When the story of an unwed, pregnant Harlem pastor broke, I wondered why this was in fact news. As a Christian, I can firmly point to scripture that urges us not to judge, but often, we find a pulpit full of stone throwers who aim for glass houses.
And for that very reason, people are afraid to walk in and exist in their truth, their struggles and their realities.
Do not judge or you too will be judged. Matthew 7:1
“After the initial shock was joy,” she writes. “Yet, underneath something else was lingering. Anger? No. Disappointment? No. It was pure and utter dread. Not at being pregnant. Not at whether or not I would be a good mother. What had my stomach turning, other than nausea, was me being pregnant AND a pastor.”
What was supposed to be a happy, joy-filled occasion turned into a moment of panic, fear, shame and guilt. Pastor Allen’s feelings were very real, and luckily while she did encounter a few folks who chose to see her blessing as an “abomination,” most of her congregation welcomed her with open arms.
“In a moment I will never forget, our executive pastor had the staff encircle around me and they began to pray,” she writes. “A noise that can only be described as a wail left my mouth and I broke. To the point of needing a chair to sit in. I broke in the most beautiful way possible. In the breaking I was free.”
It didn’t matter if someone had come up to her and condemned her. The mere fact that Allen felt anxiety due to the stigmas associated with being an unwed mother—especially as a pastor—is enough to assess the role of condemnation in the church.
Christianity has a multitude of denominations, but the one thing they all have in common is that judgement and shame is forever present. It appears as if each sin is ranked, with the most visible ones being condemned the most. It is as if “seeing the sin” activates the crazy in folks. This is a notion that Pastor Allen herself even notes.
“An ugly truth is people in church leadership have sex outside of marriage, affairs, do drugs, drink, so on and so forth,” Allen writes. “Generally, these are not considered acceptable acts. BUT I have seen many churches turn a blind eye to this behavior, because it can be hidden. Don’t ask. Don’t tell. To be pregnant is a very visible indication of a private act and for some reason provides people with more of a need to respond.”
He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone…John 8:7
When it comes to unmarried pregnant women, it is as if congregations go on a witch hunt. As Allen mentioned in her piece, women are judged more critically for sinning, and it is as if having a child out of wedlock is the ultimate betrayal. Despite how common pre-marital sex and impregnation is, Allen feared judgment from the very congregation that calls for “sinners” to come down and be saved every Sunday with “open arms.” The double standard regarding men, women and sex is real, and the church is not a safe haven to escape it.
And because of shame, fear, and judgement, many are opting to remove themselves from the church. The very people who pastors claim to serve are no longer interested in appealing to the leaders of “the Good Book.”
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. James 4:11
I get it. When you assume certain roles in society, you are held to a standard that is different than your average Joe or Jane. But once that robe comes off you are human, just like the rest of us. It’s like Viola Davis‘ character in How To Get Away With Murder. Annalise Keating is a bad ass attorney by day, a murderer by night and a vulnerable, wig-wearing, make-up rocking HUMAN behind closed doors. If we can grant a fictional character that level of understanding, we should be able to do so in real life.
“I cannot carry your weight about MY situation. Whoever you are. I have my own beautiful, amazing and miraculous weight to carry for the next few months and a lifetime,” Allen writes.
A Harlem pastor is pregnant…and she isn’t married; just like millions of other human beings in the world. And it’s time for the church to get over it.
Shantell E. Jamison is a digital editor for EBONY.com and JETMAG.com. Her book, “Drive Yourself in the Right Direction” is available on Amazon. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter @Shantell_em and Instagram @Shantell_em.