Trillia Newbell on Complementarianism In an African-American Key

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It’s not often that one is faced with the reality of prejudices, assumptions, and stereotypes while also thinking they are in a “safe place.” But that is precisely what I experienced. A few years ago while speaking at a conference, one of my fellow speakers began to share an experience she, as a white female, had at a predominantly Black pastors conference. She charismatically expressed her disbelief that the women were so “aggressive” and “ran over the men.” She then proceeded to attempt to imitate them by bobbing her head back and forth and snapping her fingers (you know what I’m talking about—the three snaps). I expressed my concerns with her assessments and moved along. But then another incident happened recently. A male friend shared that he felt that most African-American households were matriarchal and, in short, the “women wore the pants.”

I imagine anyone reading these accounts might gasp in disbelief thinking, Do people really say these things out loud? They do. Yes. But what’s perhaps even more disconcerting than the public conversations I had is that these are some of the private thoughts and assumptions of my brothers and sisters. And these stereotypes can be perpetuated by an unhelpful application of scripture, namely the misapplication of complementarianism.

If complementarianism is defined solely by outward behavior and by certain societal standards for “a godly family model,” then many of us would be disqualified—including my mother. I grew up in a two-parent home and, though I wouldn’t say it was a Christian home, it was filled with love and laughter. My father owned a shoe-shine stand and took his role as husband, father, and leader seriously. My mother worked full-time and eventually, as an adult, finished college. We were a typical lower-to-middle class family. But to provide, my father needed the assistance of his wife. So she worked. This is the case for many families of all nationalities and ethnicities.

Single-Parent Families

But some evaluating the African-American community might draw the conclusion that our sub-culture trends toward matriarchy. I’ve heard this stereotype many times in the past. The stereotype comes mainly from the large number of single mothers. In 2011, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reported a staggering 68 percent of black women who gave birth at the time of the survey reported as single parents. This is alarming. To put those numbers in perspective, ACS calculated 595,983 total births and 403,820 of them were from single mothers.

In such cases, the burden of providing, leading, and caring for the family often falls singularly on single mothers. The question in the African-American community would be why? Why are so many women raising children alone? Many would argue that it is due simply to sin. Some might argue the men (and women!) in this particular survey, for example, lack self-control and broken families result. For many individual cases and situations, sin and brokenness are surely involved. But the key word is “individual.” This is not true for all single households within the African American community.

We must not assume that because a woman is a single mother she is (1) not able to glorify the Lord with her life or (2) she prefers her circumstance. We must not assume a marital status statistic gives us infallible information about her situation. To assume that the father in all cases is lazy, incompetent, and living in sin would be an error as well. For the single mother, matriarchy is inevitable but glorifying God in her life is not impossible—God makes a way through Jesus just as He does with all people, married or unmarried.

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SOURCE: The Front Porch

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