Black Christians have gone through entirely too much in 2017 and it’s still January. Let’s recap, shall we?
- Kim Burrell absolutely tried it condemning LGBTQI Christians to hell, mocking Andrew Caldwell and Bishop Eddie Long in a sermon. We failed to use the moment as a real opportunity to begin dialogue. It was all a mess.
- Bishop Eddie Long died of cancer and his death was met with a bevy of emotions that were painful to witness no matter where you found yourself on the issue.
- Many Black Americans experienced grief associated with witnessing the Obamas leave the White House and the Trumps take residence. It was difficult to ignore the deep sorrow Black Americans felt watching what symbolized a piece of hope fade. I can’t front: the night before Trump’s inauguration, I kept Jeezy’s “My President” on repeat and just kept crying.
- Travis Greene agreed to perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration saying God told him to do it and that he was going to use his access to the king to bring the light of Christ when “I have a young family, I just started a church and I got bills” would have been more honest.
- Paula White forgot she pastored a predominately (historically, hopefully at this point) Black congregation, provided the invocation at the inaugural ceremony of Donald Trump and proved to many of us she is exactly who we thought she was: a culture vulture.
- Vicki Yohe seemingly came out of nowhere and decided instead of releasing a new album, she’d just get on Instagram and let us know that she is exactly what we know white women raised in South Dakota and Louisiana are: racist.
- Gospel singer Tina Campbell wrote a Facebook statement regarding her decision to forgive, pray for and support Donald Trump. Speaking more about our need to respect Trump than the people his policies will adversely affect, we all were like "girl...what?!".
In all its fury, January 2017 is wrought with lessons for Black Christians, if we are willing to learn them. If nothing else, this month has taught us that faith, rooted in Whiteness, will not save us. Kim’s sermon, Travis’ desire for access, Tina’s perspective, Paula’s hypocrisy and Vicki’s racism are all rooted in a theology and understanding of God that proclaims Black bodies as deficient.
It’s how Travis can completely disregard the biblical and historical adversarial relationship between the prophet and the king to assert that somehow access to the king matters more than standing with the people. It’s how he can dismiss our disappointment as “carnal” to and continue the negation of Black emotion.
It’s how Tina Campbell can quote 1 Timothy 2: 1-3 in support of Donald Trump and completely ignore Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: 31-46. It’s how she can quote 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 without even acknowledging its tension, in this context, given 2 Corinthians 6: 14-18.
It’s how Black people can create platforms and opportunities for Paula White, Vicki Yohe and their ilk by passing over and stepping on Black women. It’s how, both, Paula and Vicki can joke about "being Black" while trafficking in the racism that dehumanizes Black bodies.
It’s how Black radio shows can give Vicki Yohe an opportunity to explain to us how she’s “really not racist” but not create opportunities for substantive dialogue regarding faith and sexuality in the wake of Kim Burrell’s controversy.
It’s how, both, Travis and Tina can quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. without taking up the ways Dr. King held American government accountable for its treatment of poor, oppressed people.
For whatever reason, many Black Christian/Black Church celebrities are pushing to normalize this presidency and ignoring the tradition of resistance upon which Christianity stands. Maybe they don’t know it. Maybe they don’t know that early Christians chose certain death at the king’s hand over possible access to him. Maybe they don’t understand that this is the same kind of tyrannical leadership that forced Mary and Joseph to have a baby in the same place animals eat and poop. Maybe they don’t realize that this is the same kind of religious leadership that sentenced Jesus to death. But even If they didn’t know that, they know us.
Travis and Tina know us because they are us. It is impossible to be Black raised in the south and in Inglewood, California and not witness the vestiges of social inequality in your neighborhood…in your family. It impossible to ignore the ways the Trump Administration has stoked racial fears and proposes legislation that will adversely affect Black communities- the communities housing the congregations that have supported their ministries since inception. Those communities…the communities where their home churches are…where their relatives still live…deserved more from Travis and Tina. We deserved their accountability to us. We deserved that they took stock in how their words and behaviors would impact us. Because more than Trump, more than the White evangelicals who now will invite them to their churches as tokens, we have been here for them. Black Christian celebrities like Travis Greene and Tina Campbell (…and others) forgot that they are in the positions they are because we- Black folk- prayed with our mouths, our feet and our dollars for their success. We supported them in church before anyone knew their name. We went to their concerts. We bought their music and their books. We prayed for and supported them through crisis and hard times. And when the time came for them to give that support back to us…to stand with us against forces that intend to cause us harm, they didn’t. They chose to look past us and align themselves with people they think will give them even greater access and support. Lord help.
From the beginning, I have never been here for Paula or Vicki. In her piece, “Blackface in the Pulpit”, D. Danyelle Thomas sums up why they can find no town or country with me. We are all God's children so I guess that makes them...cousins. And, like my biological family, there are some I fool with and others I don’t. But I saw Travis and Tina very differently. I don’t understand what Tina said in that open letter any more than she does. I’m always leery when Black women choose to forgive unapologetically abusive men and use God/scripture to do it. Travis may never fully accept Blackness as a blessing. He might just keep wearing those ridiculous t-shirts because his desire to hold on to harmful theologies is more important than realizing God was intentional in creating him a Black man. We deserve better from Travis and Tina. Most importantly, they deserve better from themselves.
I hope they encounter Jesus…the God who came wrapped in a particular kind of (holy) flesh, who stood in solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized, who died a victim of state violence, whose natural and cultural relatives are currently being banned from a country supposedly created with him as the cornerstone. I hope they encounter this Jesus and that their engagement with him propels them to think through how they have treated us- we who love and support them.
…we who remain oppressed, marginalized and are victims of state violence because we are wrapped in a particular kind of (holy) flesh.
I hope it forces them to think about what it is at stake when we deny crosses because we so desperately want to wear crowns.