How Christian theology contributes to Black men’s dehumanizing expectations of Black women in relationships
We have got to become better men than John Gray has ever been and would have us be.
by Daniel Johnson
I don’t know who said it first, and I’m sure it was a Black women, but I agree with the statement that Black women do not deserve to suffer or struggle before they are honored by the Black men who claim to love them.
Black women are not things that Black men can use to grow ourselves up while we use cute phrases like “covering” and “rib” to hide our abusive notions of what Black womanhood’s relationship to Black manhood should be.
It is the most tragic kind of realization, to see that this particular idea runs through entirely too many Black people’s understandings of love relationships, and marriage. Especially Black men. Especially Black male preachers and their theological teachings. John Gray ain’t the only man teaching bullshit and calling it a word from the Lord.
During his visit to Sister Circle this week, John Gray used a critically poor choice of words to describe his relationship with his wife, Aventur Gray. The words were poor, but they were intentional. He claims that she was “a coat” when they met, Aventur was “bigger” than him and he had to “grow into” her. He closed this terrible introduction of himself and his character by telling the ladies of Sister Circle that a woman who is a “lid”and not a “covering” will keep man from his dream, as though the noble ambition of Black women should be to help Black men chase our dreams while neglecting their own.
Gray is the same pastor who caught heat earlier this year for instructing women to walk in the “spirit of a wife” rather than the “spirit of a girlfriend” if they want to get “chosen” as a mate. He also had the unfortunate problem of sitting across from Donald Trump, but had he simply listened to his “covering”, he would not have been dragged from pillar to post by most Black folks with any kind of internet connection. Worse, Gray attempted to characterize his decision to meet with Trump and other charlatans regarding prison reform as one of biblical proportions, likening it to Jesus meeting with Zaccheus, a corrupt tax collector who often took extra money from those he collected taxes from.
Trump may be worse than Zaccheus, but Gray clearly does not possess the foresight of the Jesus he claims to represent. Before his ill-fated encounter with Trump, Aventur told her husband that no good would come of him being in the meeting and praying for the president. Of course, she was right, so it is doubly interesting for me to watch Gray attempt and fail spectacularly at celebrating his wife for “covering” him when he clearly does not value her opinions or advice.
Here is where we have to deal, and deal honestly with the 10,000 pound elephant in the room, namely the fact that much of Christian theology, specifically Christian theology propagated by Black men, is simply patriarchy masking as religion. Patriarchy masked as Christian ethics, devoid of much in the way of accountability for men who are proud to be called to be the “head” of family life.
But if one follows the politics of the Jesus in the Scripture, one sees that Jesus is radical in how he treats women. During the years that the Bible was written, in roughly the first century A.D., women were considered second-class citizens. Male rabbis and teachers were not supposed to be seen talking with women, let alone talking to those women alone. Yet, on multiple occasions, Jesus is seen giving women equal status with men.
However, much of this Christian theology is not based on Jesus, but Paul, a man whose instructions to churches include not allowing women to speak or to teach, and his teachings indeed continue to color gendered experiences with a patriarchal Christianity.
Is it any wonder then that men like John Gray exist, then? We have a religion which encourages men to be distrustful of women in leadership or teaching positions, establishes men as de facto leaders by virtue of our gender, while demanding very little accountability from men.
John Gray’s comments about his wife are a natural outgrowth of relationships for Black women when they are informed by this kind of religious patriarchy, and it is dangerous. It’s detrimental for Black women to be required by a faith system, its adherents and authority figures, to become a second womb for already grown men. Men who should be open with women about what we lack and man enough to admit that we should never need to drag a Black woman down while we flounder about trying to “find ourselves.”
I wish I could confidently say that John Grays are not very common in the world, but I can’t. When academic, writer, and cultural critic Josie Pickens posted to Facebook about the things she has dealt with in her lifetime of being a Black woman, it resonated with many Black women who shared her words in solidarity. Pickens wrote: “More than I hope Gray’s comments move men to address the way they physically, mentally, and emotionally abuse women due to their allegiance to patriarchy, immaturity and arrogance, I hope women are moved to tell other women that martyrs are still dead- no matter how much they are praised- and that we do not have to set ourselves on fire to keep the men we love warm.”
Here’s the thing, Black men have to earn this love we expect and demand from Black women, and we also have to understand that love does not mean being eternally mothered by them. We have to show ourselves worthy of the remarkable devotion and concern that Black women willingly show us, not demand that they mule themselves for us. We cannot be out here trying to “build” while we suffocate or rather leech away the lives of Black women, then turn around and praise them for “birthing” us and celebrate the pain we put them through.
We have got to become better men than John Gray has ever been and would have us be, we have got to become more complete and whole, in possession of love and knowledge of ourselves, and stop requiring “bigger” women to grow these things for us so we can fit them. We cannot continue to trap Black women who want to love us by presenting ourselves as more than what we are, then once we get a little shine or a little promotion or a little notoriety, praising and elevating them for sticking with our sorry asses.
If we not gonna praise and elevate Black women when we first meet them, and just because they are Black women, if we not gonna build them up while the entire world is full of misogynoir, we would do better by those women by leaving them the hell alone.
Black women do not exist to birth us. Not in Christianity, not in society, not in any of the worlds that we do not yet know exists. Black men have to become better, whole men, capable of loving ourselves and loving Black women with the fullness and they deserve.
Daniel Johnson studies English and creative writing at Sam Houston State University. In his spare time, he likes to visit museums and listen to trap music. His work can be found at The Root, Black Youth Project, Racebaitr, Those People, and Afropunk.