Marcia Dixon charts the complicated history the black Pentecostal Church has had with lone parents
Children raised by one parent is not uncommon in the black community or in black Pentecostal churches. It’s important to note that single female parents in black Pentecostal churches are fully functioning members – no matter their route to lone parenthood.
Single parents and their children are often viewed as the root of many societal ills, but it’s obvious from scripture that God has a special place in his heart for families where no father is present, as well as children who have no parents. This fact is confirmed in Psalm 68:5, which states: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”
Whenever believers discuss single parents, they should take careful note of James 1:27, which states: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
The Church’s history with single parents
There is a high proportion of black single parents compared to other communities and one of the reasons for this is the long-lasting legacy of slavery. I know some people roll their eyes when slavery is given as an underlying cause for some of the social problems faced by the black community – but it’s a fact.
The transatlantic slave trade, which took place from the 16th to 19th century, literally destroyed the black family. Black men and women were viewed as property and sold at will by their owners. They weren’t allowed to legally marry and even when they did partner up, women were still considered slave property and if their owners or their overseers wanted to have sex with them, they could and they did. One of the consequences of this was children outside of marriage became an accepted part of life.
Christianity and the Church have been the black community’s saving grace. God’s word has given us hope, affirmed our human worth and value (especially when the world didn’t) and provided strength to fight against injustice. It has also given us the template to rebuild our families so that they reflected God’s order: marriage, followed by sex and children.
It’s a forgotten fact that the majority of the Windrush Generation were married, even if they had had children prior to marriage. Most of the Windrush Generation were raised in two-parent families, and during the early decades of the black Pentecostal Church’s existence, church leaders preached heavily against sex before marriage – often using the biblical term of ‘fornication’.
During those early decades single women who got pregnant outside of marriage (normally teenagers) were treated harshly. They usually had to confess their sin/mistake publicly to the congregation, step down from whatever church role they may have had and literally sit at the back of the church until they had their child. Such treatment was designed to highlight the seriousness of their sin and act as a deterrent to others. Unfortunately, some were traumatised by such treatment. And it’s a fact that men weren’t treated as harshly. A case of male privilege in action maybe?
A changing approach
The liberality of British culture and state support for lone parents has meant that times have changed, which has helped to remove the stigma and financial hardship lone parents faced.
Furthermore, from the noughties onward, churches started to respond more compassionately to single members who have a child outside of marriage. While pregnancy outside marriage is not condoned, they do provide pastoral support.
Some women were left to raise children alone by adulterous husbands, or spouses who left the marital home. Others fled marriages and relationships where abuse was a feature. Some got pregnant unexpectedly and were unsupported by the biological father of their child, and yes there are those who chose to be a single parent.
Whatever the path to lone parenthood, once the mother becomes a Christian, she’s able to participate fully in church activities. Single parents serve as church leaders, choir members, are part of worship teams, pastoral teams and other voluntary roles. I know lone parents who are in-demand preachers.
The transatlantic slave trade, which took place from the 16th to 19th century, literally destroyed the black family
Single parents should have the opportunity to fully exercise their gifts, because it’s acknowledged that God loves and has a purpose for everyone – whatever their background.
Many of the Christian lone parents I have met over the years have tended to be confident, ambitious, educated and successful. Most became so once they started following Christ. That’s not to say that they do not experience bouts of loneliness, financial hardship or experience problems raising children on their own. They do. However, they are buoyed by their faith, encouraged by their friends and family, and get spiritual support from their churches.
I’m a firm believer that two-parent families are best – but I think it’s important to remember that, with God’s help, and support from others, it is possible for single parents to raise emotionally healthy and successful children, some of whom will also follow the Lord. Amen.