Dr. E. DEWEY SMITH GIVES 5 THOUGHTS ON KIM BURRELL, THEOLOGY, & YOU
News outlets and social media mediums have been ablaze with dialogue over a video of a sermon by Pastor Kim Burrell. For many years Kim Burrell has been one of my favorite singers. She has also been extremely kind to me and very supportive of my ministry. She’s blessed my congregation many times on special occasions.
In her viral sermon, Burrell addressed homosexuality, “perversion” and gave grave implications for those in the LGBT community. This sermon clip has initiated a tidal wave of commentary and debate. The LGBT community and many outside of it have vociferously condemned her comments as “hate speech” and “homophobic”.
A previously scheduled appearance by Burrell on the Ellen Degeneres Show was also cancelled in the wake of this firestorm. While many persons have expressed profound displeasure over Burrell’s comments, others are pledging online support for her and vehemently coming to her defense.
After receiving several interview requests about this story and past messages I’ve given about this same subject, I decided to pen this op-ed and list 5 thoughts and a few questions garnered from my own musings.
1) It is virtually impossible for “the church” as a whole to have a conversation about homosexuality because we still fail to discuss sexuality in a comprehensive manner. Many people derive theological suppositions on topics with no regard to the psychological, sociological and physiological variables that can affect an individual’s pathology and sexuality. Recently I read that 60% of African-American women in Atlanta, GA won’t ever get married, starting in the year 2020. Most pastors and churches have not given thought to how their teachings and theology will impact 6 out of 10 African-American women in Atlanta over the next 3 years. Most evangelicals believe that sex is only permissible within the bonds of matrimony. Do we believe that 60% of African-American women have been given the gift of “celibacy” and will live their entire lives without any sexual relations or intimacy, based on what their churches teach? This is just one example about the need for dialogue about human sexuality within the “church”. Until we can honestly discuss sexuality, any other discussion won’t be totally effective.
2) The United States Constitution offers American citizens the freedom of speech as well as the freedom of and freedom from religion. Regardless of a person’s estimation of Burrell’s message, she has every right to say and believe what she chooses. Kim’s sermon was an espousal of her own personal theology. Whether you or I feel her words should be condemned or commended, we must never lose sight of her personal rights. At the same time, many have expressed displeasure with Ellen Degeneres for cancelling Kim’s appearance on her show. We must also respect Ellen’s rights to invite or un-invite anyone that she chooses. Always remember that America offers opponents and proponents of Kim Burrell’s message constitutional liberty to both form and express their opinions.
3) Religion and Biblical interpretation will always be laden with challenges because it involves humanity’s attempt to understand the mind and methods of the Divine. As Kim Burrell has long represented her Christian faith, it’s important to know that Christianity is not monolithic. There are many people who share Kim’s views and the tone that she delivered in her sermon clip, yet they are not representative of all Christians. In the same way that churches differ over doctrine and denomination, “Christians” are not unanimous or unified in their beliefs about homosexuality. Some people of faith rely on Genesis 19, Leviticus & Romans 1:26-27 to preach against homosexuality while others declare that Genesis 19 was about rape and violence, Leviticus was about the Civic and Ceremonial laws of Jews and Romans 1:26-27 was about male prostitution in 1st century synagogues and not homosexuality. The same way that people have different views regarding baptism, sacraments, ordinances, women in ministry, gifts of the Spirit, eschatology, The Virgin Birth, The Trinity, The Rapture and the Apocalypse, is the same way that people differ on what the Bible says or does not say about homosexuality. In addition, some people don’t believe in the Bible, and they have every right to not do so. Americans aren’t forced to follow any faith, creed or book.
4) In a world of religious freedom, we must strive to be peaceful and civil in co-existing with all people. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned and sought a “more beloved community”. This concept must be pursued by us all, lest we fall into anarchy and chaos. Opponents and proponents of Kim Burrell’s theology must find a commonality, a mutual respect and regard for a person’s humanity and worth, even if they differ. When theology fails to unite us, affirmation of each other’s humanity and intrinsic value should be the underlying resolve and resounding declaration. The goal can’t be merely about determining who is “right” but instead, living by a mandate to treat each other righteously.
5) No matter what your theology, values or belief system is, there are a few questions that I’d like for us all to ask ourselves and consider in light of this controversial and divisive topic:
1) Does my theology, language and tone help to develop or destroy people?
2) Does my theology take into consideration people who are in certain places in their lives after being sexually abused? What does my theology offer “intersex” people?
3) What does my theology do to suicidal teenagers stuck in psychiatric units because they’re struggling with their sexuality?
4) What does my theology do to a father who is estranged from his son due to his son’s sexual orientation?
5) Does my theology help to foster the same climate that encouraged a man to shoot 50+ people in the Pulse Night Club in Orlando?
6) Does my theology or belief motivate me to want an actor’s television show pulled from the airwaves because he attends a church that only supports marriage between a man and a woman?
7) Does my theology or belief lead me to label anyone who disagrees with me as “homophobic” or “hateful”?
8) If a person believes homosexuality is wrong, are they hateful?
9) Does my theology or belief allow me to call others “hateful” and never see my own “hate”?
10) What can I do to make the world more loving? Can I disagree without being disagreeable and mutually co-exist with those who do or don’t agree with me?
The debate over Kim Burrell’s video did not start in post-modernity. This ancient rift didn’t begin today and won’t be solved by an op-ed, sermon, book or tv appearance. My prayer is that we would really discern God’s heart in these critical times and view each other the way God views us.
My earnest plea is that we would hope for full life for all of God’s creation! May we strive to always be light in dark places. Let’s commit ourselves to presenting our individual truths in love. I am convinced that our preaching, philosophy, theology or ideology won’t have the most potent efficacy; our “fruit” and our love will.
Dr. E. Dewey Smith, Jr.