign up for spiritual counseling. I’m all gung-ho.
‘Yay, it’s going to include Jesus. They’re going to speak my language. They’re going to prophetically know how I feel. They’re going to intuitively understand, be able to speak to my heart and help me get some tools to move forward. First of all, my appointment kept getting moved around because the associate pastor did not take me seriously. Secondly, one of the days we were scheduled for counseling, I’m sitting outside and the person in the office will not let me in. So I ring the buzzer and I say, ‘It’s Caron. I have an appointment with Pastor So-and-So.’ They said, ‘Well, can you wait just a moment?’ So, I’m waiting and waiting, then I ring the buzzer again. ‘Ok, I’m outside. I have an appointment.’
‘Well, she’s not able to see you today, you’re going to have to call back and reschedule.’
I couldn’t have gotten a phone call?
So, then I’m sitting in my car, I’m kind of upset because I’ve had a really bad day and I really just wanted somebody to talk to. So I’m sitting there and then I see a man walk up to the Associate Pastor’s Mercedes. Walks up to her car, looks at the car and he looks at the windshield window where the VIN number is, then he puts the keys in the car and then he drives off.
So I ring the buzzer again.
‘Who is it?’
“This is Caron.’
‘Look! We done told you that she’s not going to see you today. We have told you that she’s not available. You’re going to have to call and make an appointment.’
So, I said, ‘You might just want to let her know that her car just got repossessed.
‘What, what do you mean?!’
‘ I mean, someone just took their keys, got into her car, turned the ignition and drove off.’
‘Oh, well we need to call the police. Come on in, come on in. We’re going to file a police report.’
‘But you don’t need a police report. It was a repossession.’
‘Oh, no. That can’t be. We’re going to call the police and have you submit a statement.’
‘Ok but I’m telling you, it wasn’t a theft. He had keys. The car he drove here is right there. She needs to call her finance company, not the police.’
They put on a whole dog and pony. They called the police and the police tell them, ‘No, it wasn’t stolen. It was reclaimed by the dealership.’
I never had another session again. Because I was never scheduled for another session again.
I don’t know if it was embarrassment or an unwillingness to address something I’d seen. You know this is during the age of the prosperity gospel. You have because you wish it. You have because you pray enough. You have because God has bestowed upon you some divine ability to succeed, in the face of others. So, this was someone who appeared to have a whole lot, losing. My calls were unanswered and after a while, I just stopped trying. I went back to old-fashioned therapy and got myself straight.
But it’s things like that. It’s things like knowing where the bodies are buried. Things like knowing who’s really zooming who. It’s about who has the most information and can do the most damage or who can be the easiest manipulated for work without pay. That became a huge issue for me over time. Largely, churches run on volunteer work but there is a budget. And they can budget for a lot of interesting things.And I didn’t know that until I got in the back rooms of ministry. A lot of things they budget for are completely unnecessary. But things like benevolence, things like outreach and things like homelessness assistance, helping someone who may have their lights turned off, those are the smaller budgets. The bigger budgets are for honorariums for guest preachers and singers. Everybody talks about owning property but nobody’s giving a class on how to buy a house. You have all these wonderful musicians in the church since the dawn of freaking time but there’s no music school. We’re not teaching anyone to do anything. We’re not reaching out to the community. It didn’t make sense to me anymore. It was contrary everything I was taught about what ministry was supposed to be. So, I got closer to God by getting closer to me.
So what would you say the final straw was?
Final straw regarding what?
So, have you left the church or have you just left ministry?
That’s an interesting question. Oh, my God. I do not have a home church. I do not have a house of fellowship. I do still have people who were significant in my spiritual life who I stay connected to. I got tired of the foolishness. I got tired of the judgment. I got tired of the talk with no walk. But am I done with the church? No, Because I still believe I have a place in ministry. It may not look like what I thought it looked like but I definitely have a voice that still connects to people, especially women who are rebuilding their lives. I have a word from the Lordt. But I believe that my ability to connect with people did not begin or end within the four walls of the church.
I also believe a lot of people go to church and stay in church because it’s comfortable, it’s predictable. You know what’s going to happen. And I’ve never been one for predictability. I still support my friends in ministry, when they speak, when they preach, when they sing, when they’re celebrated, when they can’t speak to anybody in their church because everybody’s acting stupid. I live it. I live it. I examine it. I study it within the context of the Bible and the context of my life. I still have a desire to pursue academically. I don’t know whether or not I will but that’s for personal development, not vocational development. I am a believer wholeheartedly. I’m a thinking believer. I don’t believe everything you say from the pulpit is true and I’m going to challenge you on it. Especially when it comes to the state of women because we don’t want to talk about how much damage has been done to Black women through the church. It’s not pretty. We’re fat. We’re psychologically damaged. But we can sing! We can pull down heaven with a prayer. But we’re lonely and we’re angry. We’re sexually frustrated and unfulfilled even in our marriages. We’re frustrated and unfulfilled in our work and continue to come back to the same place that taught us that we didn’t have a right to our own happiness. Our happiness was never a part of the equation. For women, it’s always about service and servitude to a man. We’re taught that we’re going to be happy once we get married and serve a man. We’re taught that we’re going to be happy once we bear his children. We are taught that we should be happy with the impotent man that we married. Come on! Don’t...girl... We are taught that we should get over it when we need meds! We are depressed because everything in our life goes against everything life says it’s supposed to be. We are told we are worthy but taught we are not. We’ve been gaslighted our entire lives, under the guise of shuda mudda hunda, under the guise of spiritual wholeness. We are left sad and we are lonely and we are depressed and we are angry and we have nowhere to put it. So we eat it and we sex it. And we keep secrets and we become adulterers and we destroy families but we look good in that pulpit Sunday morning.
So, I don’t know if there’s been a last straw because as much as I wrap this truth in laughter, and as entertaining as my delivery might be, it is also true that I do feel a responsibility to speak truth to power when it comes to places of faith. I feel like my experience requires me to go back. I don’t know how it’s going to happen but the truth is I don’t need the facts. What needs to happen is we need to change the narrative and let women know that their freedom is not dependent on whether or not they marry a man who claims to be a Christian. What we need to know is that our freedom is not determined by whether or not we are subservient. People like to toss around submission. They like to talk about submission and spiritual authority in high holy places. People need to understand the difference between servitude and submission. We need to understand what healthy fear of God is. Because somebody’s putting an unhealthy fear of God in you about a person. Pastors are not deities. They are not God.
And we need to stop telling young women that their vagina determines their value, their worth and their virtue. I have taught my children. Your vagina has nothing to do with your virtue. Nothing to do with your virtue. Because whether or not you decide to take your vagina for a walk, it does not change what’s in your heart. It does not change your core values.
Me and celibacy have a long history and we don’t like each other. We don’t. And the reason we don’t like each other is because I initially became celibate because I thought I was honoring God. I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. I thought that was the only way I was going to be able to pray up a husband. I prayed up a husband. Gurrrl. I prayed up a husband, alright. He was tall, he was Black, he wasn’t that fine but he was a work in progress. He was an elder in the church. He knew the Bible and he knew how to tear me down me with it. Real talk.
So, it brought a whole ‘nother perspective of how women are controlled with spiritual abuse, which is another thing we don’t like to talk about. It’s real. It’s a thing. It’s a thing in our homes and it’s a thing in the church. The manipulation of someone and their mind and their heart to believe they’re doing something that has nothing to do with why they’re doing it. I want women to get free.
I want to also acknowledge that celibacy wasn’t real for me until I didn’t need God to justify it.
Now, what does that mean? Explain that for me.
That means that we’re taught that if we keep our bodies whole and stay pure we’re going to get us a good Christian man to come put a big ole rock on our finger and marry us and make us whole. But then the church tells us that singleness is the best part of your life because you don’t have to worry about a husband and kids. What if you already got kids what does that say? I done did that, what you saying? So, I don’t have the right to happiness anymore because I had a husband and kids. We don’t talk about divorce. Can we really talk about divorce? Divorce is not an issue until it’s an issue. So you don’t know what you’re going to do. You wake up one morning and your lovely Christian husband has his hands wrapped around your neck. Whatchu gon do? You gon start praying? No, because you’re too busy trying to breathe, bitch.
I’m just saying we don’t talk about the truth. We don’t talk about how pastors in ministry hide these abusers and pedophiles.
I had a-- I use this term loosely--friend who he and his mistress...I mean wife started a church and invited me to their opening and their guest speaker was a self-proclaimed pedophile. He did time for it.
Uhh huuhh. It’s in his bio, girl.
Uhh huhh. So… he’s still a young guy and you know, ‘Give him a chance.’ I ain’t giving him no chance. I said, ‘Thank you so much for the invitation but I respectfully decline.’ Then I was given a lecture about how unwilling my heart is to forgive. So here’s my response, ‘Bitch, fuck you. Fuck you, you and you.’ Because I’m a survivor. And if was a crackhead, I would not walk into a crack house expecting to be whole. So if I have children, and you know this man is not supposed to be around children but you bring him to your church. But you have faith he’s not going to molest another child.
Really, nigga?! You got faith he’s not going to molest another child? You believe in him so much that the urges he’s had and the practice he’s done since he’s been a child and the law says he can’t be around children, your faith just trumps all of that. Let’s talk about practical wisdom. That should be enough. You can have a gay old time, I’m not going to be there. And then that relationship was severed, not that I needed it. I said, ‘Are we really having this conversation about a pedophile?’
I wish I could say that this only happened once. He violently raped children and was classified as such in the sex offender registry and I was told a few things about myself, including the fact that I was unforgiving and not Christian enough. And I’m over it.
There hasn’t been a final call for me concerning ministry. I know I’ve been able to help a lot of people and I’m more proud of the work people don’t know about than the work people do know about.
What are some suggestions you have for the Black church and the ways they can stop oppressing women?
The first thing I’ll say--and this is something that I’ve always said and will continue to say is that the church needs to recognize that it’s there to serve people, not themselves. You are serving people and those people have a choice.
Understand that the people who serve are still people. They’re going to mess up. But it’s time to stop ostracizing women for getting pregnant and elevating men who get them pregnant.
It’s time to stop judging women for leaving an abusive marriage and start publicly denouncing and getting help for the people who are doing the abusing.
There should be a qualified mental health department in every church in this country. Because real people have real issues and Psalms ain’t going to help them.
We need to tell the truth concerning women.
We need to stop elevating women because they sound good or because they look good but they don’t do any work.
And we need to stop elevating women just because of who they are married to. You either got the juice or you don’t.
Church should be a proving ground for life, not the other way around.
We need to stop selling people wolf tickets and telling them that if they walk upright enough, or don’t have sex enough, or if they don’t talk about sex enough, or if they act like they are asexual and deny themselves of any piece of humanity that they’re going to be blessed. No, you’re denying yourself the greatest thing about life and that’s to be a woman. You’re not doing Jesus any favors by not having sex. Some of y’all need to get laid. Go ahead and get it out of your system so you can work out your soul salvation. We’re doing this wrong. I’m not condoning any behavior that is inappropriate. I’m saying tell the truth and shame the devil. Nothing can be resolved if the truth isn’t known about it.
Girl, know your wardrobe and what you decide to wear is not going to send you to hell. However, you will get a response based on what you decide to wear and you need to be able to handle that response. Not, ‘You’re going to hell’ or ‘You’re distracting men.’ They get distracted with a ball. They’re not complicated. You’re not inappropriately dressed because you’re distracting a man. You’re inappropriately dressed because you can’t handle the attention that’s going to come with it because they’re going to act up. It’s not because of what you’re wearing. No man is going to marry you because you’re buttoned up to your neck.
We have denied ourselves the parts of our humanity that make us who we are. And I say the freedom is in acknowledging it because you have a choice in all things.
If you have a glass of wine, you’re not going to hell girl. You’re just going to enjoy your evening a little bit more. We make these things up.
For women--we’re supposed to find freedom in Christ and instead, we’re finding bondage in the church.
So, what can we do? We can find more progressive leaders. We can allow people to speak who aren’t going to say what we want them to say but open up dialogue for something more significant.
We can talk about love and relationships in the context of love and relationships and not condemnation and hell.
We can talk about loving one another and walking away because it’s not healthy to stay.