Church and Society / Cultural Critique / Pop Culture / Religion

Jumping The Broom: Understanding Sex and Marriage as Religious and Cultural Oppression

Yesterday I read an article at TheFreshXpress from another blogger who goes by the name DCDistrictDiva (her award winning blog is “The Dithering of a District Diva“) on the topic of sex and marriage.  The article was entitled “Twisted: Why God’s ‘No Marriage, No Sex’ Rule is for Protection and Pleasure, Not Punishment.”   I began reading and I probably figured where the article was going, but I figured in all fairness to read it in it’s entirety before I passed judgment.  By the second paragraph, however, she had begun quoting numerous scriptures to support her point.  Anyone who knows me knows that I shy away from using Bible verses to support a point because of the general assertion from the quoter that by doing so, it effectively ends the conversation.

I plodded through the article reading numerous assertions about premarital sex supported by various scriptures hopping from the New Testament back to the Old Testament and then back to the New Testament.  I trudged through notions about marriage and what it meant to have sex in the context of marriage and what it didn’t mean and doctrines of sin all asserting a particular theology.  In short, I disagreed with just about every thing that the author had to say on the topic.  I viewed the article as incorporating bad exegesis of the biblical documents to support a patriarchal and Victorian view of sex in marriage.

This doesn’t make the author a bad person, just makes her someone who I disagree with–vehemently I might add.

Blacks are still relatively conservative on the issue of sex in general and subsequently marriage.  The idea of a couple, one man and one woman, meeting, then courting, then getting engaged, then married, then having sex–for the first time–still acts as the both preferred method of moving toward marriage, sex, then children and also acts as that archetypical view of what life is supposed to be; a fairytale storybook image if you will.  I really don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that image, but to suggest that any deviation from that plan is immoral or in fact a sin poses a problem to my sensibilities in the year 2011.

Using the vantage point of my U.S. citizenship as a background and understanding the progression of the Abrahamic religious tradition as it diverged into Christianity, I would like to take a moment to try and debunk some of these contemporary myths that we have about marriage in the context of the black community.

One of my main issues with how we’re framing our marriage talk in this 21st century is our insistence on using the biblical text to support our beliefs.  Personally, I want to know why do we primarily take our cue for understanding sex and marriage from a brother who lived and died nearly 2,000 years ago?  Yes, I’m talking about Paul.  Even in writing his treatise on sex and marriage in 1 Corinthians, Paul is speaking in first person (I, Paul) and even went through the process of taking God out of the process as if to say this is what I think, not a mandate from God.  Not to mention Paul thought Jesus was coming back in his lifetime!  I certainly think that such a perceived life trajectory would affect one’s lifestyle.

Honestly, would you abstain from sex if you thought Jesus was coming back in November?

The concept of sex in a 1st century world from which Paul was writing had no concept of STDs the way we do, there were no contraceptives that were in widespread use aside from the withdrawal method (pull out).  Marriage was certainly seen through the eyes of patriarchy with the woman as property, everything she may have owned became the husbands and in fact her livelihood was directly connected to how her husband would treat her.  Paul wrote his understanding of sex and marriage operating from the Septuagint (LXX) which included the Hebrew Bible and other historical and theological documents found in the Apocrypha.  I’m not saying that what Paul had to say is just flat out wrong, but I am saying that what he had to say may not necessarily be appropriate to our own modern day settings.

What I found more problematic in DCDistrictDiva’s blog was how she understood the passages in Jeremiah that imaged the tribal god Yahweh as a husband and the tribal nation of Israel as a bride.  This has been a troubling image for many scholars in the more recent years of the theological academy.  As views shifted on feminist theology and how we view women in the Bible juxtaposed to how we view women in our culture (remember through the eyes of American citizenship), such an image of Yahweh (God) as a husband and Israel as the bride or wife is just seething with patriarchy and heteronormative ideals.  To that end, such an image is troubling at the least.  This isn’t an unfamiliar image, however.  In other books of the Old Testament’s minor prophets, such as Ezekiel, we see this “married couple” operating as well.

DCDistrictDiva used a Jeremiah 2:23-24 passage to support her concept of marriage, but the passage images the woman as a) a sexual object b) a wild animal and c) as someone to have the husband’s will imposed on the woman.  Aside from viewing God as a man and summarily a husband, there are passages where the husband/God is in fact abusive to the woman.  The woman in another passage that DistrictDiva quotes views the woman as a prostitute in Jeremiah 3:2.  For me, these passages have absolutely nothing to do with the institution of marriage, be they in the 7th century B.C.E. or the 21st century C.E.  Contextually, those passages had to do with the nation of Israel and their dallying with other gods from other tribal nations and their assimilation into the culture of the their captives.  [Seeing as how chronologically previous passages in the biblical timeline say that Yahweh “delivered them into captivity’ {one helluva phrase right?} how does someone get mad when the oppressed assimilate into the culture of the oppressor–but that’s another blog post.]  This was not a Hebraic commentary on marriage.   For that, one needs to go back to Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

Again, these passages I think harp on the very, very traditional understanding of marriage.

And what do I mean by “traditional understanding of marriage”?

By traditional marriage, as understood by most U.S. residents, it is this very Victorian construct of familial life.  The male is the father and husband and the head and the one wife and children are subservient.  For the record, this is a departure from the thousands of years of Hebrew culture that many people want to conflate into the biblical understanding of marriage.  With examples of Abraham marrying his half sister; the Jacob, Leah and Rachel love triangle; David who had a man killed just to marry the woman and certainly with Solomon and his many wives or Hosea marrying “a wife of whoredom” all as famous examples, somehow we theologize those examples.  Many find some reason to say God didn’t support Solomon’s many wives thus it led to his downfall.

In Hebraic culture, I doubt people were running to the county courthouse to get legal documentation to say that they were married.  At least according to the biblical writings, it wasn’t even the ceremony that declared one married but it was the arrangement and agreement of both families (negotiated by the patriarchs) and the act of sex that constituted a marriage.  Even by the 1st century C.E., Jewish culture still for the most operated on that same idea even in the midst of Roman occupation.  Fast forward to our African American context, African slaves and descendants of African slaves weren’t running to the county courthouse either to justify and satisfy wedding requirements.  The tradition of “jumping the broom” was one way of signifying marriage and it added to the festive and cermonial atmosphere.  Marriage in slave communities and even after the Civil War was about the merging of two families–not about a piece of paper.

Now, the process of going before a pastor is synonymous with going before God and the marriage license acts the official thing that makes one married.  If God is omnipotent and omniscient as Christins like to profess, wouldn’t God have already ordained the marriage prior to showing up before a Justice of the Peace or an ordained pastor?  Such an understanding seems to hold God subject to a legal document: God doesn’t ordain the union of one man and one woman until a county official signs it and places a seal on it.

Whatever the case may be, I think Christians have to acknowledge that marriage as we know it has changed over time.

Certainly in the black community.

Too often we like to use the fact that people aren’t getting married like they used to and those who do get married are succumbing to high divorce rates under the metanarrative titled so ominously “The Downfall of the Black Family.”  Sociologists have traced roots back to the infamous Moynihan Report and even back to antebellum days in the United States.  Whatever the case is, we have no problem talking about The Downfall of the Black Family which of course leads to The Downfall of the Black Community.

As if to say all is bad.

Yeah, I’ve written posts that we’ve reached critical mass in any number of social, political and economic matters and that we need to declare a state of emergency and that we need to be outraged–yes, that is true in many respects, but we can’t offer a simple fix to what I consider to be a complex problem.  We’re not going to solve black family situations by young black couples suddenly marrying one another.  Will it help?  Well, maybe, but I certainly don’t think it would hurt the problem.  The problem with DistrictDiva’s approach and what many others do when it comes to this topic is offer what seems to be a clear cut solution to a varied, multi-layered and highly complex issue that we’re facing.

First of all, not every black person in America is Christian.  The argument she preposed suggests that everyone should follow said precepts about marriage and sex because it’s what the Bible says.  Not to mention there are a fair number of black Muslims, Jews, Black Hebrew Israelites, Buddhists and other religions, faiths and non-faith persons who have had their own AHA! moment when it came to understanding spirituality and religion.

Secondly, not every black person is heterosexual.  Her approach, as with many others in black religious culture, only operate in the “one male, one female” context.  With the LGBT movement growing every day, seeing the passage of gay marriages in the state of NY, this is going to be an ever increasing issue that the black religious culture is going to have to contend with.  While some gay blacks still voice concern over their unique issues–being gay and black (with gay black men and gay black women having differing concerns)–I still believe it’s just a matter of time before many of these concerns are going to be more and more laid at the feet of the old guard of the black religious community; no longer ignoring the issue.

Thirdly, not every person is going to get married.  I really just think it’s ludicrous to accept that” sex feels so good, but you can only enjoy it if you’re married” idea.  Usually when I ask what do we say to single persons on this issue, the other person somehow dodges the issue.  Frankly because most people don’t want to imagine someone going their whole life without experiencing the joys the sex have to offer.

Fourthly, and finally, I think to make premarital sex so forbidden results in fetishizing it.  When we tell hormone laden and perpetually horny adolescent teenagers to not have sex and that abstinence is your only option, not only do they want to do it all the more, when they do it and realize that God didn’t strike them down, we have a much bigger problem on hand than what shows up at the surface.  The same for many adults.  Time and time again, we do these so-called “sinful” acts and the punishment we were taught to expect never shows up.  Sure people catch an STD here and there, or even get pregnant, but given the medicine for most STDs and given adoption and even dare-say abortion as relatively viable options for a pregnent woman, the concept of hellfire and brimstone somehow gets pushed to the back burner.

So as opposed to the black religious culture pushing sexual responsibility, they teach abstinence.  Of course most public schools offer a sex education course because they’re aware of increasing STD numbers in younger and younger students and they’re aware of the pregnancy rate amongst teens and how school districts are increasingly having to accomodate pregnant teens and their children.  They see the problem and are attempting to do something about it.  The black churches see the problem, but because of what “the Bible says” we ignore it.

As I conclude, I’m not advocating that everyone go out and start a’whoring and galvanting naked throughout the countryside, but I am directly challenging what the biblical scriptures say about marriage throughout the years and I’m unapologetically defiant against the lens through which we like to understand sex and marriage.  The patriarchal and heternomative lens does nothing more than allow us as blacks to oppress other segments of our own community–in the name of God.

Stay tuned for some more issues around “Jumping the Broom.”

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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15 thoughts on “Jumping The Broom: Understanding Sex and Marriage as Religious and Cultural Oppression

  1. Just as you did mine, I “skimmed” your article — but only because my name is in it. Anyone who is interested in what I ACTUALLY said, please feel free to stop by DCDistrictDiva.com and read the actual post, here: http://www.dcdistrictdiva.com/?p=1614. Secondly, as should have been obvious to even a skimmer, if you’re not a Christian / not interested in learning about what God says in the Bible about sex and pre-marital sex, the post wasn’t for you. #Pleasantries

    • @dcdistrictdiva

      Wait, in all fairness, I read your article in its entirety. I wouldn’t have felt compelled to write on the topic if I hadn’t read all of it. But, let’s be honest, if its posted online, it’s open for everyone to read, discuss and digest. As much as you have a right to respond to my posts, you’re article was posted in a public forum, it was for whomever decided to read it. The FreshXpress is a blog I frequent, so much like other posts that interest me, I leave comments as I did with yours.

    • This is a very thought provoking post. We have to examine marriage and sex with our current culture. My thing is, how? We know the issues but what are the solutions. I’m a Christian and I use the good book for guidance. It seems like you have to go to a radical seminary school to learn how to discern the so-called outdated scriptures from the relevant ones.

      Are you a religious man? If so, what is your religious affiliation?

      Nice post.

      • I skimmed this site also…My findings are that he you’re an uppity big headed racist Negro. Not saying you don’t tolerate whites or other races, but like BET (black entertainment television) and other pure black groups you are the reason that blacks keep getting segregated. People like you keep segregating your own race. you’re doing the same thing as KKK, only without the violence I hope…. :(

  2. As for marriage and marriage with gays, it is a Christian ceremony, and if you don’t like the
    morals of the bible and the way of life it supports, then you support Atheism or Wicca. The book is is already written and the guidelines drawn. There are other countries that are more than willing to accept all that behavior. Maybe you should consider moving there.
    I’m pretty sure that 1 man and 1 woman married for life would cure the spread of disease and over populating. And to add, these are “Christian morals”, pick a religion and stick to your own. Quit picking on our religion!

    • “As for marriage and marriage with gays, it is a Christian ceremony,”

      Pretty sure that marriage was around before Christianity.

      “and if you don’t like the
      morals of the bible and the way of life it supports, then you support Atheism or Wicca.”

      Hilarious. So if you’re not Christian, you either don’t believe in God or you’re a pagan?

      • Not nessisarily,I don’t know hardly any other religions that, in thier religious book, says they accept gay sex/marriage. Those were a couple that came to my mind the fastest that would be the closest. But if you find it in a religious book that says it’s ok, be sure to let all these fine readers know about it.

  3. How and/or why did the KKK reference join this discussion? What does that group of ‘christianists’ add to any spiritual light here? Saddened indeed.

  4. because KKK also segregates themselves. This website is full of one person segregating blacks. This was just what else I saw while skimming this site

  5. Not nessisarily,I don’t know hardly any other religions that, in thier religious book, says they accept gay sex/marriage. Those were a couple that came to my mind the fastest that would be the closest. But if you find it in a religious book that says it’s ok, be sure to let all these fine readers know about it.

  6. I should have known a supposedly “educated” African-American man that refers to other African-Americas as “uppity negroes” would also share diminishing views about marriage. How ignorant can you be? Society is based on marriage and the nuclear family. If that declines, then a nation’s morals decline and the nation is ultimately destroyed. Heard of the roman empire?! It all started the exact same way America has been going! Anyone who thinks marriage is religious and cultural oppression must have failed history and have no regards for the continuation of their own species. What exactly do you think has caused the rise of HIV/AIDS and STDs in the United States and worldwide?! For an “educated” black man, you are highly ignorant. Watch your country decline and crumble before your very eyes.

  7. World population and our own US population indicates that not everyone will have a mate. There are 4.2 million more women in the US than men and there are more than 48 million more men worldwide than women. I just don’t see it.

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