Cooper, a writer for the San Francisco Examiner, recently made claims on her blog SurvivingDating.com that predominantly black protestant churches, such as African Methodists, Pentecostal, and certain denominations of Evangelical and Baptist churches are the main reason black women are single. Cooper, who is black and says she is not strictly religious, argues that rigid beliefs constructed by the black church are blinding black women in their search for love.
In raising the issue, Cooper ignited a public conversation about a topic that is increasingly getting attention in the black community and beyond. Oprah Winfrey, among others, recently hosted a show about single black women and relationships after a Yale University study found that 42 percent of African-American women in the United States were unmarried.
Big Miller Grove Missionary Baptist Church, a predominately African-American Baptist church in Atlanta, is holding a seminar on the question of faith’s role in marital status on August 20. “Black women are interpreting the scriptures too literally. They want a man to which they are ‘equally yoked’ — a man that goes to church five times a week and every Sunday just like they do,” Cooper said in a recent interview. “If they meet a black man that is not in church, they are automatically eliminated as a potential suitor. This is just limiting their dating pool.”
The traditional structure and dynamics of black churches, mostly led by black men, convey submissive attitudes to women, Cooper says, encouraging them to be patient — instead of getting up and going after what they want.
Nearly ninety percent of African-Americans express “certain belief in God” and 55 percent say they “interpret scripture literally,” according to the 2009 Pew Research Center study “A Religious Portrait of African-Americans.”
Dr. Boyce Watkins, a professor at Syracuse University and advocate for African-American issues, responded to Cooper’s article online. Though he applauded Cooper’s courage to voice her opinion , he agreed — and disagreed — with her.
“I don’t think the church keeps black women single,” Watkins says. “But I do agree that some black churches teach women that they must only date a man that goes to church regularly.”
Watkins, who is African-American and whose father is a Southern Baptist minister, described his interactions with southern women who are devout churchgoers. “I am a male and I know that I will treat a woman well, but I have been rejected many times because I don’t thump a bible with me everywhere that I go.”