I don’t know about you but there have been many times in my life when I have experienced the Beloved Community, “the Church,” as an institution of isolations. There have been moments when the Community appeared to take a leave of absence from living out what it means to be a community of love. When the later happens, it is often because churches continue to perpetuate the social sickness of the culture and fail to fully address the realities of life. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about celebrating who we are just as we are, and learning to love ourselves in order to truly love others. I was poised to encourage reframing our understandings of Love, and all the societal untruths we are constantly bombarded with in regards to who we are as a people created by God, and in the image of God.
Perhaps some of you may be able to relate to my reflection today. I attended a worship service on the Sunday prior to Valentine’s Day. I sat there, attentive to the message and the comments made reflecting on Love and Valentine’s Day that echoed the nature of God’s love within us. In response to the message, married couples were invited to the altar for prayer that God would strengthen, protect and reign in their relationship. Each couple turned to each other and offered a beautiful affirmation of love to one another.
Then I sensed a shift in the mood. All singles were asked and encouraged to come to the altar for prayer to ask God to send them someone to love them, to ask God to bring them a husband or wife! I sat in shock, and I was a bit put off myself as I watched people hesitate in their response, trying to make a decision about whether they wanted to be in that number or at the very least labeled as needing someone to love them. I thought to myself, “what about all the affirmation we engage about God loving us?” People struggled as they seemingly felt compelled to identify with one group or the other. A woman sitting near me passionately expressed her displeasure; she left before the prayer ended. I felt for my sister and identified with her comment.
There was nothing said to suggest that it was okay to be single, no embracing of a person’s desire to be single and to stay single. No room was created at the altar to celebrate or consecrate their life journey. It was completely disregarded as if that was not an option in the Kingdom/Queendom of God. Why not embrace and celebrate our wholeness, our maleness and femaleness by providing our communities of faith with a healthy perspective for living as the Beloved Community with options and diversity? What are the messages that religious leaders in particular, unintentionally or intentionally, send to those we love and care for when we forget to include all, when we exclude those who choose a different journey?
Churches would benefit from reevaluating the attitude that often manifests itself both overtly and covertly that suggests until you’re married, you’re not quite a whole person. We’ve often given the message that marriage is the only picture of the proper love relationship between human beings. Now don’t get me wrong, the spirit and union of marriage between two people who love and respect each other is a beautiful thing. Many of us desire to attain such a relationship with hopes of it enduring for a lifetime. However, the reality is that we’re not all at the same place at the same time. As the Beloved Community, we must strive to be actively and visibly inclusive in honoring where each individual’s journey has brought them for it is a sacred place. Sometimes God will call us to walk with God alone, for a season and with reason.
Rev. Antoinette D. Kemp the Georgia Consultant for the National Black Church Initiative and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice in Washington, DC. She is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She earned an MDiv degree from Columbia Theological Seminary, and currently serves as a Corporate/Industrial Chaplain, for Cobb-Vantress, Inc. (a division of Tyson Corporation) Rev. Kemp is the Executive Director for African Pilgrimages Inc.,