The Curious Case of Kim Burrell

Kim, Who Hurt You? Kim Burrell is undeniably anointed. Kim Burrell’s voice is a literal instrument. Kim Burrell is also mean as hell. Many of us, who have seen her live, have often remarked about this nastiness that seems to have become her personality. We even tweeted about it during “Sunday Best” episodes. It’s a meanness that somebody who loves her should have checked a while ago. Because that “sermon” wasn’t the first time I’d heard Kim rail against homosexuality, I found myself asking one question: Why haven’t her people gotten her some help?! There has long been gossip circulating regarding incidents that have led Kim to be so agitated with the LGBTQI community. Whether those rumors are true or not, what can’t be denied is that there is something Kim has to acknowledge and work through to become a better, healthier person. You cannot engage in such a hate-filled rant and be at peace with your whole self. It’s impossible. Love liberates. Love lifts and Love wants to share itself with everyone it can. We can pretend like we don’t see it but we know when people are walking around wounded, hanging on to unresolved pain and anguish. If it is true that hurt people hurt people (and it is), Kim- and those like her- must heal.

Are We Talking About Homophobia or Hermeneutics? I will probably get in trouble here; however, I don’t think Kim Burrell is homophobic. I think her understanding of human sexuality is rooted in her interpretation of the Biblical text. It’s how she can see no problem with having a gay stylist and hopping on Frank Ocean’s track. Way too many people rely on “love the sinner…hate the sin” justifications for what is blatant hypocrisy. For whatever reason, folks want to hold on to this notion that they’re biblical literalists, while wearing two fabrics at once and eating shellfish. And while I consider myself to be someone who doesn’t subscribe to Kim’s biblical interpretation, is it possible to have a conversation about hermeneutical differences without naming one as homophobic? Are our family members who love and support our queer loved ones but would say they believe homosexuality is a sin, if you asked them, homophobic? Or are they Bible believing Christians who need to read more? Or are they both? I don’t have an answer here. I’m asking the question. It just seems that, when we name these moments to simple homophobia, it doesn’t allow for a more nuanced understanding of why people believe what they believe.

When Did the Pulpit Stop Being Sacred? My preaching professor once said “preaching is a matter of life and death. What you say can push someone in either direction.” How many people did we lose after they heard Kim Burrell’s sermon? How many people decided that life wasn’t worth living anymore because someone pronounced death on them? The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. Point blank. Period. There is nothing “good” about telling someone how vile you believe them to be in the name of Jesus- especially when Jesus himself did not do that. If you can’t preach life, just shut up. Seriously.

Every Progressive Christian Didn’t Start Out That Way. Without fail, when these things happen, many progressive Christians speak up to denounce these kinds of sermons and theology. It is important that we do that. We have to make it known that there are Christians who believe in a more liberating Gospel. At the same time, we should also make it clear that we have not always been where we are. While I vehemently disagree with Kim today, I would not have always done so. The movement towards progressive theology, for many of us, has indeed been a journey. We do that journey and those who desire to go on it a disservice when we are not honest about that. If I am honest, there are still many things that I don’t understand and am not fully on board with at this moment. However, my need to understand or agree will never outweigh another person’s right to be free. I’m committed, even more than I have been, to being honest about my journey towards progressive theologies and how hard it often is to let go of what you have always known.

We’ve Gotten Human Sexuality Wrong, Period. I’ve written before about the implications of singleness and loneliness on Black women. Many others have, as well. For me, Kim’s “sermon” shows the ways single Black women’s woundedness often gets projected onto those in a more vulnerable condition. If we are being honest, healthy heterosexuality is a topic we have omitted from our progressive conversations regarding Black Church sexuality. Rarely are we discussing the consequences of theologies that rob Black women of the pursuit of pleasure within intimacy. We have scores of Black women who are experiencing physical and emotional deformities due to a lack of touch. And let’s not even get started on the ways we’ve constructed Black masculinity around sexual conquest, so much so that when we encounter a brother who is a virgin or abstinent, we question his sexuality. We need to have much more honest and robust conversations about sexuality in church. That’s why I was excited to hear about the upcoming “The Bible and Human Sexuality” bible study at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia and I hope other congregations will follow suit.

Kim Burrell’s God is My God, Too. From well-meaning allies, I’ve seen posts that say “Kim Burrell’s God is not mine.” They’ve also called many of us to task for the ways it seems we’re extending her grace, citing we wouldn’t do that for White people when it comes to race. That’s true. As wrong as she is, I will never see Kim in the same way that I do White racists who use scripture to justify their actions- particularly because it is that racism and structural inequality that created this problem. The degradation of Black sexuality in America is rooted in the enslavement and racial violence experienced by Black folk. And, while the cool kids may distance themselves in that way, I can’t. Kim’s God is my God too. Is Kim wrong in her beliefs regarding sex and sexuality? I truly believe so. Yet, I have to believe there is space for Kim and I to love the same God. What does it mean if everyone has to think like meright now? Where is the space for growth? And while I do not believe that our queer loved ones should do this work, I do believe that those of us who are “now allies but still remember when we were not” have a responsibility to both communities to bridge a gap. If we need to be the buffer between our queer loved ones and those who aren’t all the way there, let us be that. But let’s not throw them away as if they are not children of God, too. That would only replicate the same hypocrisy and pain. Kim is wrong, without equivocation. But, I know the same God who anointed her to sing this, a moment I find myself revisiting often, is the same God who keeps me every single day.

I don’t know what the way forward is from this moment. All I know is I’m tired. I’m tired of my loved ones being treated inhumanely because we refuse to reconcile what we’ve been taught with the heart of God. And I’m tired of feeling like if I say the wrong thing, I will be characterized as homophobic or unloving. There has got to be a better way.

...keep Kim out of pulpits until we find that way, though.

…and get her the help she needs in order to get free.