Bondage theology and how to heal the body trauma of Black folks.

By Roman Johnson

Anybody in this room who is filled with the homosexual spirit, beg God for freedom! If you are playing with it in 2017, you’ll die from it… That perverted, homosexual spirit… you cannot give instruction in God’s holiness with that much perversion… You, as a man, will take a man’s penis in your face. You are perverted! You are a woman who will shake her breast in another woman’s face. You are perverted! – Kim Burrell

When I hear Kim Burrell verbally smite queer people, the voices of folks from church communities I was raised in rush to mind.  Kim Burrell’s homo-antagonism is not unique. In justifiably skewering her, people have not addressed how the homo-antagonistic, racialized patriarchy she spewed has its own vulgar history.

According to Daniel Black, author of Perfect Peace and professor of African-American Studies at Clark Atlanta University, this racialized patriarchy is a manifestation of the patriarchy Africans learned under enslavement, and the dehumanization suffered from this experience is something African-descended people are still recovering from (Black 2014).

The black church’s trauma, and fascination with black sexual behavior stems from being dehumanized for so long, and psychically conditioned to embody the masochism of enslavement. They are still rectifying the limitations of black self-determination and autonomy of the black body. In black people’s collective unhealed state, inflicting pain is the only way we know how to create space for divinity.

Some of the first English settlers were Puritans who first criminalized homosexual sex in 17th-century colonial America. This value system has guided social and religious morality since. Puritanical patriarchy later spilled into the 18th century American Evangelical Movement. Patriarchs are male-bodied, producers of wealth, industrious, controlling of labor source(s), land-owners, and they subjectify women because women are seen as socially and morally inferior (see Genesis’ account of Eve’s self-knowledge decision).

The fascination with owning things, and belief that social order begins and ends with a man, has distorted how black people view God. Social order, as a Western civilization concept, is the power system always working in fundamental spaces. The fundamentalist tradition puts emphasis on masculinist understandings of the world which antagonize queer and trans people who occupy similar social spaces as women.

The violence of the slaver’s lash augmented the primacy of punishment in white folks’ God discourses, represented best by Jonathan Edwards’s Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God. Whites, at times, forcibly policed black folks’ expressions of faith. Many black people have kept faith in this same fundamentalist God who punishes all “sinners,” especially “sex perverts,” but allows for the physical abuse of the black body and spirit, e.g. forced sex of African people by white women and men. However, the Puritan/Evangelical understanding of the divine is just one interpretation.  

Just as the auction block is symbolic of Africans’ broken homeland connection, the fundamentalist pastoral altar represents an orientation to a religiosity that separates black people from their spiritual perspectives and provides them instead with a gospel centering white masculinist social mores. This theological perspective has required a colonized mind and a black patriarch to imitate what feminist scholar bell hooks calls white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (WSCP), which is threatened by what it sees as a non-labor productive sexual arrangement. hooks’ white supremacist capitalist patriarchy requires white standards of beauty and the commodification of non-white women and femmes to serve men, specifically white men.

On the plantation, enslaved people’s genitalia were seen as kinds of tools, directed by the enslavers and his group of overseers, which produced free labor in the form of a black baby.  Black people’s body parts were treated as literal money-making, pleasure dispersing, labor tools stolen from them by white “owners” and their kin. Homosexual sex, since it produces no human being, was disruptive to the plantation system and what was considered human by Anglo-American Puritanical beliefs.

Enslaved black people did not have full autonomy over their sexual production faculties, and this legacy of sexual bondage continues to today in Christian spaces. At any moment, a white person could claim sexual power by abusing the black body in a myriad of ways, including rape.

In Enslavement Era society and on the plantation, as a gentleman of leisure and power, slave-owners were treated with supreme awe because of their dominion over people and property. As a kind of neo-Adam, they fiercely socially controlled black people.The black church has accepted definitions of what makes a good human from the slave quarters and carried into their worship spaces conversations that are no different from those around same-gender love in white-fundamentalist Christian dinner tables and churches across the country.

Civilization, as a product of Western ideology, is a manifestation of white supremacy because white colonists have destroyed societies on the belief that their idea of order, and by extension being, is the most valuable mode of being/expressing one’s self. We have had to shape ourselves according to white supremacist capital modes of masculinity wherein one’s sexual expressions are types of labor, and only certain romantic inclinations that fit within what white society has demanded receives high social value.

In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin recognizes that God, if it is to have relevance or “validity, should make us more loving,” abundant-minded, and “free.”  Rejecting the idea that God could make anyone disposable is necessary for black people’s healing.

The church’s aversion to black queer and trans people happens because they represent unwilling patriarchs. They are people who, at least on the surface, will not reify white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Queer and trans people living their truths refuse to be bullied into shame and silence as civilization demands.

Black people’s rejection of sexual/gender deviations is rooted in their faith in white social values. However, maligning black queer and trans people is a choice. Even with the death of Eddie Long, the erasure of black queer and trans people from the pulpit, and being fully aware that young men’s bodies were violated, fundamentalist churches ignore how their behavior harms. Because they are not interested in healing themselves of bondage theologies, they create an Eddie Long or Kim Burrell. People like Kim Burrell equating Eddie Long’s pedophilic raping/failing health to consensual queer love fail to see how liberated sexuality does not push shame and silence, but healing.

Healing black people’s body trauma requires rejecting fundamentalism and seeing all our bodies as conduits for transformation. Just as a shoulder sprain is healed from massaging muscles around it, we need to have those conversations we’ve sidestepped about sexuality at our dinner tables. When black people love without societal and internal boundaries, unafraid of our own bodies, we will see black queer & trans love as  expressions of spirituality, too. We will dig into azure oceans where black love, in all of its configurations, heals.


Selected Bibliography


Roman Johnson 2Roman Johnson is a PhD candidate in Medical Sociology at the University of Alabama, a fellow at The Watering Hole, and loves to see black people alive. He knows your silence or educational attainment won’t save you.

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