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Move over Mariah, this Kim Burrell thing is blowing up! As if we didn’t know the black Christian homophobic gospel is complicated. Race, faith, and sex always is. Just an hour ago I praised a beloved Facebook friend for posting solidarity against the black gospel of homophobia. Black Christian homophobia is wreaking havoc on the black community by way of LGBTQ youth homelessness and abysmal rates of HIV infection. At the same time, the black church has always been a sanctuary for bi-curious homosexuals where obvious queers could find shelter from unrequited lust.

So, this Kim Burrell is not new. What is new is that Ellen DeGeneres booked a homophobic gospel legend without understanding the intersections that would be ignited. What is also new is the white mainstream outrage against black homophobia that is en vogue for the week. But, black Christian homophobia is not new. Just as the black masses have taken flight from the threat of the Jim Crow south, antiquated patriarchal norms, and Christian supremacy, black queers have fled black church oppression in all its forms for decades. So, the antics of Kim Burrell and her ally Shirley Caesar are troubling, but not shocking. It’s complicated!

It’s complicated because the black church and gospel music is the cornerstone of black liberation, which is the backbone of queer liberation. The architect of black liberation theology, Dr. James H. Cone, asserts, “But one could correctly say that the spirituals and the church, with Jesus’ cross at the heart of its faith, gave birth to the black freedom movement that reached its peak in the civil rights era during the 1950s and 60s. The spirituals were the soul of the movement, giving people courage to fight, and the church was its anchor, deepening its faith in the coming freedom for all.” (The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James Cone)  As such, bashing Kim Burrell and the black church creates an existential crisis for black queerness. For we know that underneath their hate is a gospel of love that has sustained and liberated our ancestors through generations and centuries of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, and white nationalism.

So, let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. To be clear, Kim Burrell and other anti-queer gospel artists should be condemned outright. But also, their antics must be understood and interpreted within the larger social context of white supremacy, Christian dominance, and systemic classism in the LGBTQ community. Kim Burrell and the homophobic black gospel are the by-product of Christianized racial oppression and is rooted in the myth that the only way to freedom is the black heteronormative Christian way of being. In other words, it’s complicated.

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