In the wake of Kim Burrell spewing her mix of personal hurt and dated religious theologies onto anyone with access to the internet, I have found myself wrestling with the resurfacing of childhood trauma caused by my experience with the black church.
Like many people I know, as a child, I wasn’t asked if I wanted to go to church. I was told at what time to be ready and forced to go. There was no other way.
A favorite saying in the house of my grandparents that followed my mom into her home was, “if you can stay up late for whatever reason for yourself, you can wake up early and go to church.” And so, that’s what I—read: “we”—did.
I didn’t mind church in my pre-teen years. In fact, I loved it. This was mainly because children’s church was separate from the main sanctuary and usually consisted of Christian crossword puzzles and coloring books filled with pictures of white Jesus for us to color in. Oh. And snacks. Problematic now that I think back on it but in the moment, not bad at all.
It wasn’t until I aged out of children’s church and was offered a seat in the pews with other young adults and adults in the main church that I felt a shift.
God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost quickly became these three entities in one that I feared. I couldn’t talk, act or feel in ways that were natural to me because if I did, I would be deemed unworthy of eternal life and damned to a fiery hell. I could not question my spirit’s resistance either because “God’s word” was final. I found myself sitting in places that referred to themselves as hospitals for sick people feeling beat down on as they called out singular “sicknesses” that only I, at the time, seemed to be plagued with. I left those places feeling more fucked up than I did before I entered them.
It was the casual and constant “love the sinner but hate the sin” rhetoric as the spirit of homosexuality was quickly, and almost individually, referred to when this was mentioned that caused me to question my love for self and my relationship with God.
How could any of that be medicine?
It didn’t help that on top of me feeling like words from the pulpit were never from a spiritual space; I saw things going on inside the church that I knew were flat out wrong but never mentioned publicly as effortlessly as homophobia and sexism were.
When I turned 18. I decided that I was no longer going to submit myself to teachings that didn’t A. Make sense and B. Free me.
It wasn’t until 2012 when I became a member of an affirming church (FCBC) in Harlem that changed the game for me.
1. People often use religion as a security blanket to hide behind because they don’t want to ask or answer hard questions of and for themselves. They want easy, and it is simpler to fall in line behind a set of rules, even if they don’t make a lick of sense than it is to explore and define what grace and love and freedom looks like for one’s self.
2. The Bible is full of contradictions, and it is okay to question it. The Bible was written by man and should always be used with the understanding of historical context it was written in. We are taught to question everything but the Bible. Why do you think this is the case?
3. Church people (not all but many) are fake. If you want to experience first-hand gossiping, cheating, lying, confused, thieving, fearful, insecure, toxic, hateful and judgmental people who don’t mind dressing all that up in a Christmas praise, hop into your local church on any given Sunday in a pair of pajamas. You’ll probably find them not in the pews but shouting and breathing hard on someone’s mic from the pulpit. This is because so much emphasis is placed on looking like God’s love that people forget to be God’s love.
4. How important it is to be mindful of who you allow to speak over and into your life. The church will have you thinking that there are parts of you that make you abnormal and unlovable. Usually those things are actually the keys that are meant to liberate you and draw you closer to your higher self. You have to submerge yourself in the middle of places that are going to speak life and progression into your differences. Not places that beat you down and in return, call it loving you in God.
5. Everyone is trying their best to just figure it the fuck out. No one really knows what’s on the other side of this world we are all trying to make it out alive in. Some of us believe in a heaven above the skies and some of us believe that heaven is in the smile of a stranger. All of that is okay. We have a charge to always strive be better, to love ourselves and others and to create a life that those that are to come after us can enjoy and build on. Whatever it is that pushes us to do those things should be embraced. And most often we have to separate from what we’ve been taught to figure that out.
I no longer go to church regularly. I subscribe to several different spiritual practices and daily, I am seeking a oneness in my relationship with self because that’s where God takes up residence for me.
I hear people like Kim and those who make concessions for her and realize that it is their own brokenness that they are attached to. It is in that understanding where I find myself grateful to no longer be tied to something that is designed to keep us in bondage. Not when I know that God wants nothing more than for us all to be free.
Also published on Medium.