For many, including myself, this picture is a familiar scene – strong black women in the church. If you’re familiar, you know how African-American church culture is. The pastor or reverend in the pulpit is smiling one minute and whoopin’ the next beckoning the congregation with, “Can I get an amen!?!” “Amen!”, shouts back the congregation. He casually wipes the sweat off of his brow with his handkerchief, looks at the congregation and pauses…..“Wellllll!”, says Big Momma as she fans herself. You know who Big Momma is. She’s been a member for 40 years, well respected, makes the best chicken dinners and peach cobblers and has that unofficial reserved parking spot. She walks in the church in her Sunday best, church hat, gloves, smelling good, and a warm friendly smile for everyone as she makes her way to her pew. You know Big Momma! She likes to gently sway her body during praise & worship and hum throughout the service. In fact, I saw many Big Mommas growing up in the church, but besides the deacons, the “rev” and “ursher” board, I don’t recall seeing many men in the church.
I recently had a conversation with a dear brother in the Lord and I was sharing my heart about my concerns for the African American church – one of which is the general lack of expositional teaching. What he said to me was something I didn’t expect to hear. He said, “David, just about every week, I hear stories of African-American men pursuing pastoral ministry who grieve over the lack of solid exposition in the pulpit. But the biggest problem you’ll face in the African-American church culture is an acceptance of complementarianism.”
That answer caused me to significantly reconsider my approach concerning my desires for the African-American church culture. One of the greatest tragedies, due to sin, in the African-American culture is the lack of fathers in the home. Statistics have been recorded about how the African-American community has been and is affected by the absence of strong male leadership and the church is not immune. It is because of this very reason that women have had to step up to be the “momma” and the “daddy” of their homes and in the culture. So we can see how this gets messy in matters of the church. While we applaud the women and Big Mommas in our culture for taking necessary responsibility, we must understand that God’s way is better and His way is for men to lovingly lead their families for the stability of society and ultimately for the glory of God.
Humanity, man and woman, was the only part of creation that was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). In very specific ways, we have been given or share some of the same attributes of God as His image bearers. These are known as communicable attributes. Such are love, peace, patience, kindness, anger, reasoning, etc. But we don’t image God in those ways alone, but also in our functions according to our roles. Humanity was given the task to be fruitful and multiply, to subdue and have dominion (authority) over the earth as a picture of God’s authority (Genesis 1:28) and woman was given to man to help him with this task (Genesis 2:18-23). This explicitly points to male leadership and female submission, which we can rightly assume functioned well before sin entered the world. Adam was given the charge to lead, protect and provide and Eve was given the charge to submit to him and assist him with his God given mandate to subdue and have dominion. Some have said it like this – God orients man to the task and orients woman to the man. Paul lays out the theology of marriage in Ephesians 5:22-32 and clearly men and women are called to function in a way toward one another that points to Christ’s submission to the Father in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what I meant by God’s glory in the beginning. Humanity, gender differences and gender roles all point to the magnificence of God’s glory and any deviation from what God intended is a marring of His glory. For the church, it’s the same. Men are called to lead as women are not permitted to occupy the leadership offices of elders, which function as pastors, or have any type of authority over man in the church (1 Timothy 2:12). These are reserved for men alone (1 Timothy 3:1-13 & Titus 1:5-9) as a means of displaying the order within the Godhead. In part, due to the absence of men, egalitarianism is often practiced within the African-American church culture, but unfortunately it is also practiced when males are present. This is owing to poor biblical hermeneutics and comfortable cultural traditions.
So the problem seems have two sides. Side 1 – Black communities, churches included, lack the presence of male leadership for various reasons, therefore women are forced to lead and protect that leadership vigorously. Side 2 – Women lead or are viewed as co-leaders because of biblical ignorance and passivity among the black men that are present. So what is the solution?
While I am aware that the issue is far more complex that what I’ve outlined above, the gospel is the solution to this problem. Solid expositional teaching needs to be the steady diet in African-American pulpits so the gospel can be recovered. We need correct orthodoxy and correct orthopraxy.
Perhaps we should consider the African-American male as an unreached people group as Eric Redmond has as he assessed this problem in his book, Where Are All the Brothers?
The gospel needs to go forth in the African-American church community and men need to step up so we can give Big Momma a break.
Grace & Peace,
* For more information on complementarianism, egalitarianism, biblical manhood and womanhood, consider reading Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood editors John Piper and Wayne Grudem. (Free PDF of book at link courtesy of Desiring God)
Together for the Gospel | Complementarianism Panel Discussion