On Kim Burrell and why ‘theological violence’ has no place in Black Liberation
By: George M. Johnson
No one is free unless the black Trans woman is free.
I imagine these are the words that will ring out of the mouths of every preacher and Black person in this nation when we finally reach the day of liberation. A day that will likely never come in my lifetime, as the battle between the “Church” and “State of the LGBTQ” continue to be at odds over who is acceptable in the eyes of man and God. This week, has brought out the some of the worst in people, as two pivotal leaders of the Black church and gospel music community have continued theological warfare on a community that is “tired, weak and worn” – to quote the classic hymn “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”
Kim Burrell’s homophobic rant followed by Shirley Caesar’s “I’m not for or against it, but next time check for cameras” response is nothing new from those claiming to be doing the Lord’s work. It should have come as a shock to none, as the Bible and its theological perspective designed for its time nearly 2000 years ago has continuously missed the boat on an ever changing society.
The book, which – like the Constitution – should be treated as a “living document”, has been less than stellar in its objective of shaping and forming acceptance around marginalized groups of people, especially those outside the heteronormative gender binary, and sexuality spectrum. This divisive nature also creates a hierarchical structure in the Black community that places a higher value on a life deemed “acceptable” in the eyes of the church and Christ. This places LGBTQ folx, and, in particular, Trans people, at the bottom while creating a false Black privilege for cis hetero black men and women.
All of this can be summed up as a type “theological violence” which is one of the worst forms of abuse as it allows those wielding it to essentially throw a rock and hide their hands in culpability. They then use their titles of Deacon, Reverend, and Pastor to spread this word as if it were factual, galvanizing all under their voice to follow it as law. It allows for words to be used as oppressive tools of condemnation, while challenging one’s responsibility to please God and not man; the very man who projects their harmful and marginalizing beliefs based on poor interpretation and lack of representation of Christ. This violence compromises any realistic chance of our racial community mobilizing as a unit. It instigates the idea that a house “divided” is much stronger without those considered an “abomination”.
Although, at times, this violence is direct as Kim Burrell’s statement was, the worst of its kind is the passive aggressive kind done by Pastor Shirley Caesar. Her’s is the sort of theological violence where you preach tolerance, instead of change in thoughts and actions, while emphasizing necessity for there be more learning around identities that fall outside of the binary. The type of violence that acts as if bigotry is okay just as long as you “say when it Obama made it alright 4 years ago” and “collect the phones” at the door as not to get caught out there. Thus, these high profile religious leaders want to be able to condemn us and keep their coins while the oppressed continue to fight for people who would publicly never fight for them.
As a former AME, turned Baptist, turned and walked away from the church person myself, I have seen the effects of theological violence and how it creates divisions within the Black community, while perpetuating many of the worst stigma’s and shame our race faces. I recall being told by a former pastor, “I can’t accept you as my brother in Christ, but I can pray for your salvation when the judgment day comes”; a pastor who was fighting this same “demon” as I but was unwilling to live in his truth as his “repentance” allowed him to have his cake and eat it too. However, this type of logic where LGBTQ folx are asked to be discreet and practice the cognitive dissonance of trusting in the Word, and living a “Christ-like life” while hiding their sexuality is dangerous to our community, and promotes the notion that people should not be able to live their most authentic life.
Yet, I always feel the need to find an upside to any violent act towards my people, with hopes that internal liberation can be found. Theological violence may push many of us away from the church; however it can also bring us in the LGBTQ community closer to God and spirit. I have seen time and time again where a person has been able to find a personal relationship with God outside of the church, and use that relationship to promote better self-awareness, self-care, and truly enjoy the euphoric state of living in one’s truth.
The fact of the matter is: liberation of Black folks will never be found with a hierarchical structure based on white supremacy, patriarchy, and the belief that assimilation into whiteness will save us all. The church’s promotion of such lowered value on Black lives furthers the mentality that it’s better to be a “house slave” than a “field slave”. The idea that it is better to be accepted as a piece of a person but get into the house, than to be who you are and live outside. This type of hate speech and rhetoric has no place in Black liberation, and makes the preacher of it no better than the Black slave assigned by the white man to oversee the rest of the slaves.
At the end of day, if we don’t we don’t find a way to ALL be accepted in the house as we are, we will all still remain slaves to a system that never wanted us to exist in the first place.
George M. Johnson is a journalist and activist based in the Washington, D.C. area. He has written for EBONY.com, TheGrio, JET, Pride.com, Thebody.com, and The Huffington Post on topics of health, race, gender, sex, and education. Follow him on Twitter: @iamgmjohnson.