Christians, Selective Compassion and Bootstrap Theology: It seems to happen to black Christians, too
This post at RHE’s (Rachel Held Evans’) blog is interesting:
Evans cited this book, which was written by her guest blogger:
- “Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength”
I have to say there are several parallels in all this and what I’ve blogged before about Christian women in general (regardless of skin color), and how Christians are strangely selective about when and to whom they will show compassion.
An excerpt from the RHE blog post:
- [by Rachel Held Evans]: Today I am thrilled to introduce you to Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes, a theologian and psychologist whose mission is to serve as a catalyst for healing, justice, and reconciliation in the Christian church and beyond.
- [I believe this portion of RHE’s post is by her guest writers, Dr. Walker Barnes]:
- [I know many people who have a female] … family member, friend, co-worker, or congregation member who constantly sacrifices herself on behalf of others, who carries an inordinately heavy load of responsibility, and who rarely asks for help.
Those are characteristics of codependency.
Women raised in American culture, regardless of their skin color, are taught by churches and secular society, that being a woman means always putting one’s needs last, serving others, never saying no to others.
That doing anything less means a woman is being selfish, un-christian, and, depending on some churches, it’s even been depicted as a woman failing her “biblical role as a woman, or God’s design for women.”
White women are expected to “be strong” as well, meaning, to take a lot of stress in life, while still, at the same time, catering to other people’s needs, but this aspect of codependency for white women is not stated or promoted as blatantly as it is for black ladies, I suppose, and certainly not as much in the media, or not as frequently. But it is there for white women too.
Rather than go into a detailed discussion of that, I wanted to skip forward and focus on another quote or two by Dr. Walker Barnes, such as this one:
- … I see this happen a lot in the church when Black women suffer tragedies such as financial struggle, a terminal or fatal illness, and the death of a child or spouse. Those women are encouraged to be strong, that is, to hide any signs of distress and to pretend as if everything is okay.
This behavior is true of all Christians, whether white, black, men or women, (and anyone else), that the wounded are expected to hide their pain and pretend everything is fine. I’ve written about it on a few occasions on this blog (you can see examples under “related posts” below).
I have noticed that if a regular American Christian approaches another one over some problem they are having, to obtain prayer, financial help, or merely sympathy, they will usually get insensitive reactions, ranging from judgment, criticism, to platitudes or shaming.
It’s very common for one Christian to tell another hurting Christian who admits to hurting, things like, “Just pray more,” or, “Stop the pity party, there are African orphans who have life worse than you” and so forth.
At times in my life I was down and looking for empathy and support, I certainly have experienced those sorts of reactions at the hands of white Christians, I have seen it happen to other white Christians by white Christians.
I think this is a problem inherent in American Christianity overall, or maybe just American culture, and not reserved for any one racial or ethnic group.
Walker Barnes went on to say:
- In the church, it seems to me that Black women – more than any other racial/gender group – are taught that strain and suffering are indicative of holiness. We are taught to put on a good face in the midst of our struggle, rather than to ask for help.
- That’s pretty convenient for the church, because as long as they praise us for being strong in the midst of suffering, they’re excused from having to do anything about our suffering.
As a white lady, I can attest to that – it happens to white women as well, by other white Christians. I have noticed at times, when I have gone to other Christians needing emotional support, I got brief pep talks, cliches, and people would try to get me to shut up fast. Christians do not want to be bothered with investing time into a hurting person.
I have seen other Christians say the same thing in books and blogs – that in their time of deepest pain, when they went to their church, or when they went to another Christian for help, they were told to put on a fake smile and solider on; no real help or compassion was given.
The typical American Christian wants to hand you a Bible verse and platitude and hurry you on your way when you go to them saying you need help, simply someone to listen to you, so that they can go back to sipping coffee and reading the paper, or watching their favorite TV shows.
The few exceptions: If you are a homeless crack addict, most American Christians will trip all over themselves to help you financially, emotionally and spiritually.
If you are an African orphan in Africa, American Christians, will, there again, huff and puff and run to your side immediately to give you a sandwich and clean water and reassure you that Jesus Loves You.
If, however, you are, for example, a 65 year old lonely widow with health problems living alone in America, you are hosed. Most Christians would just tell you, “I’ll pray for you,” but never lift a finger to actually help you out.
These Christians won’t mow your lawn for you, drive you to a doctor’s appointment, or stop by to have a visit and a cup of tea to give you some companionship. Nope. You’ll be told to “just get over it” and possibly be given a religious platitude about “turning it all over to Jesus” if you go to them upset, saying you need their help, or just friendship.
Walker Barnes again:
- Our issue is not that we need to empty ourselves of pride and learn to deny ourselves. Most women – regardless of race – master that pretty early in life. Our problem tends to be giving of ourselves to the point where there is no self left, to the point that we don’t even realize who we are and who we are called to be.
I totally agree with her on that. Totally. Her comments above are a summary of codependency. Many Christians continue to foster codependency as a biblical virtue, when they should be telling everyone, and women above all, to stop it.
You can read the rest of that interview (Link): here.