Sitting in the audience of a large gathering, I listened intently and with great excitement as people shared stories about how God was using a new marriage study to impact families. I cheered and clapped with joy as each testimony was shared; my heart was full. I anticipated another moving story as the next person took the mic, but instead, he declared rather emphatically, “We need to get this resource into Black churches because the entire Black family situation is devastating!”
It was one of those record-scratching moments. You know, the moment where a phonograph needle suddenly produces a single scratching sound on a record that abruptly interrupts the whole party? Except this party continued, and it was my own emotional high that had been abruptly interrupted.
With shock and embarrassment, I shook my head and wondered if I’d heard him correctly. I quickly turned to the other Black woman in the room sitting next to me, and noticed the bewilderment on her face. I whispered, “Did you hear what he just said?” She nodded. She too had been shocked by the statement. We spent the rest of the time whispering about our own family legacies of loving, lasting marriages and what we knew to be true about ours and many other marriages and families in the Black community.
Assumptions about Black families
In that same hushed conversation, we wondered why the man would present the Black family situation as being so dire. Later that day, I decided to ask. He immediately defended his statement by quoting racial statistics and familiar narratives about single-parent headed households, absent fathers, and blended families in the Black community. Information I’d heard all too often in the media but that is also often inaccurate, skewed to prove a biased point, or only part of the story.
I just recently came across one of those statistics, shared by a White friend on social media. He posted that “72% of children in the Black community are fatherless,” and attributed that “fact” to the real reason for the problems Black people are facing in America. While I don’t typically comment on posts considered controversial, my frustration with the inaccuracy of the statistic and the myth of the absent Black father compelled me to “speak the truth in love” (see Ephesians 4:15).
The statistic (as of 2018) actually states that “69.4% of Black children are born to unwed mothers.” But that doesn’t equate to fatherlessness. In fact, only 44% of those fathers do not live in the home. According to another CDC study, many of these unmarried dads are very involved in their children’s lives. They are part of their children’s daily routines, such as helping with homework, giving baths, reading to them, and tucking them into bed at night. They attend their children’s school functions, participate in their extracurricular activities, and take them for weekends, on dates, and on vacations. My friend was grateful for the correction.
Let’s be honest. Divorce, single-parent headed households, absent fathers, blended families, and the challenges those dynamics bring happen to families of every hue and affects us as a nation and global community. And God cares about EVERY family because families are made up of people, and every person is representative of the beauty of His diverse creation and is His image bearer (Genesis 1:27).
Unique challenges Black families face
It would be negligent, however, to not acknowledge that the effects of racism and inequality, such as discrimination in the workplace, housing, education, and the judicial system; mass incarceration; the wealth gap; and other inequities that still occur today, has made life uniquely challenging for Black and Brown families.
But the truth is, no people group is immune from life, marriage, or family challenges. And no one people group is the standard bearer for virtuous lives, marriages, or families. Romans 3:10, 23 says, “As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no not one’ . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
And yet, because of misinformation and stereotypes, many Black and Brown couples have felt they’ve had to carry the burden of proof—a responsibility to prove to our White peers that we, too, want to build strong, loving, lasting marriages, and families.
Black and Brown couples want to do well with communication and conflict and managing our finances. We want to do well with navigating unique family backgrounds, handling relationships with in-laws, former spouses, and extended family.
We, too, want to love and respect each other, keep romance and passion alive, and honor our vows and commitment to stay married.
We want to raise well-rounded children with good character traits like honesty, integrity, responsibility, and a good work ethic in safe neighborhoods with quality schools and caring teachers.
And we want to actively share life with other couples to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), because all families face challenges and need help and hope.
We are not an anomaly
My husband and I both had great marriage models growing up, thanks to our parents, grandparents, extended family, and the diverse families in our communities. What we saw modeled for us is what we wanted to give and receive when we got married. We learned what to do and what not to do to build a lasting, loving marriage. But we also had some not so good examples growing up. Those marriages influenced us as well, and we learned what we did not want for our marriage.
Whether the marriages modeled for us were good or not so good, they were modeled by imperfect people. Not one of those models was perfect. The good news is, there is a perfect marriage model—Christ’s relationship with His Bride, the Church. This is the model God intends for ALL marriages to reflect: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Like our parents, grandparents, and other couples before us and around us, we’ve strived to reflect Christ’s love and sacrifice in our own marriage of 39 years. And while we have not done that perfectly, we have seen how our marriage has and continues to influence the lives and marriages of our adult children and other couples in our family and community.
It has been frustrating at times, especially when there’s shock from White friends that we are still in a loving marriage after almost four decades. That we both come from a family of solid marriages. And that the men in our family are very involved in their children’s lives.
We’ve also experienced comments about where and how we’ve lived. For instance, a White couple once said to us, “You live more White than we do.” We were shocked and hurt by that comment. It communicated that because we’re Black, it’s not normal to have certain things or to hold certain values. Cutting like a knife, those words—loaded with racial stereotypes and biases—left us feeling uncomfortable, insulted, and deeply hurt.
It isn’t easy to deal with such attitudes and microaggressions, but we remain strong and try to respond with love, understanding, grace, and forgiveness.
For us and for countless other Black and Brown families around the globe, committed marriages and solid family values are normal. We are not an anomaly.
Every marriage and family is important
As believers, we have a responsibility to pray for, value, and invest in the marriages and families of others, even those who may not look like us. We do this because marriage and family of EVERY race and ethnicity is important to God, our communities, nation, and world.
To value all families as God does, here are some things we can all do:
- Be bold in your circle of influence and stand for truth when you hear false narratives or racially insensitive jokes.
- Refuse to make your own judgments or hurtful statements based on misinformation, skewed statistics, or stereotypes. Remember, generalizations are rarely ever true. And consider the unconscious bias that affects us all in how we perceive other races and ethnicities. Be intentional to see that bias and call it out.
- As much as possible, surround yourself with a diverse group of people and build authentic relationships with them. In relationship, you can ask questions and learn about each other’s unique experiences in a safe space. Your life will be the richer for it (as will the children’s lives who are watching and learning from you).
- And if married, cultivate a relationship with a couple who does not look like you—one in which you can share mutual friendship, love and respect. And from a common playing field, purpose to help each other build strong marriages and families that glorify God and inspires others to do the same (see Proverbs 27:17). Maybe there’s a couple in your neighborhood, church, or a married coworker God has placed on your heart. Start with them. And if not, pray for God to place a couple in your path with whom you can build a relationship.
Above all, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:2-6).
Copyright © 2020 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Leslie J. Barner is the senior director of operations for FamilyLife. She is the author of numerous articles and several books and has overseen the development of numerous books and resources, including The Art of Marriage®, Stepping Up®, The Art of Parenting®, and The Story of Us—A Couples Devotional. Leslie and her husband, Aubrey, have four grown daughters and a number of grandchildren. They reside in Little Rock, Arkansas.