Gospel singer Kim Burrell has found herself in a maelstrom of bad press and social media backlash from a video that was posted from a sermon she delivered to her church where she pastors in Houston, TX. In the video Pastor Burrell can be seen very passionately delivering a message to her flock:
“I came to tell you about sin… That sin nature, that perverted homosexual spirit is the spirit of delusion and confusion, it has deceived many men and women and it has cast a stain on the body of Christ. You as a man, you open your mouth and take a man’s penis in your face, you are perverted. You are a woman and will shake your face in another woman’s breast, you are perverted. It has come to our church and it has embarrassed the Kingdom of God.”
A lot of folks, particularly in the LGBT community and their allies have been outraged at Kim Burrell’s words that they say are an attack on gay folks.
I watched the video and honestly as outraged as folks were from its content, I sadly saw it as business as usual as it pertains the black church’s historical attitudes towards issues of sexuality. I personally have liked the anointed voice of Kim Burrell for many years but her actions are very commonplace when it comes to the black church. The church has operated on a “don’t ask don’t tell” mentality way before it was adopted by the military. As long as there have been black churches there have been gay folks in those churches but they have suffered from the mutant like ability of disassociation, where we can swap sugar, sing, shout, tithe and sit among the church family while being demonized and having your spirit slowly destroyed by years of negative and destructive rhetoric.
After Burrell received so much social media back lash she posted two “apology” videos where she attempted to address the issue.
“I was addressing church people. See how misconstrued you got it? … I never said God was killing gays in 2017. I said people who operate with that spirit in the church, with deception and attached themselves, are going to have to face the master. That’s what I said, and death is attached to their behavior…If that’s you, okay. But I never said LGBT, gays are going to die in 2017. Y’all stop that.”
Burrell’s apology comes off as simultaneously truthful and disingenuous. Truthful in the sense that she was addressing folks in her church but if you are not in the church well she is not talking to you, at least not to your face. It smacks as disingenuous because it is the same destructive rhetoric most of us who grew up in the church have faced all of our lives which has left so many folks hurt, broken and disenfranchised.
It is this rhetoric that has bred a culture of folks who either leave the church all together, practice down low behavior or become tortured “delivert” individuals in the ministry, gospel music industry as well as regular church folks. And truthfully if homosexuality was as high on the list as contemporary religion has made it out to be, don’t you think it would be in the top 10 when it comes to sin? I am just saying.
I grew up in the church and know how sermons like Burrell can leave one feeling isolated and unloved. There are places where you can celebrate the positive and affirming warmth of God’s love.
Kim Burrell’s words only made me want to seek support so I turned to a long time friend and spiritual advisor, Pastor Floretta Watkins. I had attended Pastor Watkin’s church, Seigle Avenue Presbyterian before but they recently decided to move and re-brand themselves right in my neighborhood in a new space and name, The Avenue.
I got up that morning got dressed and made my way to the new space which is now located on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black college campus. I walked in and the first person I see is a wonderful sister and mental health specialist, Isis who attends with her partner Dawn another wonderful friend and sister and their beautiful family. I gleefully hugged Isis and was instantly filled with a spirit of support.
I made my way into the auditorium where folks were gathering in the middle since this was the inaugural Sunday of their first service and so it was a small but loving congregation. I waved excitedly to Pastor Flo, as she is addressed by most folks and took a seat. Another talented brother Reverend Byrd was leading the praise team in a series of soul stirring verses that kept the crowd inspired.
I have been in large churches filled to capacity and still felt alone and unfulfilled but here in this new space and small congregation I felt supported. Pastor Flo is a very learned, conversational and inspiring orator. She was starting a new series entitled,”Under Construction” with scripture reading from Nehemiah 1:1-2:4.
Although I grew up in the church I have always said that if they had to give out grades I would be a “C” student as evidenced at how long it took me find the book of Nehemiah as I flipped through the almost pristine copy of the bible I had been given when I graduated high school.
Pastor Flo’s sermon was “God is in the Construction Business”. Stating that the church has been called to erect walls that offer support and protection and not structures that will divide and isolate. Pastor Flo also preached about the diversity of God’s creations and I paraphrase “We are so beautifully different which is a representation of who God is..”
What Pastor Flo, Reverend Byrd and the congregation of The Avenue were offering was a church that was committed to inclusion, healing and nurturing the spirit of the community.
These are turbulent times. Kim Burrell talks about the enemy was working to twist her words when the simple fact is her words were true and she believes of what she speaks and that is fine. But folks do not have to participate in these historical places of worship that continue to demonize a segment of our community. We are catching hell right now from a society and future administration that have normalized sexist, racist, xenophobic and homophobic rhetoric to the level where marginalized folks are under attack with hate crimes on the rise.
I am always amazed at how one marginalized community like black folks can so easily marginalize their own. The exact same rhetoric they used to demonize gay folks was used not to long ago to justify slavery, Jim Crow and interracial marriage. Some would even argue that the entire “American” contruct of Christianity can be seen as a device of mainstream oppression to hold black folks in subjugation.
But if we look at who Christ was in his purest form as a historical figure of love and champion of the marginalized then it becomes more difficult to accept the present way his teaching have been politicized in its contemporary form.
If you are a believer you do not have to suffer attacks from outside and within. That is just too much. There are places like The Avenue that offer an alternative to the historical stance of “hate the sin and not the sinner,” which is still just a practice steeped in hate.
Kim Burrell has the right to preach whatever she wants to her church members but as black folks in general we have got to do better. We have the right to expect more from our spiritual leaders.
If you attend a church with a spiritual leader that does not address the specific challenges that face you and your community, especially if that leader is not from your community then that might not be the right space for you.
And I am not talking about this passive aggressive environment most churches operate in when it comes to addressing issues of sexuality. There is a big difference from being tolerated when compared to being accepted.
And this goes for majority black congregations that follow non-black ministers who expect you to tithe and follow their direction but do not address issues like black folks being brutalized and killed then I can’t get with you.
Congruently if you know there is a significant amount of gay folks in the congregation and you still have a minister that speaks about those folks as being a “perversion” or “abomination” then I can’t get with you either.
A younger more vulnerable self would have been decimated by Kim Burrell’s words but knowing that I have wonderful alternatives like Pastor Flo and The Avenue assures me that nothing or no one shall be able to separate me from the love of God.