I can’t tell you how many mothers of color I know who grew up attending church every week. I’ve lost count. Young, devout women from various backgrounds — cultural, socioeconomic, denominational. Girls who gave birth to their firstborn as unmarried teens. Women who married before giving birth, divorcees, never-marrieds. We’re a diverse lot.
As one of our Community Bloggers wrote earlier this year, attending church as an unmarried mother can be fraught, especially if the mother has a history of church membership that predates her unmarried pregnancy or divorce. Though places of worship should be the last spaces where you’ll feel scrutinized and condemned for your life choices, they’re often the first to be associated with shaming.
And there are valid reasons.
Just today, Detroit’s Perfecting Church, pastored by legendary gospel singer Marvin Winans, made the news for refusing to allow an unmarried mother and her child participation in a congregational “blessing” (also known as a christening or dedication). In a page that may as well have been taken directly from The Scarlet Letter, Charity Grace, single mom of a two-year-old son, was told that she could have her baby privately “blessed” by an elder of her choice but she would not be allowed to attend the larger celebration, as Pastor Winans “does not bless children of unmarried mothers in front of his congregation.”
Local news reports don’t specify whether or not Grace was a longtime member of the church (or a longtime Christian), but what if she were new not just to church attendance but to the Christian faith? Imagine the message Perfecting Church is sending: her son, owing only to his parents’ relationship status, must be socially separated from other children and “blessed” only in secret.
Perfecting Church is far from alone in its furthering of a single-mom-shaming agenda. In fact, there are contemporary churches that still require unmarried pregnant members to stand before the congregation and apologize to God and the members. But many fellowships are much better equipped to love and serve single mothers — since, after all, the bible requires it and, as one clever Twitter user points out, Mary was unwed, pregnant, and subject to social scorn while she carried the Son without whom Christianity wouldn’t even exist.
Charity Grace (and any other mom who’s felt similarly shamed and unwelcome at a church, simply because she’s unmarried), know that not every church doesn’t feel this way. Some even have primers on how to minister to the needs of their single parenting parishioners. There are single mom ministerial advocates who champion our families’ causes. And there are those churches who espouse the belief that all single mothers should be treated as the bible instructs us to treat widows.
You don’t have to attend a place of worship that actively intends to make you and your children feel guilty and ashamed of your family structure. Here’s hoping you find the right place for you.