Religion Experts Weigh In on Kim Burrell’s Controversial Sermon Against Homosexuality

Kim Burrell Visits Music Choice on June 16, 2015 in New York City. (Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images North America)
Kim Burrell Visits Music Choice on June 16, 2015 in New York City. (Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images North America)

Kim Burrell’s controversial sermon calling homosexuality perverted reflects a woman squeezed between two worlds: the black church with its traditional, homosexuality-as-sin narrative, and the gay-friendly artistic arena, African American religion experts say.

The Grammy-nominated gospel singer, in a now viral video, predicts homosexuality and those “who play with it in God’s house will die in 2017.” Her comments were roundly denounced by a wide range of black artists from Pharrell Williams, who does a duet with her on the “Hidden Figures” soundtrack, to Chaka Khan.

Ellen DeGeneres canceled Burrell’s January 5 appearance on the Ellen show.

Burrell’s comments continue to reverberate throughout the black religious community.

A theological student, who has pastored in Baptist and Pentecostal churches, was inspired to start a new blog, Hu-Muse, with Burrell’s perceived hypocrisy as its first subject.

“I’m straight, but I’m sick and tired of hearing [about homophobia in the church],” says Marlon Millner, a doctoral fellow in religious studies at Northwestern University who has followed the artist’s career for more than two decades.

Even as she preached against it, black religious studies scholars say, Burrell has benefited from the support of the LGBTQ community for years.

Indeed, Burrell makes a guest appearance on “Godspeed,” a song by Frank Ocean, who once wrote about his sexuality and romantic interest in a man.

She was booked on DeGeneres’ show to help promote the new film Hidden Figures before the host, who is a lesbian, uninvited her.

Millner suggests Burrell can’t have it both ways: “If they’re so bad say, ‘No I can’t go on your show,'” Or, ‘It’s nice you would think of me Frank, but you’re bisexual.’ ”

Burrell should also not profit from gays and lesbians “placing their demonic tithes in your sanctified offering plates,” said Darnell L. Moore, a writer-in-residence at the Center on African American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice at New York’s Columbia University.

In response to the backlash against her first video (apparently posted to the Internet by someone in her church), Burrell recorded a second one, suggesting that she’d been misunderstood.

“I never said all gays were going to hell,” she said.

Nonetheless, her comments rubbed a raw wound for many gays and lesbians in a number of black churches, which have long wrestled with reconciling views on how to practice their faith while embracing homosexuality.

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Pamela K. Johnson

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