Kim Burrell, Homosexuality and the Black Church



Well, damn, tell us how you really feel, Kim Burrell.

On Friday night, social media became ablaze when one of preacher-singer Kim Burrell’s sermons went viral. In the video, Burrell shared a hate-filled message about what she believes 2017 will look like for LGBTQ people if they fail to repent.

Burrell had been slated to perform with Pharrell Williams on the Ellen show this week to promote the single, “I See Victory” for the film Hidden Figures. That performance of the song, from a film promoting equity and equality, has since been canceled.

Following the backlash, Burrell went on social media to “attempt” to clear up the statements made in the video, only to add more fuel to the fire. In her message via Facebook Live, she stated that she never said God was going to kill gay people in 2017, but that the Lord was only going to harm those who have “deception” attached to them.

What the what?

Burrell and her supporters have continued to use the timeless defense of “loving the sinner and hating the sin” to justify the comments she made. As someone who has spent countless years in counseling because of the hurtful things said to me in the black church, I must admit that I wasn’t surprised when I saw the video. What surprises me is that there are still people who are shocked that there are still folks in the black church who continue to feel this way.

As the pastor Dewey Smith stated in one of his sermons, homophobia isn’t something new in the church. Smith even calls out many folks in the church for the way they treat LGBTQ patrons, stating that without the LGBTQ community, many of the services provided to those in the church would be null and void.

Further, Smith goes on to state that no one in the church is without fault or sin, so using the concept of “love the sinner, but hate the sin” is contradictory to the values of “love thy neighbor” often preached as a major tenet of the church.

This begs the question: Why does it seem that the black church continues to use harmful and hateful rhetoric when talking about the LGBTQ community?

As a scholar, I recall reading several pieces in which James Baldwin discusses his frustration with religion. Baldwin expressed on several occasions that identifying as Christian never allowed him to feel free, not only as a queer man, but specifically as a queer black man. History shows that Christianity was a religion forced upon slaves, and it has always perpetuated elements of theological violence toward the “other.” Thus, by othering the LGBTQ community, it helps those in the church dealing with their own vices to feel superior/better about what they might be going through. Further, by solely putting the focus on the LGBTQ community, it helps divert from the other larger issues the black church has in relation to oppression and social injustices.

To be clear, this piece is not an attack on those who are affiliated with or connected to the black church. It is simply meant to point out a larger issue, one that affects several, if not half, of those who regularly attend services.

The reality is that there are numerous folks who get up on the pulpit weekly to condemn black queer people. This condemnation, and rejection, can be just some of the contributing factors as to why 49 percent of those in the LGBTQ community may feel suicidal or have attempted suicide. What folks fail to miss is that there is a certain privilege in being able to get up every week to condemn the LGBTQ community, a privilege that women like Burrell once did not have at a specific time in history.

Simply put, you can’t validate a message of hatred with love, and the black church must be held accountable for the pain it has caused LGBTQ people. Like Audre Lorde once said, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”

If the black church continues to operate in this way, it will have more blood on its hands.

Keep in mind what Miss Celie once told Mister in The Color Purple, “The same things you are doing to me, has already been done to you.”

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