Dear Pastor Kim Burrell,
I write to you as a fellow Christian (though I like to think of myself simply as a “follower of Jesus”), a historian of Africana and African American religions, and a church boy in recovery. Regarding the latter, I meet weekly with a therapist and am writing my way to freedom, as a result.
I am the product of the Black church, and I am both proud and, at times, ashamed of this legacy. I come from a family of Black preaching men and healing women (though many of the women were preachers, too, but denied ordination), prophets and herbalists, non-academic theologians and religious philosophers, and working class church folks who used Sunday School and Bible Study as a space to nurture intellectual curiosity.
Even as I recognize the rich histories and herstories that make up the Black church tradition, I am disheartened by the ways many Black churches continue to dehumanize Black women (whether they are straight, queer, transgender, unwed single-mother and so on) and men, and gender nonconforming people of queer and/or trans* experience.
This conversation is not new. And frankly, so many of us queer folks are tired of talking. We are tired of explaining our right to live, to be, to exist in the fullness of how God made us. We are frustrated with the churches that steal our talents and our tithes, depend on our labor and time, and then tell us to our face that we are not “beautifully and wonderfully made.”
We are frustrated with the straight-presenting preachers who condemn us to hell in one breath from their pulpits, and then beg to get in our beds after service, in passing, and with a whisper…
We are frustrated with the straight-presenting preachers who condemn us to hell in one breath from their pulpits, and then beg to get in our beds after service, in passing, and with a whisper, or communicate through “the apps” while in church because they want to have sex with the “homosexual” they may have called a sinning demon an hour before.
We are tired of explaining to you Apostle Paul is not Jesus and that he is solely our theological peer—a man who wrote his interpretation of the Gospel and got a lot of things wrong during the process, including, but certainly not limited to, slavery (“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling”), women (“I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence”), and sex (“Flee fornication”).
Rather than go into depth on these things, here are six examples of well-researched theological material on Black churches, gender and sexuality you should read if you haven’t already:
Sexuality and the Black Church by Kelly Brown Douglas
Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology by Pamela Lightsey
Loving the Body: Black Religious Studies and the Erotic ed. by Anthony Pinn and Dwight Hopkins
Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire by Jennifer Wright Knust
Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology by Patrick S. Cheng
The Queer Bible Commentary by Deryn Guest, Robert Goss, and Mona West
The work has been done, and there are so many womanist and queer theologians and preachers who are showing us a better way to be Christians—people who model what it really means to live the Gospel.
Which is why we are so tired, so weary, so… over hearing homophobic rhetoric wrapped up in lazy, unethical, and egregious theological language.
We are also exhausted by the way you fetishize and verbally rehearse your imaginings of queer sex. For instance, some months ago, a video recording of you surfaced where you can be heard saying, “That perverted homosexual spirit is a spirit of delusion and confusion and has deceived many men and women, and it has caused a strain on the body of Christ.” You went on to say, “If you are a man and you take a man’s penis in your face, you are perverted…If you’re a woman and you shake your breasts in another woman’s face, you are perverted.”
What is it about sex, which is not the same thing as love, between queer people that makes for good sermon material?
Why are you so concerned with how we have sex and with whom we have sex? Why are you so infatuated with our bodies and our genitalia, and what we do with our bodies and genitalia? Why do you look at us and imagine the ways you think we have sex, like we are subjects in the porn you so badly desire to watch or already watching? What is it about sex, which is not the same thing as love, between queer people that makes for good sermon material?
I’ve got questions, Pastor. And I also want some answers. And my questions have only begotten more questions as I watched your recent interview on Praise 102.5.
Woman of God, you have got to be kidding me. Seriously. You gave a wack apology, if we can even call it that, to the queer and trans* people you harmed with your words, and then you recant that same apology because Beyoncé listens to your music when she’s going through a storm?
In December 2016, following your controversial sermon and the subsequent backlash, you told your Facebook Live audience, “We’re not in a war against flesh and blood. I came on because I care about God’s creation and every person from the LGBT and anything else, any other kind of thing that is supporting gay… I never said LGBT last night. I said S-I-N and whatever falls in the sin was preached.”
And here we are in the month of August in the Year of our Lord 2017, and you’re still missing it, Pastor.
“I love people. People don’t even know that I’ve housed homosexual people in my home and I would today,” you told the radio host on Praise 102.5. “But one thing I will never do… is stop loving people and I will never not tell the truth about what it is that I know. You know the Constitution is one thing for America, but my Constitution includes the Bible.”
“There’s no way to love the sinner and hate the sin, when the very “sin” you condemn is someone’s identity…
Just because you’ve housed queer folks in your home, does not mean you affirm queer people’s existence or full humanity. Flippantly showcasing your charitable works is not applause-worthy nor is it a sign of humility. The Bible teaches us that, too. Loving (queer) people in the fullness of who we are is what we are all called to do. And there’s no way to love the sinner and hate the sin, when the very “sin” you condemn is someone’s identity and self-expression—not a choice or a “lifestyle,” but a way of being and existing in this world and in our bodies.
That’s the reality, Pastor, especially when someone like you has had much collaboration with queer artists. You’ve reaped the benefits of queer people’s work, and yet, you still do not honor queer people. Doesn’t that sound familiar? The same Church of God In Christ that you grew up in still does not ordain women to preach. And yet, you’re preaching and carving a way for yourself and so many other women. Why do to queer people what the Black church has done to cisgender, heterosexual women?
Indeed, it’s time for us to create the church this world needs, and straight people cannot do that work alone. If that weren’t true, then the Black church wouldn’t have such a bad rap, and its reputation wouldn’t be stained with scandal. Let’s repent. And get right.
For the cause of Justice,
Ahmad Greene-Hayes is a doctoral student in the Departments of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University. He also currently serves as an inaugural cohort fellow of the Just Beginnings Collaborative (2016-2018), where his project, Children of Combahee works to eradicate child sexual abuse in Black churches. Follow him @_BrothaG.
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