A Letter to the Black women contemplating leaving Christianity because of sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse.
“I’m spiritual, not religious.” This is the sentiment many Black women are espousing as they leave Christian churches for Ancestral religions and witchcraft. In Luna Malbroux’s article “Why More Young People are Trading in Church for African Spirituality,” she defines traditional African spirituality as a nature-centered spirituality that holds a variety of beliefs and is expressed through a number of different liturgical practices.
She explains, “It can be Ifá, Vodou, Santería, Candomblé or other variations of Yoruba religious traditions, coming from the West African region of Benin, Togo and Southwestern Nigeria.” She continues to explain how the religion is “deemed to be over 10,000 years old,” and that its “integration of African religious tradition can manifest as ancestor reverence, nature-bases spirituality, or general witchcraft.” But what is ever apparent to her is that there is “a growing focus on beliefs outside of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God.”
Sigal Samuel further explains the religion in her article “The Witches of Baltimore.” She documents that “they build altars to ancestors so they can seek their advice on everything from romance to professional advancement, cast spells using emojis to help banish depression, surround themselves with crystals in the hope that they will relieve stress, and burn sage to cleanse their apartments of negative energy.” In fact, Black witches are such a growing phenomenon that Samuel reports that in November 2018 200 Black women came together in a reception hall in Baltimore for the Black Witch Convention.
Though small in number now, Samuel reports that there is steady interest and growth among young Black women in participation. What I found most interesting is that Samuel found that only some are leaving Christianity. She states, “while some witches told me they were finished with Christianity, others said they still attend church, and argued that Christianity and African witchcraft are complementary, not mutually exclusive. As Omitola [the keynote speaker] put it, “the Bible ain’t nothing but a big old spell book.”
Vic Carter, a journalist with 30 years of experience, writes for CBS Baltimore news that more and more women are leaving Christianity for Ancestral religions and witchcraft. In his interviews with various women who have left the Christian faith tradition he found that “The women are college-educated professionals who have chosen to believe that witchcraft is a truer example of worship inclusive of the genders and connecting them to their ancestors.”
The Godhead and The Exodus of Black Women
This striking reality caused me to realize that the fundamental error the Christian Church has made is in its doctrine of the Godhead. Privileging the power and position of men, the patriarchy that has so filled our societies since the Fall has tainted our understanding of God. In fact, the patriarchal poison is so pervasive that it has penetrated our very language so that all of our pronouns and terms refer to God as male.
Now, don’t leave me just yet. I didn’t come here to tell you that God is anatomically a woman. What I would like us to wrestle with is that there is a feminine aspect to God that we have overlooked. And in our neglect of these critical attributes and characteristics to Their ontology, or Their being or essence, we have restricted God to a form They do not have subsequently hindering women from being included in their very image.
Exploring the Image of God
In Genesis 1:26 and 27 the Bible says, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” A lot of times when we read these two verses we read them quickly and gloss over some key words that are essential for our understanding of who God is, and how God operates.
Now the first word I’d like to draw your attention to is Us. This word is significant because up until this point God has been speaking into nothingness. The chapter begins saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light.’” So because of the direction of speech, because God was speaking out it is easy to believe there is only one being that is in the midst of the darkness creating.
What verse 26 shows us is that there is not just one being present. By declaring “Let Us” God directs the conversation not towards that which needs to be created, but to those that are assisting in the creative process. This is a fundamental text as it is the basis for our belief in the Trinity. Because God said “Let Us” at the beginning we understand that there are three persons of the Godhead.
The Bible on the Form of God
Now, what is a critical note is that we do not know their form. We know that at the least the Spirit of God existed in a form that permitted God to hover over the face of the waters in Genesis 1:2. And we also know that the creative speech of God was an essential part of the process because according to the Gospel of John “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So that when God said “Let there be light” God was not creating the sun, moon, and stars. They were not created until the fourth day. When God said, “Let there be light” God spoke the pre-incarnate, or pre-human, form of Christ into the formless darkness. And as the Word of God, Christ created at Creation.
This is why John says “the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not understand it.” He was speaking of how Christ walked among us on the Earth as God eradicating the darkness of sin with the light of His life and love. But He was also speaking of how Christ as the Word of God at Creation broke up the darkness of our universe at the beginning with the light of His presence. This is also why Jesus says in John 8:12, “I am the Light of the World.” So again, we know that there are three attributes to God that are in existence at Creation right now. But even though we know some of God’s attributes allow for hovering, speaking, and forming, we do not know the appearance of this being who is creating at the beginning.
The Diversity of the Godhead
This makes the second part of verse 26 so amazing. This God who is creating speaks to each other and says “Let Us make man (which is from the Hebrew word adam which simply means humanity, it is all inclusive) in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Now again I draw your attention to “Our” and the words “Image”/”Likeness.” In this moment we see that God exists in a form of plurality. So to identify God with the singular pronoun He and Him is restricting and an inaccurate representation of God’s essence.
The first dialogue between God records words like “Us” and “Our” which means we should be identifying God using pronouns like “They” and “Them.” This is important because these pronouns reveal the plurality of God. It reveals that there is what we call “heterogeneity” in God. God is not a homogenous, monolithic being. Meaning God does not embody one singular form. But instead, there is difference, there is diversity in God’s very being. This is an important concept because that means that when God says They want to make adam in Their “Image”/”Likeness” They’re saying They want to create something that is a representation of Their heterogeneous, Their diverse make up.
When God Made Adam
Verse 27 says, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Now, remember I’ve already said that He/His/Him is an inaccurate pronoun for God as God just said who They were. If God says “Us” and “Our” when speaking to each other, and we believe in the Triune God-head, then He/His/Him are inaccurate and restricting pronouns. The best pronoun to use is They. So!
The Bible says that God creates adam in Their “image”/”likeness” and in doing so They create one being that is male and another being that is female. Now it’s important that we understand the words “image” and “likeness.” Now the word “image” is a masculine noun which means shadow, while the word “likeness” is a female noun which means resemblance, similitude, like as. So that when God made adam male and female They created representatives of Themselves that operate almost like shadows. They were similar, but They were not exact replicas of God.
One Lexicon suggests that the first man and woman were made in the appearance of God meaning “an appearance resembling something, [like] when anything seen in a dream or vision is described as not clearly seen.” Man and Woman were a model, they were patterned after God, but they were not exact replicas of God. Which means that God is not a man or a woman. They did not possess the anatomical parts that we have, They did not share our genetic composition. At the beginning God created humanity in Their likeness and we operated as shadows to Their being.
Being in the Likeness of God
One way I like to think of this, and it is in no way fully accurate, is my relationship with my parents. Now there are places I go where I can’t even sit long before a random person I do not know rushes over to me with excitement asking if I’m Karen Allen’s daughter. There are rooms I can’t go into without men squinting and staring at me. What initially felt like potentially awkward objectification quickly becomes “you’re Cliff Allen’s daughter. It’s all in your face.”
I am not an exact replica of my parents. We are not identical twins. If you looked at them separately you’d see all three of our physical differences. But the reality is I walk with their image. I walk with their likeness wherever I go. It’s in my facial structure, it’s in my walk, it’s in my speech, it’s in my mannerisms, it’s in my height. My form is in the appearance of my parents. Which is to say that there are pieces of my dad in me, and there are pieces of my mom in me.
Now what if thousands of years from now someone comes across something of mine and they write my story. And in the totality of my story they talk about how I was the spitting image of my father, I played basketball like my father, I wrote poetry like my father, and they only wrote about the ways I was like my father. Would that be an accurate portrait of who I am? No. Because in other pictures I’m the spitting image of my mother. I speak like my mother. I lead like my mother.
So if the only way for anyone to get an accurate picture of me is for them to understand that I occupy and project the image and likeness of both my mother and my father, then how can we comfortably assert only the male attributes of God? How can we look at humanity and see both man and woman and yet our rendering of God’s story is restricted to that of all things male?
Finding God in Woman
The reality is that Black women are leaving Christianity because the picture of God given to them does not represent or include them in it. We must re-present the image of God so that Black women know they too are created in Their image.
One of my favorite chorepoems is For colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange. In this performed piece, the lady in red ends the play declaring “I found god in myself and I loved her/ I loved her fiercely.” Some scholars have argued that Shange is channeling the Orishas of the ancestral religions I spoke of earlier, encouraging black women to see themselves as gods and goddesses. Some scholars have argued that Shange is suggesting that God is a woman, yea a group of women taking the plurality of God’s nature in Genesis into consideration.
I would like to suggest something much less controversial. What if Shange is trying to get women, particularly Black women, to understand that the image and nature of God is also found in them? Not that God is a woman, but that there is an element to God that is female, feminine, or femme. How could there not be when Genesis declares that Woman was made in Their image?
This Women’s History Month it is critical that we restore women to the image of God. I believe that the protection, affirmation, recognition, and elevation of Black women is wrapped in Christianity seeing the likeness of God in us. And the only way that we are going to be able to directly oppose the enemy’s attempts at luring Black women away from God toward spiritualism and witchcraft is by proving to them with scripture that their value, their story, their protection, their power, their position, their salvation already exists in the very being of God.
The God of Scripture is a God For Colored Girls
Scripture restores women to the image of God in Hosea 13:8 when God says, “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder.”
I see women restored to the image of God in Isaiah 66:13 when God says, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”
I see women restored to the image of God in Isaiah 49:15 when God says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
I see women restored to the image of God in Isaiah 42:14 when God says, “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”
In other words, the God of Creation is a God for colored girls. Let us find God in woman and love her fiercely.