Conversating, When Conversation Goes Wrong: VH1, Hip Hop and Jamal Bryant

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By all accounts, new ground was broken last night when it came to the public discourse of the intersection of the hip hop community and that of the LBGTQ community.  More specifically, the black LGBTQ community.  Following the season four premier of Love and Hip Hop on Viacom owned station VH1, an hour-long round-table discussion called “Out in Hip Hop” was hosted by ABC News correspondent T.J. Holmes.  More than just navel-gazing for the sake of reality TV watching, knowing that there was going to be a segment specifically about black religious culture, aka The Black Church, I was more than interested.

I tuned in one segment before the panel about the Black Church was on there, and we heard some of the same standard Christian liberal responses, namely from Rev. Delman Coates, pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Chruch in Clinton, Maryland.  Coates’ name may be familiar to a few because of the uproar that he caused black Baptists nationwide when he accepted the opportunity to share a panel discussion alongside Bishop Yvette Flunder of City of Refuge United Church of Christ in Oakland, California.  Flunder, who is openly lesbian, pastors a church that is open-and-affirming and many black Baptist ministers and pastors were up in arms over her being invited and also for Coates participating, alleging he was co-signing his lifestyle.  That particular segment also included Rev. Kevin E. Taylor, pastor of Unity Fellowship Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey who spoke of his “authentic audacity” to be openly gay and pastoring.

Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple AME in Baltimore, Maryland was a Skype guest and held the polar opposite view of homosexuality as a lifestyle.  His response was shouted down when he proceeded to use words such as “reverse discrimination” and for all intents and purposes advocated for counseling for gay persons at his church who would have a “transformation,” presumably away from homosexuality.  Former reality show star turned activist Karamo Brown was also on this panel and proceeded to shout down Jamal shortly thereafter.

It was one of those cringe-worthy moments on television.

I didn’t cringe because Jamal got shouted down by Karamo, I didn’t so much cringe because Jamal seemed so blunder-headed in his response, but rather I cringed because yet again, it seems like blackness was yet again on display worthy only of conversating and not conversation, not dialogical and reciprocal education and certainly not actual progressive action.  I voiced this on Twitter to an extent and most people understood where I was coming from and reminded me, appropriately so, that this was a first step; Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Far too often I see instances in which these conversations and dialogues end up being entirely too one-sided or people are asked to speak on issues that they simply don’t have the grasp to do so.  I watched last night wondering who were the power brokers that allowed that to happen and who picked who would show up.  Was this done for the sake of healing and bringing a community together, or was this simply a ploy for ratings.  Knowing America, and knowing the capitalist underpinnings of the various market forces, my money is on the latter.

Part of my issue with last night, specifically with the segment on the Black Church was that yet again, it provided such a one-dimensional viewpoint of what the Black Church was and is.  The closest we got to understanding the multifaceted and polyvalence of the black Christian religious experience was when Rev. Taylor said that it was the Black Church that gave him his “authentic audacity” to be openly gay and pastor a church.  Beyond that, the only other side we saw of that was in Jamal’s rather retrogressive rhetoric.  To that point, what Rev. Bryant said is bigger than Jamal.  It speaks to the denomination from which he comes from: African Methodist Episcopal.  As a pastor still in full connection with that denomination, he was simply “towing the party line” as do many pastors who are part of connectional churches.  Lest we forget, almost a year ago, the world was introduced to Andrew Caldwell and much of the fallout had to do with the denomination’s theological understand of homosexuality.

While individual churches can move outside of the party lines, they can only do so to a certain extent.  For example, the national United Methodist Church has not budged on the issue of homosexuality nor same-sex marriages, but that doesn’t prevent hundreds of UMC churches across the country proudly flying rainbow flags in their churches, partnering with LGBTQ advocacy groups and having members of their churches who are part of the LGBTQ community.  And for many Baptist churches that don’t have a national or regional governing office to which they are required to be connected to, they have been free to do whatever they want to when it comes down to how they choose to embrace or reject open and affirming theology.  Mt. Ennon Baptist Church is a prime example of what it means for leadership to opt to be open and affirming.

My fearful takeaway, the cause of my cringe, from last night is that Jamal Bryant will be seen as the face of the Black Church when somehow Delman Coates or Kevin Taylor are not seen as part of that institution; as though they have somehow transcended it.  I would argue that just as there were differing views on the panel about gender fluidity–that its okay for Kanye West or A$AP Rocky to wear dresses, but for rapper SIYA to embody a masculine image is problematic–the Black Church as an institution is made up of individual black churches that span the entire spectrum.

What I would have liked to see were persons from the Christian hip hop community present such as Lecrae to hear from a group that gets almost no national coverage.  I would have liked to see a larger display of black cis-gendered heterosexual pastors who have what amounts to open-and-affirming churches scattered all across the country.  Part of the narrative that I don’t think is fully accurate is that these churches are far too rare.  Clearly they are not in the majority, and are virtually non-existent in the rural areas of the country, but in many urban areas these churches are open and they are accessible.  Perhaps it would be the benefit of the whole if open-and-affirming churches came out of their own closets of denominational and communal safety.  Rather than being a functional lighthouse that doesn’t turn on its light and only secretly open to those that know it, perhaps it’s time to flip the light switch and be the citadel of hope that many claim they are.

My other fear, if not a stronger one, is when I watch my black and brown sisters and brothers, transgendered and cisgendered alike on corporate networks owned by media conglomerates like Viacom discussing these issues is that it sometimes removes the humanity of the struggle.  One of the realist issues that was voiced by a comment from audience was the murder of transgender people in urban areas.  Even in the midst of postulating about what identity one chooses, as Miles Brock tried to put emphasis on the “B” in LGBTQ, people are literally being murdered.  The passion about stemming the tide of violence against LGBTQ people is why Karamo was so insistent against the language choice that Rev. Bryant culled from what is otherwise an extensive vocabulary: people are literally dying.  It’s the same insistence that Black Lives Matters has when it has to mount the argument when police officers try and justify the harassment and brutality as just doing their job and feigning fear in a dangerous job that they applied for in the first place.

To that point, are we not all agents of a larger system the purports the in-fighting, the violence and ultimately the death?  Viacom, as a corporate entity, cares nothing about the deaths of transgendered people no more than its recognizes that black lives are worth mattering.  Talking about this much needed topic on VH1 is hardly revolutionary and we ought not desensitize ourselves to that blatant reality.  Sensational yes, revolutionary not hardly.  No more revolutionary than academics sounding off in nominally public spaces only accessible to those in that field.  Last I checked, sensationalism in and of itself is not a revolutionary act, merely a tool one can use for or against one’s ideological location.  What moves this from conversating to conversation is when people in power make the decision to come to the discussion and be willing to disavow themselves of harmful notions, ones that they know are both psychologically and physically injurious to the personhood of another human being.

But still, this is a topic in which we need not just good dialogue and discussion, but we need some actual action and progress to take place.  Last night should be seen as a starting point, the first baby step on a long journey in which many people may not live to see the finish line even in the distance.  What we saw last night was a mile wide and an inch deep; it was clear the discussion was geared to hit many broad topics and not drill down on much, and for me, that was disappointing.  It is a topic in which many people simply need healing.  The wounds are fresh and wide open and everyday is a struggle to keep from bleeding all over the place.

I conclude by offering up this point of social and theological reflection:

Rev. Bryant made this plea for transformation when it came to LGBTQ Christians, so much so that he advocated counseling that sounded akin to the type of junk science associated with conversion therapy that was denounced even by the White House earlier this year.  Bryant gets points for consistency dating back to as far as 2010 when he publicly disagreed with Carlton Pearson’s “gospel of inclusion” and took to task homosexuality and Christian doctrines, and famously how Bryant led a charge against Obama when the president openly advocated for same-sex marriage.  However, I ask the question, when will the transformation of the likes of Jamal Bryant take place?  At what point does such a theological intransigence be seen as a lie from the pits of Hell intent on causing oppressive harm against a large swath of people that you say you love?  It becomes a problem of gulliverian proportions when the weight of transformation is leveraged on the backs of the oppressed.  When the personhoods of oppressed people are the fulcrum by which oppressive structures are lifted, then the transformation doesn’t need to happen to them, but rather by the ones uplifting the oppression.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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9 thoughts on “Conversating, When Conversation Goes Wrong: VH1, Hip Hop and Jamal Bryant

  1. You are right on many points that you make in this article within the context of the conversation presented by Viacom and the White male controlled music industry misinformation to today’s rap music Black fans. I’m don’t know for a certainty if you realize there is a wide difference between rap music today and true Hip – Hop originality. Hip – Hop originally was not and is not produced massively has we see rap music spread and growth in the American music and entertainment industry.

    What is really sad about the Black American experience the past 50 years regarding the creativity of young Black youth creating Hip-Hop and its Renaissance during the 80’s, is that once again Black creativity born from the oppressive forces that limit Black Americans unity and advancement in Americas racist society is commandeered and control by the White Supremacy establishment in this society.

    In saying that rap music today is not what Hip – Hop was designed to produce in young Black people. Mainly creative young Black artist desiring to express artistry that contributes to Black American awareness of the forces and powers holding back our group advancement. Not like glorified rap music proliferating criminal minds, and outlaw attitudes and norms contrary to a society healthy development.

    You might ask or wonder to yourself – Tony what are you saying in relation to this article?

    Plainly stated:

    Black American youth do not own rap music.

    Black Americans and White Americans today have not been introduced to original Hip Hop. Unless they are introduced to real underground Hip – Hop where it lives today.

    Furthermore:

    Black Americans in reality do not own the Christian Religion nor the faiths they incorporate in the religion to provide a false sense of inclusion in the American White controlled society.

    So the above statements or premise reveals a bunch of Negros were summoned to discuss a social civic issue that has nothing to do with Black awareness and unity combating White supremacy by Black people taking control of our group destiny in the American society.

    Other than that, this is a well-written article by an intellectual Black man capable of articulating and navigating Black thought in mainstream America.

  2. The church has for centuries been teaching incorrectly and quoting scripture incorrectly against homosexuality. The Bible never speaks of homosexuality. Ever. Educating yourselves will enlighten you to the real word of God and be able to really love other people. God makes all people the way they are and he makes NO MISTAKES

    1. Hello hru doing . I read your statement and i cannot allow myself to set here and have you say that homosexuality is not in the Bible you are WRONG . Every sin is in the bible from homosexuality Lying deceiving sleeping with animals overheating which is called Gluttony Robbers Manipulators child molestation etc . As I stated before the bible does it talk about homosexuality so I don’t know where you’re getting your information from if you don’t know anything I would advise you to Google before you make a post about something that she don’t know about because States in the Bible in Leviticus chapter 18 verse 22 Leviticus chapter 20 verse 13 Romans chapter 1 verse 26 328 Romans chapter 1 chapter 27 It’s just a few scriptures that talk about homosexuality been sleeping with men wanted to go with women .

    2. Also my friend of one of you to understand that God does not make no mistake as you stay that you are correct about about that but God does not create sin he give you a choice as the states in the scripture to choose light or darkness there is no in between as the scriptures say you have a choice to follow God or follow the devil which is his wage of sin for the Bible declares that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God but you have to pick yourself up and follow which units of God to get back on track so you can make it into heaven no one is perfect as I agree But is a time and place that you have the read the scriptures and get a full understanding over the scripture says if you don’t understand the King James Version I strongly suggest that you read the message Bible or the parallel Bible or just now in these days with all the technology I suggest you google so you can get a full understanding for the Bible also declares that you have to study to show yourself approved , that simply means you need to do your homework .

    3. (Lev.18:22 thou shalt not lay with mankind or womankind as it is an abomination). So, no the word “homosexuality” is not stated in the bible, but from the scriptures, it’s pretty clear what God is stating. No sugar coating the severity of this situation. I’m not a homophobic person but I stand with God on this issue. This is no different from a perverted sick person or someone who likes to watch porn. The good thing is that God loves us all and if we are for Him, we can change and transform from our “desires” to please him.

  3. The Black Church’s position on homosexuality is the same hypocritical position it has on other issues facing the black community such as HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, and sexual abuse within the family. It is a subject to be marginalized and kept in the back of the closet. We forget that the black church was born out of the oppression of slavery, and much of the ideology that is prevalent in the church and its doctrine were taught by the slave master. And that is to identify that which i different about a group of people, even if it is your own, and use the word of God to say that it is an abomination. I have and always will say this, if homosexuality was a sin against God, it would have been included in the Commandments he gave to his people.

  4. Bravo, King. Thank you for your thorough and thoughtful commentary. I was called into the conversation, not to battle but to engage and I am grateful that my place in it was received by people. I am who I am because of the Black Community and the Black Church and nothing and no one, including pastors who haven’t come into the fullness of that truth like Bryant, will ever make me take the focus or the fire away from what I gleaned from being Black, Baptist, Gay and me in my worship experience. It’s not that they “supported” me in my journey. The real truth of that love, in the Black Church–Carron Baptist Church in SW DC to be specific–was that they loved me! They loved me through high school when I struggled to be brilliant and graduate 23rd in a class of 527, when people in the hood made it seem “bad” to be smart because “you messed up the curve for the rest of us.” They loved me when I ventured away from the hood and DC and home and went to North Carolina and a Quaker Liberal Arts College called Guilford College because I knew I was “Black smart” but I needed to know if I was just smart smart and I didn’t want to do it at Harvard or Brown, where I would have spent so much time fighting AGAINST that I would have lost the ability to fight for me. They loved me into my life and career and I would never take that truth away from my Black Church Experience. It is so scary and sad to me that so many LGBTQ people of faith had to wallow through water because they were empowered to know that they could walk on it! Bryant had a chance to be progressive and productive and instead, he proved an archaic relic who would throw dirt in one direction to distract people from examining him too closely.

    Again, thank you for your insight. I am honored that my Authentic Audacity may resonate with many.

    Blessings Abound
    Pastor Kevin E. Taylor
    Co-Pastor Unity Fellowship Church NewArk
    Newark, NJ

    (I was in New Brunswick for 12 years, but have been in Newark since 2012)

  5. I have found that when a person(s) enjoys, love,and believes in a thing, they will fight for it. If that person fights for what they believe in and love does that make any person(s) that does not believe the same, love the same wrong? If a group of people have rules for their group and you do not like the rules, does that make the group or the rules that are in place wrong? If a church believes that homosexuality is a sin and a person(s) don’t agree does that mean that the church is wrong? If you come to my house would you not abide by my rules? Or would you attempt to come into my house and set your own rules? I don’t think so, you will find you a home that allows you the freedom to do whatsoever is pleasing to you.. No difference with the church. People should not expect to come into the church and strong arm the church with the intent to make it change what is preached.. If I preach against homosexuality and you don’t like it then maybe that house is not for you. If I preach against adultery and you don’t like it and feel it isn’t wrong then maybe that house isn’t for you. If I preach that we shouldn’t bear false witness against our neighbor and and you disagree and feel that you bearing false witness against your neighbor is justified maybe just maybe that isn’t the house for you. Wherever you serve, wherever you worship there are rules. Unless the house is a proverb 25:28 house. He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls. when there are no rules, no control, the person(s) is open to allow anything to come in and out. So is this what we think about Gods house that there shouldn’t be any rules…Rather I ask what rules should be in place? Is there a such thing as sin? and if so what is and what are the sins? Is God so full of Mercy And Grace that he doesn’t become angry? The world is making homosexuality a big issue the church knows, teach, and preach against it as a sin issue, and as we know there are many sins. Could it be that the world desire to dictate to the church what it can and can not say, or can and can not believe to be biblically true? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Because of this disagreement it now becomes a fight between the church and the world. I say whoever is on the Lord side will win!

  6. Homosexuality is against the will of God. It is evident in biblical teaching; but people interpret the bible the way they want to instead of seeking after the Holy Spirit for wisdom and understanding. I will not waste my time quoting scriptures you can search the scripture for yourself if you choose to. Most people want to do as they feel and do what they please. People are selfish and unwilling to deny themselves. They are blinded by the lust in their their eyes, their flesh and the pride that lives deep in their heart. Everyone is guilty of these things not just the homosexual individual. The problem is sin and ALL SIN and the only answer to ALL SIN is JESUS CHRIST. Everyone has a choice in the matter and I choose to believe the report of the Lord. Whatever you choose remember there is an eternal consequence that comes with the choices that we make. Seek God and choose wisely. No one has a heaven or hell to put anybody in but trust and believe that there is a judge and a juror and ONLY HE has the power to decide. I pray that all people come to acknowledge that which is the TRUTH and not their own interpretation of truth.

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