Opinion

My reply to Kim Burrell: ‘We all have a seat at God’s table’

Singer Kim Burrell sings to honor Whitney Houston for receiving the BET Honors for Entertainment in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 16, 2010. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Molly Riley

(RNS) The backlash to gospel singer Kim Burrell’s homophobic rant was swift: canceled national television appearances and the termination of her local public radio show.

But to those of us in religious communities it’s important to note that even as the controversy over Burrell’s statement recedes from the national spotlight, the issue of what goes on in the vast majority of American churches remains a festering wound.

I say this because the truth is that what Burrell said is not unlike what is preached from pulpits on any given Sunday, said with fervent conviction in the choir loft or in the church van after Bingo Night anywhere in the U.S.

Homophobia has been the prevailing theology not only within the African-American church, but also in white, Latino, Asian and Native American churches alike for decades — and that’s the real problem we must face as we seek to talk and think about faith, God and humanity.

So how do we live and worship in the same communities where most believe that the Bible stipulates that being gay is an abomination to God and guarantees eternal death?

Never did I imagine that the latest work of art —”A Seat at the Table” — by Beyoncé’s sister Solange would have the prophetic answer to such a vexing issue, but it does.

I believe God has exclaimed for generations that we ALL have a seat at God’s table.

Yes, all of us.

I noticed something powerful and different in how this latest example of homophobic rant was met. It did not go away quietly like a baby soothed in the back of the church.

No, this time those of us who are often on the receiving end of pulpit pronouncements of eternal damnation stood up and said, “No more!”

We, the proverbial outcasts and rejects (the kind of folks Jesus said he came to liberate), are tired of sitting by passively as our own people castigate and seek to disconnect us from God.

No misguided biblical literalist can distort or destroy the sanctity of our lives and testimonies as children of God, created out of divine, unconditional love and with a purpose.

You may not understand this and that’s OK, but please know that many LGBT people have heard and received the full gospel of Jesus, not just the letters of the Apostle Paul, and we have been set free from shame, self-doubt and fear of ecclesiastic retribution.

Instead of worrying about the particulars of how we express our love sexually, I kindly ask that you speak with us about our testimony of how we live and still find joy even in adversity.

Ask us what motivates us to live instead of speaking death into our lives. Take the time to make the word “love” an action verb and not a double-edged sword of affliction. We may not be able to stop you from how you read the Bible but we will not allow you or anyone else take away our seat at God’s table.

We have found our station at God’s table; we stand up and speak out because we know the toll of living a life burdened by depression, silence, suicide and desperation. Your un-Christian-like words, actions and beliefs ravage the spiritual and physical health of so many of us, and we say, “No more.” We stand at the gates God’s holy estate, pointing to all those tricked by the lie that “God loves you but hates your sin,” proclaiming the good news that the wages of sin have already been paid by the One who is our redeemer.

We will let all of God’s children know we have a seat at God’s table because God provided it — not humankind or the church. We have a home and a resting place in Jesus not because any of us earned it, but simply because it was freely, graciously prepared for all of us out of unconditional love.

(F. Romall Smalls is the associate minister for social justice at Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and is vice chairperson of the LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent. Reach him on Twitter @romall06)

This story is available for republication.

About the author

F. Romall Smalls

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