By Michael Harriot
And then there was Sister Stevenson.
Sister Stevenson was my Sabbath School (your equivalent of Sunday School) teacher when I was 7. Every Saturday morning, in the back of the church near the kitchen we had old-school Jesus lessons. She made us recite Bible verses at the beginning of every class. She collected our Sabbath School money in a white lace handkerchief. When anyone in her class got a little unruly, she admonished them to “play pretty, kids. Play pretty!” The first great lesson of life I learned in Sister Stevenson’s class, and it had nothing to do with the Bible.
My best friend, and sometimes arch nemesis, Michael Jackson (yes, that’s his real name. Yes, I grew up with a friend the same age as me whose actual name was Michael Jackson) and I were in the back of the class. I can’t remember what we were arguing about (I know I should make up something for this story, but–nah. It was in church y’all!) but I remember responding to one of his insults with “yo mama.” I should tell you that I was a tough kid, and I didn’t cry when Mike slapped me, but that would be a lie. It was one of those slaps that made the screen from which you view life go white for a few seconds. I thought someone popped a firecracker in my ear. One of those slaps that made tears automatically come from your eyes, not from the pain, but from your tear ducts saying, “what the fuck? Man you can have everything I got!” I wanted to run to the bathroom and make sure lightning hadn’t struck my jaw or he hadn’t set my face on fire.
When Sister Stevenson came over, I knew he’d be in trouble, because I was one of her favorites and she didn’t like it when people didn’t “play pretty.” She asked what happened, and–normally I ain’t no snitch, but since I was under concussion protocol, I think we should let this one slide–I told her Mike slapped me (as if she didn’t hear it. It sounded like pistol had gone off. I think a few people even ducked). When she asked him why he hit me, Mike said “he talked about my mama.” I knew he was about to get it. I knew Sister Stevenson didn’t play that mess, and Mike was in for it. She was going to tell his parents. She was going to expel him from the class. Ooooh, better yet, she might even lay hands on him herself!
Sister Stevenson shrugged, turned around, and resumed the class.
That was the day I learned the one law that supersedes all others in the Black community. It was more important than the Golden Rule and outranks all of the Ten Commandments combined. This one statute excuses any action, and served as an apt explanation for any violence inflicted. It was based on the celestial order of the universe and handed down through generations:
Don’t talk about my mama.
A few days ago, video surfaced of Gospel singer Kim Burrell unleashing a homophobic rant against “sissies” and their “perverted homosexual spirit,” warning them that they will die.
Let’s begin this discussion with one caveat:
This discussion will not quote scripture. One cannot engage in a logical discussion based the rules and philosophies of a 2000-year old book that also speaks of talking snakes, a flat earth and conversations with donkeys. Although I do not denigrate religion, one cannot have a logical, fact based debate against the premise of “I believe…”
I must confess, I have been a coward. I once sat in the pews of a fundamentalist church while a preacher ranted against homosexuals. I’ve heard the word “faggot” come from a few preachers’ mouths. The reason I didn’t walk out was not because I believed what he was saying. I wasn’t faithful or hypnotized by religion. I sat there because I was a hypocritical coward. I knew what he was saying was wrong. Every time he said it I felt shitty inside, but I sat in those pews for years.
Since this controversy erupted, many Christians have joined an “I stand with Kim” campaign. In standing alongside Kim Burrell, they say they are standing up for the word of God.
Let’s be clear. Preachers and churchgoers who rail against homosexuals are not Christians. Look up the etymology of the word. It derives from the Greek “Christianos” or follower of Christ.
Dear Followers of Christ;
Remember that one time Jesus told that group of sinners, “I can’t fuck with y’all?” Remember when he told the lepers to get away from him, because he might catch something? Remember that incident when he called the prostitutes “perverted whores, unworthy of God’s grace?” Remember when he went among the people and told the ones he didn’t like they should stop coming to church?
Railing against and condemning one kind of sexual preference from a pulpit under the guise of religion isn’t being true to God’s word–it’s hypocritical. It’s homophobic. It’s evil.
The people who do it, don’t want to bring anyone to their God, they just want to condemn. They want to spread hate. They want to coalesce the base prejudices of their parishioners against one group of people to make themselves feel holier. But mostly, they want approval.
Approval and money.
You know how I know?
When was the last time you heard a preacher condemn all the children in their church who were born out-of-wedlock? Find me a clip of Kim Burrell going H.A.M. from the pulpit against all the unwed mothers in the audience. Send me the text of her sermon against the “perverted” heterosexual, unmarried couples in the pews. Can you show me the YouTube video when she warned the gluttons, the people who eat cheeseburgers, and the divorced sinners they were going to die? In the pantheon of sins, I’m willing to bet her convoluted method of Christianity could save more souls denigrating those kinds of biblical trespasses.
But you never hear it. You don’t hear it because they don’t say it, and they don’t say it because they are hypocrites. If they believed in their fundamentalist ideology wholeheartedly, they’d try to save as many people as possible, and there is a list of sins as long as the book of Psalms they could address before they reached the mean-spirited endeavor of speaking out against who people choose to love.
But here’s how I know people like Kim Burrell are hateful, hypocritical liars no better than the Klan in church clothes:
Because she was going on Ellen.
Just like racists, religious homophobes will happily associate with the people they disparage if it is for their own advantage. Kim Burrell will let gays direct the choir or promote her new album just like Donald Trump will have dinner with Don King. Just like Donald Sterling will pay Black basketball players millions of dollars. I want to believe there is a little corner of hell reserved for the people who spread hate under the banner of God.
When Wypipo ask me what they can do about racism, I always tell them they can:
a. Stop being racist.
b. Say something whenever anyone around them is racist. It might be uncomfortable, but it actually stops people from outwardly spreading hate.
The next time you are in a church and hear homophobia from the pulpit, you should stand up and walk out. You should show them that you don’t tolerate hate. You should be stronger than me. It will teach them not to spread homophobia in the same way Michael taught me not to talk about his mama. They should learn the same lesson I learned in Sister Stevenson’s class that day. She didn’t punish Michael, because you can’t fault a boy for fighting after someone insulted his mother. Love isn’t reasonable, and whether it is a worldwide religion or a Sunday school class, our stupid rules don’t apply. Choosing whom you are physically attracted to can’t be preached away any more than some back-of-the-church gesture of punishment would have changed Michael’s reaction to people talking about the woman who gave him life.
I said I wouldn’t bolster my argument with scripture, but there is one that seems particularly appropriate:
Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love.
And the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13:13
Play pretty, my people.