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.

Complementarianism in an African-American Key

But what about the two-parent family? There remains a stereotype that in many African American homes the mom wears the pants—so to speak. As I mentioned, I had a loving mother and father who worked hard to provide for their family. My mother was indeed the helper fit for my father (Gen. 2:20). Where he lacked she was there to provide encouragement and assistance. She was his ally in every way. A specific way that she helped my father was through work. The Bible does not discourage women from working. On the contrary, we are to be working in many aspects, including the home (Titus 2:5). The question is, where does the burden to lead and provide fall? That would be to the man, and it was the case for my father.

If we believe the Bible is useful for teaching and equipping and that the gospel is available to all tribes and tongues and nations, then we must not narrow our application to societal norms but rather look to the Word as our guide. Nor should we presume to know a woman’s heart based on some personality traits. A charismatic and “loud” woman may indeed have a “gentle and quiet spirit”. Simply put: it’s just wrong, judgmental and seeping with prejudice to judge people based on such externals. When I read the Bible, I am assured that complementarianism isn’t and shouldn’t be defined by a 1950s American social construct. Rather it should be defined by the infallible Word of God.

In the Beginning

We don’t have to dive into the deep theological end of the pool in order to affirm complementarianism at its basic level for all people. God did indeed create male and female in his image. As equal image bearers we were created to reflect the Lord, our God, each and every one of us. This is before the fall of man and isn’t exclusive to the regenerate. He gives male and female dominion over the earth—equally. And then God does something beautiful; he introduces marriage. Adam was given a helper fit for him.

If we stop there, we know that every person regardless of culture or ethnicity can apply this basic truth of Scripture. Male and females were created equal yet distinct from the beginning. We know that these differences, as well as many others, are not only good, but God glorifying. God has created us all for a unique purpose for the good of others and for his glory. Specifically, the woman was created as a helper. This is not an unequal role, simply a different one.

There isn’t anything within the text that infers a certain culture or sub-culture, except that this relationship was designed before the fall and was therefore a perfect design. The creation of marriage and gender roles occurs before there was culture and sub-culture. Instead of human civilization shaping and influencing this truth, God does. The problem we see today, which begins one chapter after this creation, is that sin entered the world and distorted the beautiful design. What was once perfect and harmonious would now contend with sinful hearts, intentions, and motives. The problem has never been the roles, but the heart. But God sent his Son to pay for what we could never pay for. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Why is this important? Because when we strip away our ideals of practical godliness and simply look to the text, we see that God is most after our hearts. He is working to redeem a people for himself. Titus 2 isn’t about a woman being busy at home but a woman who has been transformed so that her heart is filled with self-control and ultimately love for others (her children, her home, her husband; Titus 2:3-5). And what does Peter focus on? His emphasis is not on the external but on the internal—a gentle and quiet spirit and a woman who fears the Lord (1 Pet. 3: 1-6). And, of course, the oft-quoted Proverbs 31 woman and her list of virtues doesn’t end on what she does but who she adores. She was a woman who feared the Lord (31:30).

Complementarity for Our Day

So, what does that mean for us today? When evaluating, for example, a mother who works outside the home, we don’t need to ask, “Is she involved in sinful behavior?” God instructs women to work in the home but he does not limit that work to the home alone. That woman may be operating in the exact manner for which God created her as well as providing the greatest help to her spouse. Her work does not equate to matriarchy. When a woman displays strength, we don’t need to assume that she’s running over men. A strong woman, like my mother, shouldn’t be a threat to our theology. But even more, she should not be judged and stereotyped. So the real question is, “Does she glorify God and is her heart transformed by the gospel?” For we know that whether we eat or drink, whatever we do, ought to be done for the glory of the Lord (1 Cor. 10:31).

The problem for the single mother isn’t that she is working; it’s that she bears a burden never intended for her to bear—and never to bear alone. We know that God is sovereign and we affirm his goodness in all things. But he never says that all circumstances are perfect. The perfection of this world vanished with the fall. For the mom who has been abandoned, for the widow or for any woman who must be the provider, leader, caregiver, and disciplinarian, this is not what God intended. But because God is awesome, gracious, and kind, he has provided a way for the single mother and the working mother and the stay-at-home mother and the African American woman and the white woman to find ultimate peace through Jesus. We all need a Savior, we need to be transformed and we can be assured that he will finish the good work he began (Phil 1:6). If we believe the Word to be true, then we must also believe there is great hope for the African American community and the single-family households and for the divisive, prejudice in all of us, for there is hope for all.

 

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20 Comments

  • Avatar Tim Wilcoxson says:

    Hey Trillia,

    I found myself Amen-ing when you were hitting on points related to a woman working outside the home, but you lost me on “A charismatic and ‘loud’ woman may indeed have a ‘gentle and quiet spirit'”. I am not sure how that would work. In 1 Tim 2:11 Paul uses the same word mentioned in your 1 Peter quotation, for “quiet” (or tranquility) in the context of a woman not teaching or exercising authority in the congregation. The ESV opts to translate it as “quiet” since the context seems like verbal self-assertion in the worship context is not fitting with what God has called a woman too. It seems like, at the very least, the way these texts look like played out is not being notably loud and self-assertive. If people notice a woman for her loudness and self-assertion in worship, then they are exactly violating these passages. Even with a degree of cultural perception varying and accounted for, the quietness spoken of in the text should shape our subcultures not the other way around.

    Perhaps I should back up and ask you what you think “quiet” looks like for a woman in the worship context as I think I probably don’t know your perspective yet.

    Loved your post and am very thankful for you. The Lord be with you.

  • Avatar Thabiti Anyabwile says:

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for joining us on The Porch! And thanks for a great question. I’ll let Trillia answer the question at length, if she likes. But I think you might be passing her as you focus on the worship setting particularly. I think Trillia might have been referencing a kind of personality that, culturally at least, isn’t seen as particularly problematic though it’s often stereotyped that way. By most measures my sister would be regarded as a “loud” personality, but she wonderfully honors her husband and to my knowledge she’s never been disruptive or inappropriate in a worship setting. She has no desire to “lead” in either the church or the home, but in constitution she’s a big personality some might call “loud.”

    Just my two cents on your good question.
    T

  • Avatar Trey says:

    Sista Trillia, thankyou.

    This helped a brutha this morning: “That woman may be operating in the exact manner for which God created her as well as providing the greatest help to her spouse.”

    Right now my wife is doing just that as we’re having to deal with a forced career change for me. Will be starting school in a month, but good Lord this word was on time. Few things (in my opinion) can make a man feel less than a man than when he’s unable to provide for his household and is unable to find work that will allow him to do so. All the while having to deal with his wife working and shouldering all of the financial burden of the house.

    Keep writing sista. You’re helping bruthas like me.

  • Avatar Tim Wilcoxson says:

    My understanding of the quietness passages is that visible tranquility
    in speech and manner means, at least, less loudness in personality. I am
    not sure I’ve seen examples of loud personalities as not self-assertive
    or attention grabbing, which I thinks both the worship context (1 TIm)
    and marital context (1 Peter) gets at and points to a broader way of
    life. So I think the worship passage is relevant, especially with the charismatic church reference. I know that how subcultures self-perceive makes a difference in
    the discussion, but how does quietness of spirit translate practically
    into the way one carries themselves in everything? Honoring ones
    husband and not being disruptive our aspects of this that I don’t see as
    excluding a loud personality necessarily, so no real disagreement on
    that per se, but it just seems to me that quietness of spirit impacts
    one’s whole personality. I see this being the same for men and
    gentleness, it should leaven the whole lump of their personality. I
    don’t think a harsh and abrasive personality is a legitimate option for
    Christian men (for example), with a few qualifications probably necessary: responding
    to false teachers and false worship, and even then I see it as
    modifying our responses in significant ways.

    To narrow my question: how does quietness of spirit impact loudness of personality, or is it really limited to not being disruptive in church or dishonoring to your husband?

    Thank you for the response Thabiti!

  • Avatar Laura says:

    Tim, I think a person with a gentle and quiet spirit is a person who is kind and considerate of others’ feelings, and who does not cause drama for their own amusement or to get attention. I’ve known such people who had loud voices but they were kind as the day is long, and they assumed the best of everyone and wanted everyone to get along.

  • Avatar Laura says:

    Trillia, you start with this:

    “’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.”

    It’s been my unhappy experience that it’s precisely when I think I am with like-minded people, who at least respect me if they don’t actively like me, that being blind-sided with prejudices, assumptions, and stereotypes hurts worst. I’ve learned not to let my guard down around more than just a tiny group of people in my life. Part of that, of course, is to accept the fact that I can’t expect other people not ever to be sinners (being one myself). Part is to realize that I have hurt others without ever meaning to, so I can’t assume that someone else would never hurt my feelings accidentally. But it still hurts. You should be able to attend a conference for predominantly black Christian folks without being confronted with this.

  • Avatar Trillia says:

    Amen, Laura! Isn’t the gospel amazing. It reveals my desperate need for a Savior and then God provides one. I am thankful to say that I do not harbor bitterness toward the gal who did this. I’ve had many experiences similar to the examples I shared and I’m learning (though failing) to love. And I pray that greater awareness will help the next person discern what they are about to say and more importantly, what’s in their heart. God can do that! -Trill.

  • Avatar Trillia says:

    Praise the Lord! Thankful this encouraged your faith.

  • Avatar Trillia says:

    Hi, Tim! Thanks for joining us! Thabiti has nailed what I was focusing on. Thank you!

  • Avatar Trillia says:

    This is interesting. I do not believe that the Scriptures equate certain personality traits with sin. It seems that, from what I’ve read and learned, God deals with the heart. So, a woman may be joyfully loud, expressive, charismatic, outgoing, extravert, etc. etc. and yet still have a quiet trust in the Lord. I’m unable to comment further due to time, but I just wanted to share that perspective and hope it is helpful. Thanks!

  • Avatar Tim Wilcoxson says:

    Thanks for the response Trillia. Not to press for more response, I just want to clarify I am not thinking of inherent personality traits as in neutral qualities that are pre-fall. An abrasive personality for example is something we cultivate and choose and is not morally neutral. But from your explanation you qualify loudness with joy, quiet trust, etc. I think we’re on the same page. Thanks. Appreciate you!

  • Avatar Trillia says:

    You bet! Thanks for reading!

  • Avatar Ronnie Ebanks says:

    I loved every inch of this, thanks for writing it!

  • Avatar Dcljoy says:

    one of the problems of strict Complementarian doctrine is the passage in Genesis where God makes the woman as a ‘helper’ for Adam …. what is rarely, if ever, mentioned that the word Ezer …. is most often used for God Himself in the O.T. …. so it is hard to imagine this being a subservient ‘role’ …. (I am starting to dislike the word ‘role’ – too often used to beat women over the head with!)

    really appreciated what you wrote re single mums …. bless you!

  • Avatar Erica says:

    How encouraging it is to engage in these discussions as we look to the experience of the culture. I must say at the onset that I have no seminary training. By God’s grace, I have been under very sound biblical, expositional teaching for the last 15 years or so and it has been under this when the ‘lights came on’ so to speak. Before that time, my husband and I attended a fairly typical African-American church and my upbringing was rooted in catholicism. I had very little knowledge of the scriptures, so my life and marriage mirrored the culture. I had a career in which I passionately pursued, my husband had his. We were like two runners in a race and on so many levels had competing interests.

    I remember the day when I heard a woman teach from the book of Titus on the radio when things began to finally turn around for us. I was a lead teacher at a public school, exhausted from the demands of that job, disconnected from my husband and miserable. On the outside we had achieved what the culture trained us to believe was the goal. Financial independence, status, positions of leadership… Yet we were broken and did not have marital harmony. God began a new work in our lives. I realized that in marriage, there is a work the Lord has for the family yielded to Him. Though we had no children, I knew that our family, small as it was worked independently of each other. That began to change as I began to be taught from the scriptures about what God had to say about my role as a woman.

    I had to admit that I had a disdain for the home. I had no desire to be a ‘keeper of the home’ 1 Timothy 5:14 or a ‘worker at home’ Titus 2:5. That wasn’t a black or white woman issue but a sin issue I needed to wrestle with the Lord over.

    Fast forward 15 years, my husband is in seminary, we have 5 children who we home educate, and I am on my husband’s team. When I left my career, I had to face the fact that I trusted in the works of my hands, I needed to depend on the Lord and my husband in a new way. It has been an exciting, eye opening few years. I am frankly shocked at how much the word of God applies not only to my life but also my children. They are just as hungry for God’s word as I am. I might have missed that if I was still busy trying to be my own security and meet my own needs.

    Many of our African-American friends and family think we are going backwards. I can only point to the great faithfulness of our God. I have seen Him provide ALL we have needed, I have repented of my own idol worship, I have witnessed my children overcome sin, my husband is pursuing truth in order to equip the body of Christ…What more could I ask for?

    I am sorry for this long rant.. You really stirred my heart! God bless this ministry and all He is doing in our lives!!

  • Avatar Thabiti Anyabwile says:

    Thanks for leaving that good testimony, sis! Reading this really blessed me this morning! The Lord’s richest blessings to you and your family.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Amen! No apologies needed. Thanks for sharing the grace and truth of God in your life.

  • Avatar Trillia says:

    Thanks for sharing! So glad for how the Lord revealed idolatry and the joy He has now given you. God is good!

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