I woke up this morning to the maelstrom created by Pastor Kim Burrell and her virulently homophobic sermon. While my first thought was to ignore the matter, the reality is that as an openly queer African American pastor, I have a dog in the show, particularly because there was a time in my own life when I believed the very things Pastor Burrell preaches.

By Rev. Anthony W. Sullivan

A son of the traditional Black Church, I realized from an early age that my faith community did not affirm alternative sexual expression, relegated men and women to defined roles and required conformity to a strict adherence to what the Bible said.

My spiritual formation was heavily influenced by models created by white theologians living in Europe and North America and held little regard for other cultural, sociological, theological or gender points-of-view.

As a young person, I loved God with my whole heart, yet I completely bought into an oppressive theology that affirmed that God did not and could not love me because I was gay, a sinner, and destined for hell.

Contemporary African American Artist, Dane Tilghman

Therefore, rather than living honestly and with integrity, I engaged in a pattern of “church don’t ask, don’t tell” behavior and lived on the “spiritual down low” while pursuing a call to ordained ministry. I was licensed to preach at the historic Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church under the pastorate of the Rev. Dr. Clay Evans at the age of eighteen and for many years ministered within African American evangelical Protestant churches, while not feeling worthy of my pastoral calling.

I felt torn between being a member of the African American same gender loving community and the Black Church. Having to combat tropes and stereotypes made it extremely difficult to find a home in either community. I spent many days feeling a painful combination of anger, shame, and sadness. I did not want to live, attempted to take my life, but could not die. It was only when I began to shed the oppressive theologies that I had grown up with, that I learned that God is neither punitive nor petty.

Reading books authored by Herndon L. Davis (Black, Gay and Christian), Bishop Yvette Flunder (Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Inclusion), Dr. Horace L. Griffin (Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians and Gays in Black Churches), and Dr. Cheryl B. Anderson (Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies: The Need for Inclusive Interpretation) have been foundational in helping me to develop a personal theology of acceptance.

African-American Church Congregation in Washington DC, by Giclee

Exposure to the affirming ministries of Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. (Trinity UCC), Bishop Phyllis Pennese (Pillar of Love Fellowship UCC), Rev. Edwin Sanders (Metropolitan Interdenominational Church and Rev. Dr. Sharon Ellis Davis (God Can Ministries UCC) have created a safe space for me to live authentically as African American queer person.

Lastly, my matriculation to the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology, taught me that I also have the privilege of creating and engaging in theology, rather than just assimilating and regurgitating credos learned from my youth.

While the flames of indignation burn brightly concerning Pastor Burrell’s and others rhetoric, I am reminded that it is paramount that African American queer folk create and sustain ministries that are places of radical inclusion, extravagant welcome and relentless hospitality. We must stop supporting pastors and ministries that feed our egos while starving our souls.

There are pastors, churches, ministries, faith based organizations and fellowships that will not prostitute us or the gifts that God has graced us with. It’s time to come home… for all things have been made ready. Come home.