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Red Lip Theology: For Church Girls Who've Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn't Enough

Red Lip Theology: For Church Girls Who've Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn't Enough


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Notes From Your Bookseller

Red Lip Theology is a collection of essays from Candace Benbow, a progressive Christian theologian and activist. Her topics include sex positivity and how the church can harm Black women. Overall, her work challenges those in power.

A moving essay collection promoting freedom, self-love, and divine wholeness for Black women and opening new levels of understanding and ideological transformation for non-Black women and allies

“Candice Marie Benbow is a once-in-a-generation theologian, the kind who, having ground dogma into dust with the fine point of a stiletto, leads us into the wide-open spaces of faith.”—Brittney Cooper, author of Eloquent Rage and co-editor of The Crunk Feminist Collection

Blurring the boundaries of righteous and irreverent, Red Lip Theology invites us to discover freedom in a progressive Christian faith that incorporates activism, feminism, and radical authenticity. Essayist and theologian Candice Marie Benbow’s essays explore universal themes like heartache, loss, forgiveness, and sexuality, and she unflinchingly empowers women who struggle with feeling loved and nurtured by church culture.
Benbow writes powerfully about experiences at the heart of her Black womanhood. In honoring her single mother’s love and triumphs—and mourning her unexpected passing—she finds herself forced to shed restrictions she’d been taught to place on her faith practice. And by embracing alternative spirituality and womanist theology, and confronting staid attitudes on body positivity and LGBTQ+ rights, Benbow challenges religious institutions, faith leaders, and communities to reimagine how faith can be a tool of liberation and transformation for women and girls.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593238462
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/18/2022
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 37,747
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Candice Marie Benbow is a theologian, essayist, columnist, baker, and educator whose work gives voice to Black women’s shared experiences of faith, healing, and wholeness. Named by Sojourners as one of “10 Christian Women Shaping the Church in 2020,” she has written for Essence, Glamour, The Root, VICE, Shondaland, Madame Noire, and the Me Too Movement. Candice created the “Lemonade Syllabus” social media campaign, founded the media boutique Zion Hill Media Group, and, in memory of her mother, established The LouiseMarie Foundation to support HBCU nursing students and community mental health projects. A member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Candice holds degrees from Tennessee State University, North Carolina Central University, and Duke Divinity School.

Melissa Harris-Perry is the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair in the department of politics and international affairs and the department of women, gender, and sexuality studies at Wake Forest University.

Read an Excerpt

We Are Good Creation

As far as childhoods go, I had an amazing one. Surrounded by books I read under covers well past my bedtime and Barbie dolls whose feet I chewed and hair I cut into asymmetrical bobs. I took ballet, tap, and jazz at one of Winston-­Salem’s premier dance studios with rich White girls and middle-­class Black ones like me. I had piano lessons after my private school recessed for the day; I was in Girl Scouts from the time I was in kindergarten till I graduated high school with my Gold Award; and I had every enrichment program in between. I had the best of everything and was given opportunities to excel in life. Despite this, though, I could not escape one fatal flaw: my mother wasn’t married to my father.

Even as a child, I understood my mother’s singleness as her fault. That’s how family and church folk made it seem. Somehow, she’d gotten pregnant and had a baby by herself. Committed to ensuring I understood my responsibility to my community and to Black people, Mama took me to town hall meetings, public forums, and any other place where the state of Black America was discussed. There, I heard reports of how single motherhood gutted our community of its morals and standards. Daniel Patrick Moynihan released his “take” on the fate of Black America in 1965—summarized by the line, “In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is too out of line with the rest of the American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and, in consequence, on a great many Negro women as well.” And, though the report was met with great resistance and critique, many Black folks shared his sentiments. In those town hall meetings, some were extremely vocal in their belief the problem with Black America was Black women and had no qualms about saying that when given a microphone. Others refused to deny the crushing weight of inequality and how our communities suffered because of it, while at the same time subtly suggesting that we as Black people could do more to stop imposing added suffering onto our lives.

Black men couldn’t be fathers for a number of reasons, they told us. Many were dead or incarcerated thanks to the drug trade and subsequent war on it. Others were unable to come to terms with the limitations America imposed on Black men and, consequently, couldn’t be adequate and present fathers. The least single Black mothers could do was pick up the slack, keep their kids well groomed, adequately fed, off the streets and out of trouble for the sake of communal uplift. Taking responsibility wasn’t too much to ask and doing so was their reasonable service, the penance they paid to God for being disobedient and getting knocked up in the first place.

Mama made sure I grew up in church. She told me she took the promise Hannah made to God in 1 Samuel seriously. If God got her and her child out of the despair of her circumstances, she’d give me back to God. As a single mother raising a Black girl during the height of the crack epidemic and the rise of gang violence, Mama believed the church would keep me safe. And with a teen growing up while hip-­hop was still finding its way, she also believed the church would keep me chaste. The church was the solution for single, Christian Black women raising Black girls, as it had been the solution for so many Black women before them.

Black people have always been a spiritual people, but nobody is more spiritual than Black women. To love God and the Spirit is the legacy of Black women. But while mothers of millennial Black girls were sending their daughters to church to escape the perils of the world, we also became victims of the traps set in the holiest of places. It was in church where I learned, as a child, I had the butt and breasts of a grown woman. Too many of us were preyed upon in the places where our mothers thought we were safe. And we couldn’t tell them because we didn’t want them to feel the guilt of being unable to keep us protected.

Single motherhood is a stain, the scarlet letter in our community. Even the bright lights of my childhood couldn’t blind me to the reality that my mother wasn’t supposed to do this alone. And, on any given Sunday, we’d hear about it. I remember the sermons where pastors told single women to keep their legs closed so they wouldn’t find themselves in whatever mess they were in. It was actually in church where I learned what it meant to be born “out of wedlock.” One of my Sunday School teachers used me as an example to teach the concept. Decades later, Mama told me my teacher did that in retaliation for my mother being named to the pastoral search committee. In no uncertain terms, it was reinforced that, if my mother truly loved God and obeyed His word, I wouldn’t even be here.

Yet, the community and the church weren’t the only places my mother endured the stigma of being pregnant and unmarried. Mama shared with me the scorn of and remarks made by family members when she became pregnant. Though she wasn’t the first person in our family to occupy unwed mother status, she was the first to graduate college and was heavily involved in church. She was doing the right things and, according to relatives who resented it, she felt like she was better than everybody else. And though she wasn’t a teen mother like others in our family and had a successful career and her own apartment, my mother’s pregnancy was seen as proof she wasn’t as perfect as people said she purported to be. Other women in my family got pregnant and married their children’s fathers (or someone willing to claim them, as I would learn years later) either before or shortly after delivery. By the time I came along, these families were well established and their children’s origins well concealed and long forgotten. That wasn’t the case for my mother. She and my father never married and she didn’t marry anyone else. She raised her shame by herself.

Raising a Black girl alone in the eighties and nineties couldn’t have been easy. My mother made it look like it was, though. She did her level best to instill a pride in me for being alive. When I was old enough to understand it, my mother shared with me the greatest step she’d taken to prove she knew being pregnant with me wasn’t wrong. In her church and many churches at the time, unmarried pregnant women were expected to come before the church, confess their sin, and ask for the church to forgive them. Very rarely, if ever, were the expectant fathers made to do the same thing. When the time came for my mother to apologize for being pregnant with me, she couldn’t do it. She told me, no matter what happened between her and my father, she couldn’t stand in front of people and call me a mistake. I wasn’t sin.

She had understood the repercussions of her defiant jubilation, though things at church and at home became difficult for her to navigate. Feeling the weight of it, my mother attended an evening service at Mercy Seat Holy Church, another small congregation in our hometown. She told me how the isolation forced her to pray for a miracle—my father getting his act together so we could be a family. She knew that was about as possible as snow in the summertime, but it was what she wanted. It would quiet the critics and give her baby the life she deserved to have. And yet, God had other plans. During a sermon about God’s provision and protection existing beyond our understanding, Mama said she felt me kick inside of her for the first time. She took the moment as a sign of many things, including the need to truly abandon any hopes she had of a reconciliation with my father. More than anything, she understood such a sacred moment as God making it clear she and her daughter would be okay. As long as they were together and remained close to God, there would be no obstacle they couldn’t overcome.

I don’t know how long it took my mother to finally end things with my father. She loved him and had a child with him. Walking away from the man you loved and the father of your child would present its own challenges. Yet, I know it didn’t take long for her to fully embrace her pregnancy as perfectly aligned with God’s will for her life. She’d often say to me, “You’ve got something amazing to do at a certain time in your life and God had to get you here however he could so you could do it when the time comes.” Even though I knew she truly believed I had this enormous life’s purpose, sometimes I felt like Mama just said that to me because she knew I didn’t believe it.

Table of Contents

Foreword Melissa Harris-Perry vii

Introduction xvii

We are Good Creation

Skin Care

My skin tells all my business-when I'm embarrassed, angry, or stressed. When I'm not taking care of myself and need water. My skin is the me I can't escape and taking care of my skin ensures I become a person worthy of my time and attention. 3

Suing God for Back Child Support


A good primer adds a necessary layer of protection between the healthy skin we've worked hard to nourish and the makeup that will only enhance our beauty. Ensuring the slay can last all day without interruption, it's a reinforcement to preserve what's underneath from whatever is to come. 21

God and Other Reformed Helicopter Parents


Foundation grounds our look and everything about it. A miscalculation in this step will throw off everything. The wrong foundation can leave us discolored and unable to effectively present our creativity to the world. But the right one? With the right one, everything can come together and we are unstoppable. 42

God Made Me Black

Brows, Eye Shadow, Liner, and Lashes

If eyes are the windows to our souls, then our eye makeup is some really dope blinds and curtains! As we see ourselves, so shall we see the world around us. Reflecting that glory and confidence, through creative eye looks, is its own affirmation. 59

Amazing Grace for Side Chicks

Contour and Concealer

Though we are beautiful, our skin can bear the imperfections left from scrapes, scars, bruises, and stress. Contour and concealer do not hide these imperfections as if they are mistakes or are worthy of shame. Instead, they allow us to incorporate them into the full narrative of our slay. 77

We Should All be Womanists


When I said I didn't need to purchase any, a makeup artist once described bronzer to me as the "spirit" of the entire look. It provides the character of the slay. "It shows us who you are, " she said. Adding warmth and dimension to our looks, bronzer isn't optional. It's essential. 95

Survived by a Special Friend


Blush adds a healthy glow to our skin and a much-needed flush of color to our looks. It is the companion encouraging our smiles to. be more truthful and inviting. Blush gives us the confidence to be fierce, free, and honest-all of which remain even after we wash the blush away. 112

Black Lace Teddies and Other Pieces I Rock Under the Anointing


Highlighter attracts and reflects light. We cannot hide when we wear it. We are seen in our full glory. And being seen emboldens us to be ourselves in every way imaginable. Because we are enough and we are powerful. 125

Leaving Church

Lip Primer, Liner, Lip Gloss, and Lipstick

Our lip products complete the look. And yet, they stand alone and put our mouths on full display. We kiss and speak with boldness. Our lips, decorated and in their power, dare you to look away. And, for us, they call us home. 141

Psalm 90:12

Setting Spray

Holding everything together, perhaps the setting spray does the most work: taking all of these looks, each stand-alone in its own right, and allowing them to tell one cohesive story. If the look begins to falter, the setting spray is reapplied to reawaken and remind it of its purpose: to slay. 159

Conclusion 171

Acknowledgments 181

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