I was hardly 16 when I made the decision that marriage was neither my fort or want. My mother and her childhood friend were seated in the living room on a Saturday morning watching a wedding show when she said to me that one day that would be me too.
Being their first born child and daughter, and knowing the extravagant nature of my god-fearing parents, I had no doubt that my wedding would be broadcast on all local TV stations, and probably even on YouTube since they watch and listen to gospel music all the time — you should have seen my graduation party that I was too embarrassed to share because they did the absolute most!
Anyway, I told her a firm NO and like you may already guess, she was in so much shock. My auntie switched off the television and they embarked on a plan to convince me that I will indeed end up getting married and that I was just saying things because I’m young.
Over 7 years later, and I still hold the same viewpoints and sentiments.
My mother spoke from a place of concern and fear. Her prayer has always been that I will find a god-fearing man like my father and be happily married like herself. But happiness is relative and I do not desire her version of it.
My father is a crest Evangelical/Pentecostal/Baptist church follower and practitioner. He is a god-fearing “born-again” man. Which is/was ideal for many women at the time; because he pledges allegiance to his god first and moves in that loyalty, so it is perceived that he will eventually reciprocate the same unto his wife and family.
Matter of fact, I like to think that such parents move more in the fear of their god(s) than in the love for their families. Fear does not inform love. At least not in the healthy way. And this is the thing about having god-fearing parents, you feel their fear of god more than their love for you. You understand love as fear and you peg all your achievements and failures on that fear. It is a lot worse when they are African parents because corporal discipline is part and parcel of the package as is justified in Proverbs 13:24. It’s the religious culture of pain, perseverance and testimony: the fear that awards “good” testament.
As I unlearn my fears and forgive myself for moving in those fears, I think about the next cis-heterosexual woman moving in unhealthy godly fear. The god-fearing one that is financially stable but will not buy a house because she has not yet found an equally god-fearing husband. I think about my peers desperate to “settle down” thus choosing marriage just a year after we have graduated in fear of reaching 30 and being branded “undesirable”.
I think about those making these decisions primarily on the principle that their partner is god-fearing.
But what is this god-fearing attribute and why is it so coveted?
Since I cannot fully debunk my theories on religious fundamentalism in this short piece, I’ll briefly touch on what it signifies to be god-fearing and why many Christians seek this attribute when soliciting life partners.
In the Bible, several verses assert and promise that the fear of god brings eternal life, blessings, wisdom, protection, salvation, goodness, fulfillment and even food! It’s interesting that when we fall short in any way, we instinctively self-chastise and return to this fear of god in the name of repentance. As a born and raised Pentecostal Christian, I learned very early that all my actions determined my place in hell or in heaven so it was holy order to repent before I asked anything in prayer.
This is the same school of thought that informs choosing and gravitating towards a god-fearing partner. Besides creating home with someone that shares your beliefs, the fear of god is central to choosing a life-partner for most religionists because it marks your position in the afterlife. I know several religious Christian women that are at peace with an abusive husband who is god-fearing because they are certain of the secured position that their union provides in the afterlife.
And how many times do the said god-fearing husbands fall short of this glory? More times than the commandments written thousands of years ago can fathom. So why make the decision to align yourself with a god-fearing patriarch? Respectability and status. To wear this dignity like a badge, a medal, a cross. Because the social capital of a married woman is perceived to be stronger than that of a single woman. You learn early that this capital is a gift that is only awarded by men so you structure your decisions keeping in mind that being married to a god-fearing man is the greatest of all.
And what happens when this union falls short of your expectations? You self-penalize and fall into prayer and fasting that said god-fearing husband will come back to his god-fearing ways with you. Films like War Room are promoted at churches to enforce this message.
Let’s not even get into the shelter that this god-fearing title provides for many abusive religionists.
Maybe he does not stray like most of his fellow men; he is still god-fearing and leads in the fear of god before his love for anything else, what then? I can’t help but notice a certain kind of regret, of longing, on the faces on pastors’ wives when they are not on posters promoting the next event or concert at their church. How their paths are aligned in their pastor husband’s eternal pursuit and mission to spread the word of god and convert as many masses as they can.
Their servitude is admirable to the congregations but what else can they do? To me, this is the absolute weight of all weights, yoke of all yokes, a voluntary agonizing. It is what I call the “pastor’s wife quandary”. Of course there is the token shout out here and there by the pastor husband during ceremony and the occasional presiding over services as the pastor’s wife but the subjugate bondage still holds.
No doubt some god-fearing husbands actually love and show incessant affection to their wives, but I’m talking about the ones so consumed in this worship that in turn, their wives lose out on a chance at a cherishing and love-bound marriage. Their fear of god reigns supreme and overrides other natural, emotional wants and desires. And of course where fear rules, silence ensues, and with it the gradual evacuation of inherent love, joy, freedom, happiness.
As an African feminist, I do not desire this kind of suffocation on any of my sisters that choose marriage the heteronormative way. I wish that even at the lowest of their seemingly perfect god-fearing unions, that they are blessed with well-meaning confidants, find the strength to seek professional counsel, be unapologetic about living a fulfilling life within and outside of their matrimonies, remember that divorce and separation is self-preservation, understand that love is healthy and should not be encapsulated in fear.
So again, I say to my mother and all sisters like herself: marrying a god-fearing man is not enough.
If my not capitalizing the G in god has shaken you, this article was most definitely for you. Bless.
Marie Ainomugisha is a photographer, content contributor, blogger, future filmmaker, avid reader yet not-so-avid writer, multipotentialite — great at calculus and devouring avocados, radical feminist. She has her blog and portfolio at SOAFRICANE.COM and she regularly shares feminist personal growth pieces on her Medium and Pocket. Check out her Twitter as well if you don’t have a fragile ego.
Based in Nairobi, Kenya. East African.