Kim Burrell, Homosexuality, & The Black Church

I won’t assume you’ve been living under a rock if you haven’t heard about the controversy concerning beloved gospel singer Kim Burrell and the comments she made about homosexuality. Maybe you’ve been living your life, taking care of your responsibilities, and minding your own business. (Good for you!) 

If that’s the case, let me fill you in. 

During a New Year’s Eve sermon that was broadcasted live via Periscope, Burrell, who is also a pastor, made comments concerning homosexuals that many considered to be offensive and homophobic. You can watch the segment here.

Since then it seems that everyone and their mama has come out in full force against her. Literally. A guest appearance on Ellen was canceled, and her radio show at Texas Southern University was taken off the air. 

Dang. Our sis is really going through it. 

Even those who tried to defend her, namely Tamar Braxton and Shirley Caesar, have received the wrath of social media. (Somehow presidents got involved, but this past election has taken enough out of me. You can venture down that political road on your own.)

To be clear, I wouldn’t consider myself to be a Kim Burrell fan, but I think she’s an exceptionally gifted singer and have always thought she was underrated. (Her album Kim Burrell Live In Concert is one that every gospel lover should have. It’s one of my favorites, and can be played from beginning to end without skipping any tracks. When was the last time you did that with a gospel album?) As great as I think she is, I haven’t followed her career. I didn’t know she was a host on Sunday’s Best, or that she was even a pastor. I also didn’t know that she was a featured artist on the soundtrack for the upcoming movie ‘Hidden Figures.’ 

Hhhhhhmmmm… Maybe I’m the one who’s been living under a rock. Okay, I’ll do better in 2017. :-) 

Things seemed to be going really well for Pastor Burrell. It saddens me to see that four minutes of a sermon not even heard in its entirety have taken away the shine she seemed to finally be receiving. It’s nearly heartbreaking. 

Here’s my opinion: I don’t think she was entirely wrong, and I don’t think those offended by her words are entirely wrong, either. 

One of my favorite songs by Kim Burrell. Y'all know those runs are anointed. 

Let me point out a few things. 

1. She was talking to her church

It seems that everyone knows this, but I don’t think everyone is taking this into consideration. Yes, the sermon was being shared through a live broadcast for the whole world to see, but she was speaking to her congregation. This must be taken into account, because spiritually she has a responsibility to God to lead them as He directs her. Whatever message she chose to deliver was for her followers, and as a pastor she has free reign to address them whatever way she sees fit. If she uses that power to be abusive, she will answer to God for that, and He will deal with her accordingly. 

With that in mind, I think it’s only fair that we view the excerpt of her sermon from that perspective. If we’re honest, we can admit that there’s a way we speak in-house that differs from the way we do when not in-house. There's a culture, code, and etiquette that those on the outside simply wouldn’t understand, and that misunderstanding could lead to offense.  

It’s the same way in church. Pastors will speak one way to their congregation and another way when non-believers are present. The context will be the same but the delivery will be different. Just as you may speak softly to your children when you have guests, and yell at them when no one else is at home. Or the way you may laugh loudly and act silly when you’re with your friends but remain strictly composed while on the job. 

We have to consider that Kim Burrell wasn’t talking to all of us. Sometimes when we listen in on conversations that weren’t meant for us our feelings will get hurt. It doesn’t mean that what was said was completely wrong. 

2. She was speaking of Sinful Leadership in the church

I really don’t like when preachers preach against specific people from the pulpit. To me, it’s a bullying tactic. Also, being one who has been on the receiving end of it, both in person and having it reported back to me in my absence, I can tell you that it doesn’t feel good. So, upon hearing her use the two specific examples that she used I couldn’t help but cringe. She may not have intended it, but I interpreted it as hateful, and I honestly felt bad for the two men that she mentioned. It reminded me of why I write. 

I’ll never forget the feeling that came over me back in the fall of 2009. I don’t know if you know the story or not, but I’ll share it briefly with you. I went to a musical at my church, and the guest musicians there were awesome. By the end of the night I was determined to purchase their entire body of work. But at the end of the night the lead musician gave a call to holiness within the body of Christ. He called out a bunch of sins that God was not pleased with, including gossip, fornication, and adultery. Instead of saying homosexuality, however, he instead chose to use the ugly F word that rhymes with maggot. All I could think about was how I would feel if I struggled with same-sex attraction. My heart felt so much pain. (I ultimately went on to write Sweeter Than The Honey after this experience.)

With that being said, I do believe Kim Burrell was speaking of sinful leadership within the body of Christ, not the world (those outside of the body of Christ.) Those people are not held to the same standard, and no one expects someone who doesn’t believe in the Bible to follow its rules or principles. But the bible tells us that those who teach the word of God will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). It also teaches us that those in leadership must be exemplary. This can’t be taken lightly because God is not to be mocked. You will reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7-8), which is what I believe she was referring to when she spoke of certain people passing away within the next year. But, of course, a person who isn’t familiar with the scripture wouldn’t understand that. (Again, she was speaking to her Christian congregation. She knows what she has already taught them.) 

3. That was not her full sermon

Only four minutes of her sermon was shared. Granted, she said a lot in those four minutes, but a lot of the backlash she has received has accused her of only speaking of homosexuality and not other sins. There is a good chance she spoke on a lot of other things, but because we weren’t there we don’t know. 

4. The Bible Does Call Homosexuality a Sin

Let’s be clear. Times have changed, but the Bible has not. No matter what our feelings are concerning homosexuality, or how our feelings about it may have changed in recent years, the Bible still reads the same way that it did twenty years ago before homosexuality became mainstream. It’s not popular right now, but being a Christian and following the word of God will never win you a popularity contest.  

If you choose not to believe what the Bible says, that is your choice. However, choosing not to believe it doesn’t take away what it actually says. It’s very clear. 

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ~I Corinthians 6:9-11 (NLT)

There are two things I want to point out in this passage of scripture. 

The first is that homosexuality in not the only sin that will keep us out of heaven. There are a lot listed here, and all of them are running rampant in the church. All. Of. Them. 

The second is that there is hope. Verse 11 shows that these sins are in fact forgivable. “Some of you were once like that,” meaning that what used to be is no longer. I’m on that list. Oh yes, LaShanda Michelle indulged in sexual sin. At one point my adoration of a certain deceased celebrity crossed over into worship. I was a sinner, and even though I am a Christian now I still struggle with the temptation to sin every single day. Guess what? God has forgiven me of those sins and His grace continues to be there for me. The same is true for homosexuals and those who struggle with same-sex attraction. God’s love is there for you, and so is His grace. He is faithful and will forgive you of your sin just as He forgave me and countless others in His kingdom. 

5. It is very possible to love someone & still hate their actions

People seem to get homophobia and the word of God mixed up. To preach that homosexuality is a sin does not mean that the person preaching hates homosexuals. There must be a difference established between what a person thinks and what is written in the word of God. This is why those who teach must be very careful not to blur these lines by stating opinions in the midst of their sermons. It’s dangerous to assume an audience will know what’s coming from your mind versus what’s coming from God. The bible is a pretty thick book. Even the most well-versed believers don’t know everything that’s included. Our opinions don’t matter when it comes to salvation, but what the Bible says does. We must also make sure that we don’t confuse the sins that God hates with the people who commit those sins. We all fall short, and He chooses to love us all anyway. 

6. The love you speak of should go both ways

Those who have been offended have repeated over and over again that her comments were not love, and that as a Christian they should have been. I can understand that. However, the love that you angrily declare she should have toward you should be extended toward her as well. To disagree with what someone says is one thing, but to go so far as to attack a person’s looks, family, their ministry, and to threaten their life isn’t love, either. How can you demand that someone love you and in the same breath spew hate on them? Isn’t that hypocritical? That’s like stabbing someone and telling them to forgive you at the same time. Are you even sorry for what you're doing? Love is not selfish. If it’s only about you, your feelings, and what you want, it’s not real love. 

7. Everyone Is NOT Going To Love Or Like You

It’s simple, naive, immature, and bratty to think that everyone in the world is going to love you. Shoot, your mama might not even love you. That’s life. To demand it is crazy and delusional, no matter what the person’s profession or title is, no matter how bad you want them to. Focus instead on the love that God has for you, even if His children refuse to show it—or you in turn refuse to show it to them.   

8. The Black Church Does Have A Problem

It’s often said that being gay is hard, but to be black and gay is even harder. After sitting in black churches for several years (and writing a book that deals with homosexuality and being treated a certain way by black churches) I agree with this statement. The bible lists a lot of sins, and we all commit some of them. But it seems within the black church homosexuality is the only one that is unforgivable. Single people aren't even expected to be celibate anymore. People turn a blind eye to adultery. Pastors are married and sleep with any woman in the congregation they want to, married or not, and no one says anything. But let another pastor come out as gay. He’s treated as if he’s satan. All love, kindness, and compassion is thrown out of the window. It doesn’t matter how much he prayed for you, how many times he visited you when you were sick. How many people in your family he married or buried. How many times he called you just to see how you’re doing. He’s gay, so he’s done. He’s tossed away. The same thing happens to those in the congregation. All of a sudden we don’t know them anymore. We act like they never even existed, meanwhile we love and spoil Sister Shameka and all the children she had out of wedlock. We have to stop this. We are supposed to love everyone—not just the people who sin the same way we do. We have to show compassion. CHURCH PEOPLE!!! Please realize that this is how you are identified as a Christian! Being mean and nasty to people only highlights your self-righteousness. God gets no glory out of you breaking another person’s heart. You are sadly mistaken if you think He doesn’t care about that. 

9. If Your Love Looks Like Hate You Are Doing Something Wrong

Sometimes delivery is everything, and I think that may be the case here. I do not believe Kim Burrell’s heart was hateful when she gave this sermon. I believe she was filled with a righteous indignation that comes from loving the Lord and wanting the best for His people. Passion, at times, can come across as anger. (I’ve been accused of this several times, and I was just as happy as I could be.) However, if the entire country perceived you to be hateful, it may be wise to reconsider your approach. Things can be said in love, but if they are spoken too harshly they are abusive. One person may need sharp words to get them back in line while the same sharp words may completely crush the next person. We must tell the truth, but do so in love so that the entire body of Christ may be healthy (Ephesians 4:15-16). Remember that love is patient, kind, and it isn’t rude (I Corinthians 13). Some of her words were vulgar, and it hurts me to say I’ve actually heard way worse come across a pulpit (and have had way worse said to me and about me. I know I keep promising to tell you all my story. One day, you guys. One day.) If your actions aren’t being perceived as love, do a heart check and ask God to direct your words and actions. In the end you want Him to be glorified. 

In closing, I encourage you to pray for Kim Burrell and all those involved. A lot of people have been hurt by this, and a lot of pain has been brought to the forefront. We are in need of compassion, healing, forgiveness, and strength. 

Jesus please, bless us all with it.