“For those asking, Kim Burrell will not be appearing on my show.”
That was a tweet from Ellen DeGeneres following the backlash against the gospel singer in the wake of her recent inflammatory, wildly homophobic comments during a sermon in Texas. While speaking at Love & Liberty Fellowship, the Houston church she founded and where she is pastor, Burrell launched into a harangue about the “evil” of homosexuality.
“I came to tell you about sin,” Burrell said. She then went on the attack. “That perverted homosexual spirit is a spirit of delusion and confusion and has deceived many men and women, and it has caused a strain on the body of Christ.
“You, as a man, you open your mouth and take a man’s penis in your face, you are perverted. You are a woman and will shake your face in another woman’s breast, you are perverted.”The sermon caused a firestorm on social media, and Burrell quickly addressed her remarks in a Facebook Live video.“There are a lot of people that I’m aware of that struggle or deal [with] or have that spirit,” Burrell said. “Have I discriminated against them? Have I ever outright told them that I don’t love you and you going to hell?… I don’t give that call.“We’re not in a war against flesh and blood. I came on because I care about God’s creation and every person from the LGBT and anything else, any other kind of thing that is supporting gay… I never said LGBT last night. I said S-I-N and whatever else falls in the sin was preached.”Burrell had been slated to appear on Ellen with Pharrell Williams this Thursday in support of the upcoming drama Hidden Figures. The pair collaborated on “I See Victory” from the soundtrack of the film. But after the video went viral, Williams posted on Instagram: “I condemn hate speech of any kind. There is no room in this world for any kind of prejudice. My greatest hope is for inclusion and love for all humanity in 2017 and beyond.”Hidden Figures star Janelle Monae shared Williams’s post and was more explicitly critical of Burrell’s comments.“I unequivocally repudiate ANY AND ALL hateful comments against the LGBTQ community. Actually I’m tired of that label. We all belong to the same community, a shared community called humanity. And today and tomorrow and the next day I will continue to stand with other like-minded people who condemn any and all statements and actions that would seek to deny the basic humanity of our fellow brothers and sisters.”It would be easy to present Burrell’s sermon as an outlier—just an anomalous example of bigoted hate speech that is no longer fashionable in this quasi-“progressive” America, but her position is one that all too many Americans share. Or at the very least, it’s a mind-set many Americans are comfortable with allowing to flourish.Homophobia is still front and center in our culture, staring us in the face and daring us to do something about it.And we have an incoming vice president who has made it clear that he views LGBTQ citizens as a threat to the cultural core of this country. Mike Pence has spoken out and voted against LGBTQ rights throughout his political career. Pence voted to maintain “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and once declared that “societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family” in 2006, when then-Rep. Pence told 100 of his fellow Republicans that he supported a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex weddings.
The easiest lie that we tell in America is one that softens our bigotry. And many Americans have gotten very good at telling themselves “I don’t hate gay people—I just don’t ‘support’ them,” while endorsing the idea that their LGBTQ neighbors are somehow a threat to the sanctity of one’s traditional idea of family and community. As tends to be the case with hate, it often comes housed in the guise of protection and preservation of an institution. It’s always insincere—suggesting that said institution can and should change doesn’t necessarily diminish or negate it.So it’s the status quo that you’re really fighting for—the right for things to stay the way that they were—in a way that centers you in the seat of privilege because of how you identify. There are no institutions under fire; you just want to be able to see straight folks centered because that’s what we’re used to, and you don’t want to relinquish your right to feel morally and culturally superior. This is the worst combination of hubris and hate.Singer/TV personality Tamar Braxton attempted to explain away Burrell’s words as simply the result of upbringing.“PLEASE have SEVERAL [seats],” Braxton wrote on Instagram. “Y’all ripping her to shreds for what she has been taught in church (hell, most of us has) but thank GOD he’s opened most of our eyes of what was taught and believed back in the day so traditionally that’s what they continue to preach to our generation!!!” Braxton continues. “There has been MANY of services that I have attended where it’s been crazy talk of such!! (and you have too) especially in the black churches!!! We need to show her LOVE, PRAY for her understanding and help her realize (also people who believe such ignorance)... that what she has been brought up to believe, isn’t the way the world and things really is.”Braxton’s commentary regarding Burrell’s upbringing likely isn’t untrue, but it isn’t enough to just acknowledge that while chastising those who have criticized her. A lot of people learn how to hate from how they were brought up, but part of addressing that means calling that hate what it is. And sometimes even hate comes with a hug and a smile.In the wake of the controversy, Houston CBS affiliate KHOU profiled O’Rhonde Chapman, a young man who defends Burrell and credits her as a positive influence in his life. In the news clip, Chapman is described as “then openly gay” when he met the gospel star.“Kim Burrell loves people,” Chapman says.“[She] supported me, embraced me, encouraged me and inspired me to be all that I have become today,” he continues. According to KHOU, Chapman was a transgendered Nimitz High School student fighting for acceptance eight years ago when he joined Burrell’s Life and Liberty Fellowship Church.“I was openly gay at the time,” he said. “So [Burrell] embraced me. She didn’t shun me. She didn’t have hatred towards me. She treated me in a way that I was supposed to be treated.”
Chapman adds that he believes in Burrell and stated that her message is “every bit of pure—no matter how it’s being received.” Chapman’s journey and his truth are his to determine and his alone, but the news feature underlines the way the church often views the LGBTQ community: through a lens of rehabilitation. It’s dangerous to believe that church folks committed to “helping” LGBTQ people identify as “straight” are somehow not engaging in the active marginalization of LGBTQ individuals and communities. If that’s the way that Burrell shows love, it’s just another assault on a group of peoples’ collective identity. Those who identify as LGBTQ don’t need to be “fixed” by anyone.As a Congressional candidate in 2000, Mike Pence advocated for redirecting HIV research funding to institutions committed to gay conversion therapy. Pence wrote on his website that he wanted to ensure that “federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.” Instead, he believed that “resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”That kind of ideology is violently homophobic, and it doesn’t matter if it’s presented in the form of legislature or wrapped in religious rhetoric. Love for one another doesn’t come with marginalization and vilification. Love doesn’t wag a condemning finger at an already-marginalized group. Love has nothing to do with what Kim Burrell said.And beyond any abstract idea like “love,” LGBTQ people have the right to be who they are as people, as a community, and as citizens. Those who understand that have to be as loud as possible in renouncing the smiley-faced bigotry of those who profess to “love the sinner but hate the sin” as they advocate against people who identify differently than they do. We have a duty to be advocates for our shared humanity. Kim Burrell’s speech is the latest in a long line of examples that show us we have much work to do culturally. And a lot of that falls on those in a position of societal privilege: we have to confront this toxic mentality wherever it thrives. We can’t keep asking that people forgive or acquiesce to hate.And that’s what Kim Burrell’s speech was: hate.