It was about 12 a.m. when I realized that I was still at my friend’s house binge watching Insecure. It was good medicine for me after our quality time and a glass (read: glasses) of wine. She’d agreed to rewatch Season 1 with me. I was utterly enthralled by the story (and utterly irked by Lawrence’s character). It was evident that I’d be spending the night there when we got to the scene where Tasha (a character played by Dominique Perry) has had enough of Lawrence’s ways and says to him…
“You worse than a fuckboy. You a fuckboy who think he a good dude” (my paraphrasing)
In that moment, Tasha spilled the strategy, delusions, & illusions of churchy fuckbois.
There have been multiple status updates and conversations from my socials around what it can be like to date an “esteemed” man of the church: a minister, a musician, a deacon, and so on. Because before I settled into this beautifully queer synchretic spiritual life I have created… I was churched. That is, I grew up in the Black charismatic church and was taught that these men were the ‘grand prize’ – a sign of God’s pleasure about my actions.
And every time I posted something about dating churchy fuckboys there was a visceral and immediate response. There was a sense of ‘knowing’ shared in the threads and I think it’s important to disclose that the responders were, very many times, other Black churched women.
When I posted, in jest mostly, about launching an “I Dated a Church Musician Support Group” my inbox and threads suggested (in no uncertain terms) that I had identified a theme about churchy fuckboys (in general). It was a theme of disreputable conduct, control tactics, and the tricky nature of navigating these relationships in light of their statuses within the church. In using my lived experience as text and corroborating with the stories of other Black women & girls, I’m now clear that we can call it what it is. Churchy fuckboys have origin stories steeped in spiritualized misogyny masquerading as theology. This does deep personal damage to those they are in relationship with and adds to climates of spiritual abuse.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline explains that spiritual abuse includes (but is not limited to):
Ridiculing or insulting the other person’s religious or spiritual beliefs
Preventing the other partner from practicing their religious or spiritual beliefs (Jade’s addition: This piece also brings to mind all of the ways that women are systemically excluded and / or underrepresented in things like call to preach, church leadership, and the performance of religious rites)
Using their partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate or shame them (“Don’t you want to be a ‘Proverbs 31’ woman?”)
Forcing children to be raised in a faith that the other partner has not agreed toWhat Is Spiritual Abuse?, Nov. 12 2015, Emphasis mine and additions italicized.
To be clear, I am not a psychologist or trauma expert (outside of my personal lived traumas). My undergraduate degree was in Integrative Arts and my Masters degree was in Higher Education. The mission of my broader work is to encourage greater inclusion to sacred and secular spaces, especially for Black women, femmes, QPOC, and disabled POC.
Yet in this span of time, I have served on Domestic Violence / Assault hearings within the educational system. I have received specific training through Master’s program and ongoing professional development to assess and provide crisis referrals. I’ve spent 8+ years doing this for young adults. I have also had to do this through my coaching and intuitive wellness work. I have been in therapeutic relationship of my own volition since 2013. My collaborator and partner in the mysticism work that I do (Teresa P. Mateus) is a licensed psychotherapist and has written extensively about spiritual trauma. All this is in addition to my own depth of experience as a Black church(ed) woman who (formerly) dated churchy fuckbois. So, in that spirit, and in the spirit of our liberation, I reworked a popular diagram that we know as The Cycle of Abuse.
These additions are working thoughts around how this cycle (which folds in and around itself) manifests particularly in these cases. I present it here as a wish, hope, and prayer that by naming some of the particularities, we can be more equipped to notice them and to challenge them – especially if we are someone with power and privilege in sacred spaces.
It was a long time before I could recognize the profile of a churchy fuckboy because a strength of theirs is convincing others (and themselves, at times) that they are above this cycle. They are often fuckboys who believe that they are godly, righteous, and should rightfully become “the head” and “leader of the home.” Fuckboys whose behavior is all too often reinforced by codes of silence and unequal distributions of power. Fuckboys who gain credence as we cast them as a mythical Boaz: a man, sent by God, who sweep you off of your (virginal) feet, baptizes you in a whirlwind spiritual romance, serves “your covering”, and becomes your husband. Fuckboys that too often receive praise from elder pastors, mentors, and parishioners for how well they present as they are wreaking havoc in their personal relationships. So, may we notice these behaviors, these cycles, and this pattern. May we, from now on, call it what it is.
Thank you for reading this material! If you enjoyed what you read, please consider becoming a part of my Patreon e-family. Patreon is a subscription based platform which helps to fund creatives & their work. One of the things that I’d like to do is offer more FREE workshops, content, and materials per year for spaces & organizations whose missions align with the work I do but who might not have the options to pay travel fees, labor fees, etc. Patreon sponsors can send as low as $7 per month to help the work to grow and become more sustainable! Patrons champion the creative process through support, being a ‘first reviewer’ of certain content & creative processes, and create space for me to think ARTSY CULTURAL WORKER INTUITIVE CHURCHY MYSTIC thoughts MORE often. And Omg, the budget-does-anybody-have-frequent-flier-miles LESS often. Join us at patreon.com/jadetperry
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Feature Image: Createherstock-2016-Buckhead-GQ-Neosha-Gardner
Recently, I was one of the featured readers Whine Club #14 , described by its co-founder Keisa Reynolds as “a monthly storytelling series for women and non-binary people who enjoy writing, whining, and drinking wine”. Our theme was “Resilience”, and as you can see from the timing of my previous posts, it had been quite a while since I’d written anything for public consumption. During that time, I was navigating a medical leave, a significant trauma, and re-entry into the various points of work (higher ed, Mystic Soul, #EmbodiedRitual project, etc). In this piece, I explore the concepts of:
- Trauma as undoing the illusion of time
- Navigating trauma as similar to “time-travel”
- “Sexting” & nudity as building viable senses of possibility outside of trauma while providing various tools within trauma
- Sauna baptism, strip class exorcism, and charismatic Christian spirituality
This piece happens in Three Movements:
Movement I: Dream Traveling
Movement II: A Timeline Folding in on Itself
Movement III: The During-After & the Future-Now
I’m SO excited to present Movement I and half of Movement II in video format for you! The rest of Movement II & Movement III will be provided in text, below. Journey with me! (CW: Discussion of mental illness, suicide, and religious practice)
Movement II, Cont’d:
When I was a little girl, I gained quite the education about exorcisms. My Grandmother studied them informally. She was a religious woman who had left the Baptist church for a more charismatic experience: one dripping with the unidentified tongue, channeling new forms of ring-shouting, writhing bodies falling to the ground in ecstasy a commonplace sight. She gave up her conventions for the heavy drums, the percussive conga, and the slippery knowing if whether what moved us was “The Holy Ghost” of God, ancestor, shaking loose of chakras, pent up expression, exorcism of grief, the overflowing of thanks, or all of the above.
There was a time when we went from dingy tent to storefront church for what they called “deliverance services”. Congregants came with various ailments. Some said they were grappling with malevolent spirits (and whether those spirits were otherworldly or the strongholds of racism, ableism, homophobia, and the like was not accessible knowledge to me then).
Exorcisms were always such messy business. In my little-girl-mind, it seemed that the congregants’ bodies were made of spirit, bone, muscle, electricity, and mists. They went up to the altar – however formal or makeshift – to allow someone to lay hands on them.
Exorcisms were always such forceful business. The malevolent spirits were directly addressed, commanded to do this or that. Come out! Go back from where you came from! Each individual reaction was different, but it often involved lots of tears, lots of sound, perhaps some rolling about, or signifiers of purging. I was both afraid and intrigued. What had taken hold of this person… and how? How did we know that it needed to be cast out? What could I do to keep from being taken hold by something that I could not control?
I had an exorcism as an adult. I was in the middle of the #ReclaimingYourSexy Strip Class Intensive – I lie to you not – and our instructor told us to strip with the intention of letting go of whatever we felt we needed to let go of. I didn’t feel that anything malevolent had taken hold of me. I just couldn’t make peace with my grief. I couldn’t plan enough. I couldn’t outrun it or out-sleep it. In the middle of my stripping, I collapsed with my face down to the floor. My dance partner circled around me, pulled me into their arms. We sat there for a while, them slowly, consensually caressing my scantily clad and grieving body – completely silent. As my body racked with silent, heaving sobs, I thought, “Could this be a form of exorcism too?” Perhaps the particularity of trauma should also be directly addressed, but instead of commanded – caressed and held for a moment, and then, coaxed away so that the person could be delivered for a moment, a day, perhaps forever. I’m not sure.
Week 6: Friends began slipping larger pieces of food onto my plate. And this time, I ate them. Family came to my doorpost. And I received them.
Week 7: Another month of medical leave. Another diagnosis added to the chart. Another month of experiencing my own breath as the loudest sound in the room. When I woke up at 3 am,I would turn on the music, and do a “shaking” practice. Both my therapist and my meditation teacher agreed: The shaking was connected to memory. Memory trying to make its way through the body. Memory trying to find a place to break down, transform, and re-conceptualize itself. I thought it might be right to create a shaking practice set to music. I’m detoxing myself from trying to do everything right (but that was a damn good idea).
Week 8: A Text. Please pick up these things from the store for me if you can. I’m not able to get out today.
Bath bombs. Either lavender or rose.
Lavender scented epsom salt.
A bag of salad greens
Dried fruit and protein bars
Incense from the store down the street
A green power smoothie
Salmon patties that I can throw in the oven with seasoning
Movement III: The During-After & the Future-Now
“I never thought I would be sending a ‘Wassup big head’ text but… here I am”. They are everything I said I would never entertain. I have no big expectations of them. No desires to carve them into the grooves of my everyday. I have asked only one thing: Add material to the flames of my erotic. I will keep the fire stoked. If Solange sexed it away, then I have “sexted” it away: relishing in the cushion that the distance provides. For now, it is all elusive possibility and perhaps, there is something to be said about the traumatic loss of one possibility and the option to create others – even if they are primarily works of lived fiction. He is a Gemini – as equally real to me as unreal. As equally accessible to me as inaccessible.
The people in my strip class convinced me to get on the dating apps. I scrunched my nose at them first, but 30 minutes of their stories of finding good friends, a husband, and a few friends with benefits got me listening. I was ovulating then and God knows…
Was creating a profile admitting defeat? Was it throwing myself into a void? Would I know if I was being swiped left?! That night, I mindlessly scrolled through the profiles, the swiping motion giving me a welcome and calming activity to do with my hands. My eyelids became heavy after a while as I read the About section of a woman who said that she really was just here to find a third for her & her partner. Half enveloped in my dreams I thought, “How did we all fall here together? And when might we all collide?”
Some days, I have subsisted on cups of coffee, Zoloft, and the prayers of my ancestors. Other days, I have maintained through the texts friends sent, the care package that comes in the mail, the tea offered at my best friend’s kitchen table, and the bittersweet remembering of all of the ways that they loved me. There are other days that I wake up early, attend to the dishes, feed the kittens, and enter seamlessly into a version of the life I used to live. Trauma breaks the illusion of organized time. For months, I have been time traveling in, reality melting around me, doubling its power, reshaping its own voracity. And I am simultaneously strengthened and shattered.
“The current iteration of my work as a “millennial womanist” started as an approximately six person online book club, a website domain name purchase, and a post about “inheriting mysticism from my Christian other-mothers”. Up until that point, my M. Ed journey in Higher Education / Student and subsequent years spent working in university contexts had me informally considering the many ways in which students of color learn and / or unlearn toxic theological lenses that might impede upon their identity development. Additionally, my own “biomythography” [i] writing allowed me some space to unpack how I was unlearning toxic theological lenses. I didn’t go into any of this work considering that I would be contributing to the emerging millennial womanist framework and I didn’t understand how quickly the work would expand. However, I realized that if I needed more formal space to question how the Christian faith intersected with the lived experiences of Black women, queer people of color, persons with chronic illnesses & disabilities, etc., others might need it too.
Thus, the online book club grew to a closed group platform whose formal outcome is to support “those who are seeking solidarity, community, and intersectionality as they navigate feelings, experiences, and questions that come with theological shifts”. It is a fully affirming, recommendation only space, with a community library, and dialogue series on a range of topics. The domain name purchase, jadetperry.com, became a way for me to do autoethnography work around matters of inherited spirituality, womanism, and more. Perhaps most surprisingly, the post on inheriting mysticism from Christian other-mothers grew into co-founding a non-profit called Mystic Soul, which seeks to center the voices and indigenous spiritual practices of people of color “from the Christian tradition and beyond”.
Currently, I am working with other millennial womanist scholars to consider theory on sexuality for Black churched women, curating a specialized list of resources for holistic wellness, and more informally, supporting the spiritual processes of faith & community leaders by offering intuitive tarot readings & pursuing reiki certification. The “sacred platforms” on which I stand most often often bring me into “hybrid” (interspiritual & interdisciplinary) spaces to work with visual artists, storytellers, scholars, preachers & ministers, reiki healers and acupuncturists – all working towards the collective healing & wellness of Black women. It has been a work of healing justice and decolonizing spiritual practices. It remains difficult to find a singular definition for this type of work, because it is continuously revealing itself…”
“So, I approached my spiritual activism work with an ethos similar to that of interdisciplinary millennial womanist & popular R&B singer, Solange Knowles: “We aren’t thanking anyone for ‘allowing us’ into these spaces… until we are truly given the access to tear the got damn walls down” [ii]. I don’t believe that the assertion here is that gratitude is inappropriate or that access to additional opportunities are unnecessary. I believe it channels an ethos connected to the millennial womanist framework of “moving beyond respectability politics with an intentional call for recognition and reciprocity”. Moreover, I believe millennial womanism envisions our work by moving through walls, when necessary, and at times, disregards the niceties that keep walls intact…”
For the FULL piece, click here!
My friends often send me videos, clips, flyers, etc. about churchy (1) things to file away in the “Why do we do things like this?” folder. So, last week, I was introduced to DiShan Washington’s body of work by a friend. She was launching her newest “online symposium” (then titled) Single, Saved, & Still Wanting Sex: I Still Want It – A Transparent Conversation about being Holy & Horny.
Initially, I laughed (like… a lot). Yet, as the virility of the symposium increased, I decided to do some further research about where it came from, what the goals were, and WHY the insistence on separating Spirit and Body…
DiShan Washington is a writer, speaker, and a primary author of a genre that she calls Christian erotica. The distinguishing point in this genre is that “all of (her) characters are married” which is very much in line with a religious bent that sex is only sacred in marriage. In her personal life, Washington is the daughter of a preacher and was married to a 20 year old minister at the age of 16 (2). During this time, she experienced “bouts of low self-esteem, depression, two suicide attempts (3)“. After her marriage ended (due to infidelity), Washington writes that she went “from living a life of luxury to homelessness and even days of wondering where her next meal would come from” (3).
It is important to note that many of DiShan’s formative years as an emerging adult were spent as a “First Lady” (pastor’s wife). Depending on the church’s context & relationship to patriarchal norms, this would indicate both learning & practicing wifely subservience, dependence, & service to God, the church, & their husband above all else (3).
In an NPR interview, Washington clarifies:
“I was raised by a generation of women that said sex was for the man […] (I thought) when this marriage ends, what will I deem the cause [of sex]. How do I get Christian women to remove the stigma that being erotic was sinful.”
If we look through a Black feminist lens, we can see certain themes emerging in her specific story and sociocultural context (4). It also helps us understand how tricky the perceived binary of holy and horny is, particularly from DiShan’s context.
Washington, like many Black churched women, seems to be (publicly) navigating the “matrix of domination”: the oppression that is connected to racial stigma, gender, mental illness & ability, & class (Collins, 1993). The context provided above allows that the church served as a primary institution in perpetuating the aforementioned “axes of oppression”, in addition to sexual subservience, and economic dependence through marriage & patriarchal norms. In my lived experience, I have also seen similarities of story with many other Black churched women – age differences, notwithstanding.
From the NPR quote above, as well as various live feed posts, it seems that Washington is attempting to create new ways to navigate these spaces. Creating genres such as Christian erotica & affordable online symposiums that deal with holiness, being horny, & transparent conversations about sex & sexuality might be intended towards this goal (4).
However, the rhetoric of the online symposium fell short of that goal. (Yepp, I watched it). This was not necessarily surprising, given the way that this symposium was framed (i.e. the symposium itself was not accessible to “men”; a prelude video states that within this conversation, the goal was to “still remain saved” which is read here as coded language for upholding puritanical beliefs on sexuality).
The conversation went back & forth without imagining new pathways of destigmatizing sexuality & the erotic for Black churched women. For example, I could see Washington’s attempt to complicate our understandings of the Bible (she did this in context of masturbation). However, this was situated along her point that masturbating (as a single Christian woman) promoted lust, which was still a “slippery slope”. I appreciated the assertions that our sexual desires are good & can occur at many different moments (i.e. “sometimes, my hand will graze my nipples and they will get aroused”) but cringed at the suggestion of disembodying ourselves (i.e. “our hormones aren’t ‘saved”). A few of the final notes included smoking as a metaphor for premarital sex (or as my good friend Anaya* said, ‘Fuckin’ is to your spirit as smoking is to your lungs’).
In the case of Washington’s symposium, there is an underlying premise that sex & erotica can only be normalized IF it is within the scope of marriage, patriarchy, and heteronormativity (briefly defined here as the assumption that heterosexual coupling is the “norm”, the standard, and the preference for all persons). Let me state plainly: this premise is dangerous. It allows no room or space was given for persons who identified outside of the “man / woman” gender binary or have chosen partnerships / relationships outside of the gaze of heterosexuality. It allows no space to craft an individual sexual ethos inside of or outside of state sanctioned marriage (which costs money & has gatekeepers). We cannot decrease & disrupt sexual stigma by attaching additional stigmas. We further marginalize ourselves & others by functioning within the realms of heteronormativity & patriarchy.
These impacts cannot be overlooked (5).
I’m working on a longer form article & what I’ve found in that process is this: Black churched women, at various ages, have capacity to internalize gendered oppression even in efforts to resist gendered oppression. Disrupting internalized oppression is key in gaining sexual & gendered freedoms for self AND for others. This is what I wanted to see in Washington’s symposium… despite the sense of knowing that I wouldn’t likely see it.
I’m writing about this because “a great deal of my work (coincidentally or in-coincidentally) points to dialogue with and about Black church(ed) women. I facilitate & curate resources on sex & sexuality for a private space for women (primarily WOC) who have been and / or are currently church(ed). This is important to me, because there are so many spaces & scenarios where parents weren’t talking about sex, sexuality, consent, etc. and churches / private religious schools weren’t giving that information either. It is important to me that particularly church(ed) WOC have a space to ask these questions to better discern how they prioritize their sexual health” (6)… and construct their sexual ethos OUTSIDE of patriarchy & heteronormativity dressed up as ‘holiness’.
(Black church-ism: You oughta shout right there. Nods head churchily).
In other words: We have to find better, freer, more expansive ways forward.
Washington stated that a key reason she chose the path of celibacy included a moment of unsatisfying sex. She also announced a forthcoming book on the topic of “remaining holy while horny”. With this in mind, a neat “summary” doesn’t seem appropriate. There are questions yet to be answered and modalities of thought yet to be ironed out, including:
- How might the sexual lives & choices of Black churched women look different if we prioritized pleasure & found instances of sexual pleasure in sacred text (7, 8, 9, 10)?
- How can we more readily recognize when gendered oppression is masquerading under the guise of holiness? How do we disrupt, disengage, & divest from in commitments to White, Western norms of morality (10), gender (11), and sexuality?
- Who can / should partner in this work?
There are a great deal of scholars who are coming back to these questions (and more). I plan to commit to these questions as well. I believe that working towards the answers requires our time and helps us to get free.
This post is a part of a larger series, which can be viewed here.
Let me tell you about one of my favorite people on this side of the sphere: Ebony Janice of the Free People project. In addition to her vlogs, justice work, and philanthropy, Ebony Janice is the author of a few books. #PutyourfriendsonFriday
The point is that in one of these books she coins the term #ChristianDemonicFilter. This is the notion that everything that is not EXPLICITLY in the Bible with EXPLICIT EXPLICITNESS in all EXPLICITRY… is not just unknown… it’s demonic.
And anyone who grow up under the influence of folks who interpreted the Bible literally knows exactly what I’m talking about:
Under this type of teaching, you begin to (either ignorantly or arrogantly) think that the only acceptable spiritual practices happen within the confines of Evangelical Christianity.
This post is not intended to debate on whether malevolent forces are real. It’s to share a personal understanding: the devil, demons, and / or malevolent forces are not involved in every thing we do not OR willingly refuse to… understand.
When I was in high school, there was a “minister” who came to prominence by the name of G. Craig Lewis and Ex Ministries. In high school Bible study, we watched one of Lewis’ dvds (lol) in which he posited that hip hop music & artists were demonic. As in… literally transferring demons through our “ear gate”.
Ya’ll think I’m kidding. I can feel it through the computer screen. Yes, this is a real dude. Yes, he really taught such drivel. And yes… this was the topic of an entire high school Bible study. #IdontlooklikewhatIbeenthrough (LOL).
It seems far-fetched now, but I can see how this type of teaching came to prominence at the time. It was the time where everything, anything could be cause to cry out “Demonic”! And unfortunately, some of this rhetoric still persists. It often confounds me.
As a note, if it was not clear, these same spaces are where some of our chakra centers are!
Given this logic, we could also have an entire conversation here on the ideas of cultural arrogance / dominance that comes from Christian religious privilege. Because these are practices that have also been in place for thousands of years. For now, I will say that this is a thing… and folks have to do better about acknowledging it – and fixing it.
According to this logic, there are thousands of trap doors – thousands of levers that the enemy can pull. So, as you can imagine, this gives way to a dominating fear… a fear that renders people incapable of exploring anything outside of their own understandings of the Bible (oooorrr their pastor’s understanding).
This simply wasn’t a sustainable way to live for me. The concept was toxic because it bred fear, constant penance, and even a bit of arrogance. And this is not the type of person, I believe, we are actualized in the earth to be.
I’ve benefited from a variety of spiritual practices through the years but in the past 3 years I have been increasingly vocal about it. My friends will tell you, if you come into my home with low vibes… we’re doing an aura cleansing at the door. Saging or burning palo santo happens at least once a week in my home and as we speak, my crystal is charged to assist me in the work I’m doing on my crown chakra.
I’ve learned to sit in meditation and it’s absolutely necessary and non-negotiable for me to do this. It calms me, grounds me, helps me remember why I’m here. And I do all of this in addition to prayer and other forms of charismatic spiritual practice I grew up with in the nondenominational (but Pentecostal-leaning) Black church (the irony is that those things aren’t spelled out literally in the Bible either… they are a product of cultural / ancestral lineage i.e. shouting, “catching” the Holy Ghost, etc). These aren’t necessarily “new” practices for me – it’s simply that for a while, I had to go through the process of being unbothered. It is through pursuing these practices that I have found no slippery slope – simply more expressions of & languages for the Divine / G-d in my life!
This year, I decided to fully embrace the things that once caused me inordinate (and unnecessary) amounts of fear. I decided to trust that God was within me; that God would guide to me the things that served me… and away from the things that would harm me. This year, I decided to pursue the “spiritual technologies” that called out to me the most (Lomax, 2016).
Through reading & speaking with various ministers & healers, I also began to understand a bit more about my social location as a Black American Christian. Perhaps you can imagine my *mind-blown* moment, when I realized that in a not-so-distant-past, Black ministers were often diviners as well. There was room for spiritual syncretism (and there still is, in many traditions). For example, in the 1997 text Conjure and Christianity in the Nineteenth Century: Religious Elements in African American Magic, Chireau unpacks:
“For generations, magic has persisted in black culture, often obscured but deemed compatible with other spiritual traditions. Its widespread appeal is attested to by numerous accounts describing conjuring relics, supernatural rituals…among African American churchgoers. From slavery days to the present, practitioners and clients of the magical arts have moved freely across ecclesial boundaries, drawing copiously from the symbols and language of Christianity”. (p. 226)
Yet, given all this, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve been asked “But are you still ‘saved’ (in the Evangelical sense)” more than enough this year. I’ve realized that this question is not necessarily about me and that it is, to some level, socialized into people. On an individual level, there will be (and are) practices that we may be uncomfortable with. However, I think it’s time to (at least) consider that there’s toxicity in believing that everything unknown, unexplored through evangelical Christian lenses or fundamental Christian lenses = demonic.
Yvonne Patricia Chireau. (1997). “Conjure And Christianity In The 19th Century: Religious Elements In African American Magic”. Religion And American Culture. Volume 7, Issue 2. 225-246. http://works.swarthmore.edu/fac-religion/38
Lomax, T. A. (2016). “Technology of Living” Toward a Black Feminist Religious Thought. The Black Scholar, 46(2), 19-32.
“Once you know the truth, you can’t ever go back and pick up your suitcase of lies. Heavier or not, the truth is yours now”. – Sue Monk Kidd
“What are the heavy truths that are yours now”? – Journaling exercise
In the past, I’ve chronicled the toxic concepts that I have unlearned from church and / or church adjacent spaces (campus ministries, study groups, etc.).
Today, I’m picking up the series with three more posts on toxic concepts I unlearned (because…word count).
Toxic Concept: Women’s sexuality can be and SHOULD be treated as a commodity, define her level of “purity”, and only be used in the service of gaining & keeping a husband.
Lena, a youth group minister*, sat us all down for one of her infamous ‘talks’. You never really knew what to expect from Lena, so the best course of action was to brace yourself for whatever was coming. In this talk, she took out a box of tissues:
“If I need to wipe my nose, then I use one of these tissues”. She feigned wiping and dramatically dropped one to the ground. “Now that I’ve done that… who wants to use this tissue”.
Of course, the room was enveloped in silence and stares.
“Some of you want to be hoes in the hallway and sluts in the stairwell. But once it’s gone, it’s gone. Once it’s used, it’s used. Have some more pride and dignity in yourself. You ought to carry yourself in the manner with which you want to be treated!”
Humming under the surface of my consciousness, I learned that having sex (and moreover, having it freely) would bring my worth down to the size of a snotty, used tissue – fit only to be discarded.
If you’re not familiar with this type of rhetoric, then this example can seem pretty extreme. To be clear, there are many spaces where similar analogies are made: “Your virginity is a gift – you don’t want to give your husband an opened gift”. Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye (and icon of the Evangelical Christian movement in the early 2000s), likened virginity to a rose. “Losing it” or giving it away would result in all of the petals being plucked off – there would be nothing left to give for your someday-husband.
So, I learned to be afraid. Afraid of my own body and its desires.
I learned that good Christian women “keep their legs closed” (as if that’s the only way to… you know what, let me not get ahead of myself) until marriage and that THIS would result in procuring a wonderful husband – and at that point, he would be provided with access to your body as a gift, an unused tissue, a fully blooming rose.
I know it sounds like… a lot. But it is this rhetoric that reinforced what we now refer to as ‘purity culture’.
So, why am I writing about this again and why am I writing about this now? First, because this culture still exists and is now being further distilled down / spread abroad via memes. (Help us, Jesus). Second, because many Black churches have adopted, repackaged, preached, and profited off of these ideals. (Help us, Jesus).
It suggests that women who do NOT make the choice to abstain until marriage are unclear about their body’s worth. Not even THEIR INTRINSIC worth. The worth. Of their body. Yikes.
But perhaps most importantly, I bring it up now because these beliefs have such harmful ramifications in day-to-day life. These ramifications are things that some of the people I love are STILL living with & through. The No Shame Movement chronicled an entire chat regarding some of these lasting impacts.
I want to tell you about the countless moments of attempting to comfort friends who really & truly felt like / feel like “losing” their virginity means losing their greatest “commodity” and “asset”. (Shudder). I want to tell you about the private spaces I’ve curated with the help of some good friends – in order to address the feelings & even questions that come up when you’ve grown up with this type of toxic belief. I could tell you about the women I’ve known who married hastily – simply because they had sex with their partners and felt that penance meant marrying that person.
I could tell you about the panic attacks that came over me in waves – even after I knew that my sexuality wasn’t a bargaining chip. Even after I knew I could make my own decisions about my sexuality AND have a secure relationship with the Divine. Even after I knew that my virginity wasn’t just some commodity for a husband to enjoy. And I want to tell you that I’m not the only one who experiences this – that after healing from this, I went on to curate private spaces for other women to process unlearning this shame & to ask basic questions about sex & sexual health after the gaps that abstinence-only education left in their path. I could tell you, from first-hand conversations I’ve had, that sometimes your body has to unlearn the trauma of this toxic concept… has to learn how to experience pleasure without guilt. But the word count it would take would be too great for just one post…
So, I’ll end by sharing a story about its ramifications in my own life.
A friend of mine is doing research on this very topic (and it’s going to be amazing when it comes out). I’d agreed to help out with a research query she had – and responding opened up my own experience to me in a way I’d never considered before. I told her:
I saw the toxicity of this belief first-hand when I ended up in a pretty bad relationship with an aspiring minister. I was beginning to do more formal study into this topics at the time, which really wasn’t agreeing with this partner. So, asking for what I wanted resulted in being seen as “domineering” and / or a temptation to deviate from the Gospel. I listened to their stories about they repressed their own sexuality and was told that even passionate kissing paved a way to the slippery slope of eternal damnation. (This is not hyperbole). It was clear that the only circle I was going to be throwing it in… was a prayer circle.
Who knows whether that choice was actually mine – I was too busy worried that my “feminine wiles” would steer us “off the path”. Hashtag the patriarchy is a mind-fuck.
Of course, over time, I had to re-imagine my role in that relationship (read: chile, we broke up – Mama didn’t raise no fool). But after debriefing this period of time, I realized two major things:
1) My partner got this from somewhere. They got these notions from the pulpit, from their Bible college, and from their socialization into male privilege.
2) This didn’t just happen to me.
There is an unbalanced pressure on women in religious spaces to view their sexuality as nothing more than a commodity – something to preserve and give away in service of a husband. Given the huge industry that purity culture makes through selling rings, books, and multimedia efforts – sex is selling – even the lack of it.
So, what I’m saying is this… and this alone… WHENEVER we feel we have the right to be prescriptive about every woman’s body & sexuality… we’re already in the wrong. And although not under the same circumstances, it’s still helpful to ask the question that James Baldwin posited (one that gets me free every. single. time): Who benefits?
Who benefits from the mass sexual repression of women? And how does it point to making money off of our bodies?
In the pursuit of answering this question, do feel free to check out Dr. Tamura Lomax’s work on religion & the erotic, NoShameMovement.com, and the #Blackchurchsex thread on Twitter.
*The title “throwin it in a prayer circle” stems from a popular meme which made its rounds on Twitter & Instagram
This post is a part of a larger series. You can read the other posts in the series here.
This post is a part of a larger series, which can be viewed here.
Toxic Concept: Jesus’ cultural context doesn’t matter.
(read: Jesus didn’t have a color)
(read most often as: Jesus was White)
“The Christian Church has tended to overlook its Judaic origins, but the fact is that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew of Palestine when he went about his Father’s business, announcing the acceptable year of the Lord.”
― Howard Thurman,
Last week, I saw the Fences movie for the second time. It was my favorite play when I studied Theater and I cannot overstate how amazing Denzel Washington & Viola Davis were in that film. However, one thing that I could not miss came through the set design. Just above the sink where Rose (played by Davis) would peel potatoes and wash dishes was a rendering of White Jesus.
This was such an interesting set choice because in my lived experience (and you might be able to argue that in the experience of many Black Americans), White Jesus is a part of the walls of many of our elders’ homes. Not all. But enough to have been chosen as a part of the set design for Fences.
In my own upbringing, White renderings of Jesus moved like a ghost in the subtext of my religious heritage.
Now, to be clear, my parents are committed to our cultural heritage. In other words…
They told me about where Jesus was born, pointed to it on a map. They made it clear that given his sociocultural context… Jesus was not White. My parents aren’t theologians.
Neither am I.
However, most of my friends are theologians. They say the most brilliant things I’ve heard and that is not debatable. 🙂 On one such occasion, I reposted a thought from Dr. Ashon Crawley which directly discussed the social impacts of imagining Jesus as White.
In a manner of min…seconds, someone piped in with a case for White Jesus, Colorblind Savior. My first (internal) response? “Chile… my ancestors did not die for this”. *Rolls eyes and rubs temples
I’ve known, deeply and intimately, the ramifications that primarily White Jesus, Colorblind Savior has. When I got to college, I attempted involvement with campus ministries. Campus ministry at a predominantly White institution often means… welll… predominantly White theological understandings. I don’t want to mince words here: it was, overall, a demoralizing experience.
When Jesus wasn’t being rendered as White, He was off – busy telling me… through them… that my own culture & ethnicity did not matter – under a gross misinterpretation of the Galatians 3:38 text.
It wasn’t until years later, when I read Howard Thurman’s 1948 text “Jesus and the Disinherited”, that I realized just how much Jesus’ own sociohistorical and cultural contexts made a difference. Or that I realized just how harmful and dishonest rendering Jesus as primarily White is.
To render Jesus as White is to say that the various times He was referred to as Jesus “of Nazareth” can be erased right out of the text… right out of what his lived experience was… It means missing out on how hard they TRRIIIIIEEED ITTTTT in the book of John 1 (verses 45 & 46):
45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (NSRV)
And you don’t get the “try” if you don’t get that Nazareth held its own social location. As did Jesus.
The toxicity of the White Jesus concept is that it allows Jesus’ personhood to be invoked right along efforts of American conquest & the subjugation of people of color – the purposes for which the social construct of Whiteness was built upon in the first place. Putting a construct of Whiteness onto Jesus is certainly convenient when you’re trying to justify a notion that the Divine affirms the genocide, stolen land / resources, and enslavement of people of color. Pft.
Put in other terms by Dr. Crawley:
“i sometimes forget and ask myself what would white evangelicals do if they finally realized, in earnest, that jesus was not a white man. but then i remember: white evangelical christianity has already rejected the biblical jesus. they do not believe he was a palestinian jewish man, they believe he was white with sometimes blond hair. and such a rejection of his personhood – he certainly would be a POC in modern parlance, though it’s an anachronism of sorts – but such a rejection, the continued need for him to be white, goes hand in hand with the continued need for him to be capitalist, sexist, homo- and transphobic. white evangelical christianity remade jesus into an image that would allow for conspicuous consumption, for manifest destiny, for the genocide of indigenous peoples, for the enslavement of black peoples.
what we’re noticing now with folks like paula white and vicki yohe are simply the extension of a quiet displeasure, a sorta disdain and contempt with difference itself. it ain’t new. but folks are gonna have to choose if they’re gonna sing with them still (like travis) or make a different kind of stand”
In my own life, I’ve found the concept to be toxic because in addition to all of this… the notion of primarily White Jesus, Colorblind Savior is demoralizing. It denotes a ghastly racialized lack of imagination: that the imago Dei – the image of God – can be found in people of color. It denies that the Divine exists, yes, even outside of the construction of Whiteness. When it is suggested that Jesus had no color at all, it is a gross erasure of his humanity AND the humanity of those who come from his sociocultural context.
I’ve seen how conceiving Jesus as primarily White allows us to continue building up and excusing away Christian conferences that are the antithetical to intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1995). It allows us to ignore how our current political landscape has employed White Evangelical Jesus & White Evangelical Christianity towards further subjugation: the stripping of reproductive rights for women, the taking of sacred lands via pipelines, and as Kieryn Darkwater so eloquently describes… all under the guise of “Taking Back The Country For Christ” .
So let’s all be clear:
“Jesus was an actual person.
That means he had an ethnicity, nationality, and cultural background. Because all people who walk the earth do”
And this sociocultural location was as a Palestinian Jew.
The quoted text above were words I literally had to say to someone. Just a few days ago. In 2017. And so, this notion bears repeating.
For more on this topic, see John Pavlovitz’s post, “Dear Jesus, You’re Fired From American Evangelical Christianity” (2017) and read you some Howard Thurman (like literally everything… anything).
This post is a part of a larger series, which can be viewed here.
I met Sojourner Zenobia during one of the community events she curates called Stillness: A Meditation for Women & Femmes of Color. It was my first time engaging in group meditation (of any kind) and it was certainly my first time seeing something so targeted towards my own sociocultural identities. This was back in July… and I have barely missed one of her meditations since that time. Sojourner has helped to facilitate for so many women / femmes of color (myself included) “a spiritual return”. From Sojourner, I learned that there was space to dig deeper into my individual self, spiritual self, and sociocultural self – at the same damn time!
It is in this moment, given the shit-show of this current election season and all of the feelings that are surrounding the upcoming inauguration, that I find Sojourner’s words to be incredibly helpful and timely. So, I want to e-introduce ya’ll to a woman who has become a sister and teacher to me this year. [Text below is largely her own, to preserve the intent behind her words].
SOJOURNER ZENOBIA began practicing Samatha (peaceful abiding) meditation in 2004 at Naropa University a Buddhist inspired school. In 2006, Sojourner received a BFA in Interdisciplinary Performance and a minor in Buddhist studies. She has studied vipassana (insight meditation) at Amaravati, a Theravadan Monastery in England. She currently a resident artist at Life Force Arts Center in Chicago where she studies energy work through strengthening ancestor/guide relationships and vision journeys. She facilitates a bi-monthly meditation for women and femmes of color at the Shambhala Center in Chicago’s West Loop.
As noted above, her work in both guided meditation and performance art centers women and femmes of color. She notes:
“I have been in ‘spiritual’,’New Age’ communities since 2004. These communities, more often than not, are populated by white people who have no consciousness of anyone else’s experience but their own. Spiritual practices tend to center the individual – this leads to the valuing of one’s own bliss over dismantling any ingrained perceptions and actions that are oppressive to marginalized groups. Since there are generally only one or two token people of color (POC) in these spaces it might seem that there is no need to expand ones understanding of spirituality beyond a personal agenda – which is projected onto the world as a “saving grace”. Often, if token POC have anything to say about their personal experience (and sociocultural realities), they get into a cycle of having to convince masses of white people in this community that a) they are telling the truth and that b) the white spiritual bubble will need to change completely in order to actually have an impact on anyone other than themselves…
I left these communities highly traumatized and with a damaged sense of self worth. This is why I create spaces where ain’t none of that”.
*(This is where your friendly narrator-blogger pauses to snap and YAAAHHHS all over the screen)
Sojourner finds inspiration for her performance art and meditation practice through / from formative life experiences:
“I grew up in white spaces. I had one particular ‘last straw’ experience and I looked around saw that I was surrounded by whiteness. I was very hurt. I read bell hooks’,Rock My Soul: Black People and Self Esteem and it revealed everything I had ever felt about being the token black my whole life. I embarked on a healing journey that included the trauma of my mothers lineage around self worth and power. I decided that I wanted to cultivate my art and my spirituality to hold space for my black self. In doing this, I can offer my findings to black and brown femmes who are deepening their own self healing work.
The Stillness Women and Femmes of Color meditation is a place where women and femmes can come and workshop themselves. I do have very clear ideas about the mind. I do believe that silent meditation is a clear and effective way to know how our minds work. When we can see that, we have more options beyond habitual patterns. However, I also don’t like telling people what to do in regards to their spirituality. I think there are infinite ways that people can talk to spirit. No person has the same experience of being in a body. So, this combination of training the mind and opening to spirit gives us access to our inner worlds.
I think our bodies hold all of the wisdom! All of the secrets! In our world, we (especially brown and black bodies) are forbidden from going inward unless it is in a way that is super controlled through religion or media. I want to give our bodies back to ourselves. I hold spaces where women and femmes can listen deeper than we ever do to “The woman who whispers”- Luisah Teish. We sit in meditation, light candles, draw our hearts, ask questions to grandmothers, write letters to past selves and fall in love with breath. I hope people will grow this space of creative self and community love. It will give us ways, never seen before to protest, love, express, resist and evolve.
Her advice to readers is something I will also follow – ESPECIALLY in the weeks, months, and (4) years to come. It is:
Cut your pace in half.
take your bath.
These slower places are where spirit comes to us.
dismantle busy-ness. If possible, make self-care a part of what is making you “busy.”
The inner voice will scream.
everyday, telling us what we need.
If we never slow down, listen with them, create with them
we lose the opportunity
to become who we came here to be.
To learn more about Sojourner Zenobia and her practice, visit http://www.sojournerzenobia.com/
Click here for more information on / to get involved with Stillness Meditation for Women and Femmes of Color.
Let’s talk about what’s going on in the Black church, at present.
On Dec. 30th, I spent an evening-to-morning good time with my gurls from my college years. It’s not often that we get to see each other, so we spent most of the night sharing life updates and talking about almost every topic under the sun. Despite those good vibes, I woke up late the next morning (read: early evening) to a barrage of texts & inbox messages about singer & pastor Kim Burrell’s homo-antagonistic sermon.
My initial response was anger.
My thoughts swirled for days after, as I reviewed the sermon itself, her subsequent faux apologies, and many spot-on analyses from friends, peers, and colleagues.On a personal level, I needed to wait to weigh in. Far too often, the name of the game is to “cover xyz topic first” and in this case (like many others), there are far more connections to make – and some of the connections take some mulling over to explore or even articulate.
One such connection, for me, included Kim Burrell’s display of both homo-antagonism and ableism in her recent sermon. She begins the clip by lambasting the LGBTQI community with a barrage of insults and accusations of “perversion”. She, then, goes on to use Andrew Caldwell – recent internet sensation best known for the viral clip from the COGIC Convention in which he states he was “delivered” from being gay – as an example. This is where she implicates that sexuality and disability are both at the whim of ‘spirits’; and / or and indicator of ones relationship with God.
“Mr. I Am Delivert with all these different types of spirits… on Jimmy Kimmel… you see what the enemy is looking for?… The minute somebody comes out with a deaf and dumb spirit… a mute spirit… one that can’t even talk… and that has a perverted spirit says that ‘I am delivert’ and makes it all the way to Jimmy Kimmel. You think the enemy isn’t trying to make a mockery of the church?”
To be clear, her sermon was primarily (read again for emphasis) antagonistic for community members within the LGBTQI community. This was her key focus, and the reason why she has been / is being uninvited from many opportunities.
However, what she also did as (a perceived) “aside” included situating gender identity, next to disability, next to sin. The implications here are HUGE – because in this, she implies that both LGBTQI identities as well as disabled persons are inherently possessed by spirits / dealing with sin.
Inclusive Jesus, help us.
Dr. Fiona A. Kumari Campbell (2007) asserts:
“A chief feature of an ableist viewpoint is a belief that impairment (irrespective of ‘type’) is inherently negative and should the opportunity present itself, be ameliorated, cured or indeed eliminated. What remain unspeakable are readings of the disabled body presenting life with impairment as an animating, affirmative modality of subjectivity” (p. 5-6)
Thus, Burrell’s sermon included statements which were both homo-antagonistic and ableist. Whether or not this was intended is beside the fact.
We ought to know that it is highly offensive to even use the phrase “deaf and dumb”. It is even an issue to suggest that the ways in which folks walk through the world (as it pertains to both queerness and disability) are due to “spirits”. So, to check* her (a colloquial term, rooted in AAVE, which means to correct and / or unequivocally challenge) via social media on one aspect, without examining both is something we can’t afford to do.
Surely, we ought to understand in 2017, that being LGBTQI does not involve or imply a spiritual shortcoming (as resources, please refer to Darnell Moore’s works on this, Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas’ 1999 text Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective, Dr. Pamela Lightsey’s 2015 text Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology, and then some…).
Surely, we ought to understand in 2017, that being disabled does not involve or imply a spiritual shortcoming (refer to Belser & Morrison’s 2011 article, What No Longer Serves Us: Resisting Ableism and Anti-Judaism in New Testament Healing Narratives).
Surely, we ought to be able to see that in this instance (like so many others), further marginalization happened from the pulpit – and as a minister of the Gospel – this should not be so. At this point, we need to understand that systems of oppression are inextricably linked – especially when we cannot / refuse to see its connections.
Additional Resources & Notes:
Belser, J. W., & Morrison, M. S. (2011). What no longer serves us: Resisting ableism and anti-Judaism in New Testament healing narratives. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 27(2), 153-170.
Campbell, F. A. K. (2008). Exploring internalized ableism using critical race theory. Disability & Society, 23(2), 151-162.
*Title references Kim Burrell’s 1997 album & single by the name of “Try Me Again”
*This essay is posted with special thanks to those affectionately know as my “e-cousins” for helping me to flesh these thoughts out more fully