All the single ladies

DENVER - MAY 31:  Michelle Sierra (R) is embraced by Church deaconess Rosa Lee Floyd after receiving a month's home utility payment at a Sunday church service on May 31, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. Almost $30,000 was given to needy members of the Shorter Community African Methodist Episcopal Church from congregation donations. The awards capped off a week of church activities called 'An Economic Empowerment Experience' designed to aid the local black community, which has been hard hit by the recession. Many African Americans, as well as other minorities, fell prey to predatory mortgage lenders, which in large part led to the national U.S. foreclosure crisis. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

I frequently mention how much I appreciate interesting stories about day-to-day religious life. A few weeks ago we looked at that great New York Times piece about how different religious adherents live out their faith in their residential choices. Earlier this week, a CNN story about how religion might keep some women out of relationships. Headline? "Does the black church keep black women single?"

It's a fascinating article built largely around advice colunnist Deborrah Cooper's belief that "devout style of belief and attachment to the black church" is keeping black women single. She's not religious herself and has a lot of antipathy toward teachings she believes are present in the black church:

Cooper, a writer for the San Francisco Examiner, recently made claims on her blog 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. ...

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. ...

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."

One of the strengths of the article was that it enabled multiple reactions to Cooper's thesis. Cooper's theory about black women turning their pastors into sexual objects, for instance, didn't go over well with another bible scholar:

The Rev. Renita J. Weems, a bible scholar who holds a degree in theology from Princeton, strongly disagrees with Cooper about why many black women remain single and says she is reinforcing one message: "It's the black woman's fault."

"To claim that women are sitting in their chair getting heated about watching their preacher strut across the pulpit is illogical," Weems says. "The black church is not a Sunday morning sex drama." ...

"The reason why black women who go to black churches are not married is because they are looking for certain values in a man," Weems says. "It is not the church that keeps them single, but the simple fact that good values are lacking in some of our men."

Weems disagrees. "Telling black women that they should spend their two hours on Sunday elsewhere and drive them away to go to the bar to find a date is not helpful to our communities."

"Black women are the backbones of their community and without them a lot of charitable work would not get done, social justice on the ground would be diminished and outreach to poor people would be severed."

I'm glad that the story touched on the topic of sexual ethics among black men, but that's all it did -- touch on it. By focusing so much on Cooper's thesis, a more thorough discussion of a very important issue wasn't possible. And while it's certainly possible, I guess, that the reason why so many black women are single right now is because they go to church -- it's kind of laughable to not mention any number of other reasons. There are books that could be written about sexual and romantic decisions that could come into play here. It's not like the low marriage rate is the only issue we're looking at. More than 70 percent of African American children are born out of wedlock, for instance. Or perhaps the story could even look at other non-religious issues such as marriage between whites and blacks?

Otherwise, to focus so much on the supposed sins of black women seems just bizarre. Still, I commend the writer for broaching a topic about daily religious life. It would be nice to see more stories such as these.

On that note, this isn't news, but I encourage everyone to read Bob Herbert's column in today's New York Times. It definitely qualifies as some "Got News" as it provides data point after data point about some very scary measures of the health of the black family and black men in particular. No matter what your perspective on the causes of these problems, there are probably many interesting stories to report on each of them. And like the CNN story quoted above, a good discussion of the role the church plays or can play should be included.

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