I knew “I’m a Single Christian Woman and I Like Sex” would make the Saints mad. Somebody’s pastor sent me an email equating Black women’s liberated sexuality to bestiality. A few referred to me as unrepentant on Facebook. And somebody called me a “liberated harlot” (you get me…you really get me) in the article’s comment section. I’ve gotten used to this. If you’re going to do this work, you need thick skin. You have to learn to ignore those who refuse to respectfully engage and genuinely hear those who have deeper questions.
One of those recurring questions that’s frankly asked is “how can you justify what you’re saying with scripture?” That’s valid. There are plenty of Biblical passages that suggest premarital sex is sinful. We know them by heart and repeat them to keep ourselves from sinning or to admit that we have sinned. I grew up internalizing these same scriptures and fully believed that, when it came to the issue of premarital sex, the Bible was clear. Yet when I began to read for myself, things didn’t jive. How do we consider Rahab a hero of the faith in the New Testament and not acknowledge that her sex work in the Old Testament got her there? What do we make of Ruth “uncovering” Boaz’s feet when Biblical, historical, and cultural scholars say that phrase was a euphemism for sex? (Do y’all really think she stayed until morning and just prayed?!) Why was it okay for the king to have “one night” with all these women in order to find the next queen if premarital sex is a sin? I had questions. These questions went beyond simply asking “what does the Bible say?” It was about getting to the root of what we have and haven’t been taught about ourselves.
This quest led me to divinity school. I believe it’s not enough to accept a call to ministry, one must also be faithful to that call. Faithfulness includes sacrificing time, studying, and being challenged so that you are able to understand and explain what you believe and why. While there, I learned the historical origins of texts and studied the social contexts of the times in which Biblical authors wrote them. It’s no surprise that women (and other marginalized groups) were viewed as inferior and that was reflected in scripture. Contrary to what many of us believe, we’re not reading the Bible without some sort of lens. For many of us, that lens has been one rooted in an understanding of a God who devalues Blackness even as Black people affirm it. This lens pushes specific narratives about our bodies, suggesting that our flesh- something God created and called good- is unholy and must be tamed.
There isn’t one way to read scripture. The amount of Christian denominations we have and the sheer number of churches on every block prove that. Many of us were taught to see the Bible as inerrant. We were to accept the Bible wholesale without interrogation. Yet, I don’t know how you can truly love people and do that. I don’t think it’s possible to leave scriptures that advocate slavery and indentured servitude unchallenged because any form of enslavement, whether repaying a debt or due to war, is antithetical to God’s desire for creation to flourish. But, somehow, we figured that out. Somehow, we found a way to denounce Biblical passages that negated our right to be free. If we could recognize that those passages were flat out wrong, why can’t we do the same with scriptures that demonize the flesh and pleasure? What are we afraid of?
I do not believe scripture is without flaws; in fact, I believe the Bible is full of them. I believe there are texts that grieve God’s heart and contradict what God really wants for us. And maybe that’s the point. When we come across scriptures that diminish our humanity, I believe that we are to weigh them against the totality of the Biblical narrative: a story that reflects the lengths God will go to prove how deeply we are loved. Any scripture that prohibits women’s access to joy must be measured against the will of a God whose pleasure it is to give us good things.
We won’t admit it, but we all have a relationship with God that is informed by the scriptures but not bound by them. We love God, have pierced ears, get haircuts, wear makeup, rock mixed prints and eat shellfish. We rush through meals when we’re hungry or busy and we’ve all gone back for one more bite because it was just that good, which makes us more gluttonous than the obese people we think that text targets. But instead of honoring that truth, we lie. We fake an authority with Scripture we don’t have and double down when people see right through us. We have such a limited understanding of God’s intention for the world that our definition of holiness is a litmus test of things we don’t do and not a gauge for how we’re caring for others. We are so wedded to notions of our body’s inferiority that we’ll quote Paul more than the Jesus whose life saved us and often contradicts what Paul said.
And I get it, I really do. We like the idea of freedom more than actually being free. We’d rather be the ones calling others liberated harlots than be labeled one ourselves. We stan a revolutionary Jesus who challenged religious doctrine to meet people where they were while we crucify people doing the same thing today. All of that is fine; you can do that if you want. Just know there are some of us who will continue doing the hard work of unpacking toxic theologies so we can have a faith unencumbered by the weight of misogyny. We will keep asking questions. We keep challenging the text. We will keep fighting for ourselves.
Free Black women scare the hell out of people. We ain’t going anywhere, though.
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