Intuition. Denial. Anger. Apathy. Emptiness. Accountability. Reformation.
Forgiveness. Resurrection. Hope. Redemption.
If one were to put these words together on a Sunday morning, slip them into synthesizer led worship, announce them from the mouth of a plaid clad pastor integrated with anecdotes about his child and wife, or present them in an alter call or prayer, we wouldn’t blink.
These words are integral to the Christian narrative. Try to find a bible tract or gospel presentation that doesn’t have at least 50% of them. Christians love these words…
…that is until Beyoncé says them.
On Saturday, Beyonce released Lemonade, a long anticipated 12 track visual album that explored the intersection of pain, anger, loss, resilience, and redemption.
Using a wealth of spiritual language and imagery, Beyonce masterfully tells part of the story of Black Women- our experiences, pain, and excellence- a story often overlooked or undervalued in the church.
No sooner had the album dropped than did White Christian begin discounting the album by ignoring the truth, beauty, and vulnerability of it and instead demonizing and morally critiquing the album. Suddenly, because there were depictions of Black rage, twerking, honest language, and references to women’s sexuality, the themes of resurrection and spirituality were lost as though twerking somehow discounts the risen body of Jesus.
A Black woman released an hour of Black Excellence and because it had language, challenging truth, and storytelling around the Black experience, it no longer “counted” as a place to engage the gospel narrative. When the narrative of scripture affirms and validates the Black narrative, it is called a skewed gospel.
This is the epitome of White supremacy culture in the church, to hear a Black exegesis of scripture, history and life, and to discount and demoralize it because of its lack of digestibility to white dominant culture.
We in turn move toward silencing or demonizing the validity of Black (even Christian) narratives in so far as they aren’t for or serve the White dominant culture and theology. This posture is at the heart of anti-blackness.
We need to deal with the White Supremacy in our spiritual communities that discounts the reality of lived experience in favor of a white-washed theological framework. And it has always been true that when God’s people fail to engage with issues of justice or inclusion that he sends messengers to help us along.
Using Lemonade, Beyonce provides a series of strategies that Evangelicals can use to actively work against our entrenched white dominance and to value the narrative of the gospel in the many forms that it is delivered in across cultures. The church needs works like Lemonade to teach us how to engage in and out of our communities.
1. Elevating Stories of the Marginalized
Beyonce creates space for the stories of Black Women and in doing so excellently creates space for empathy in viewers. What if churches, instead of spiritualizing suffering and discounting the racial history of the United States, learned to listen and respond to underrepresented people in their communities?
2. Decentering Whiteness
Lemonade was not created to serve White people.
Beyonce, in elevating the story of Black women, shifts the focus from Whiteness and invites viewers to consider a perspective that isn’t their own. It takes White stories out of the center and brings validation to other parts of the image of God in people. When engaging issues of race/racial justice in evangelical communities we often center white folks in the conversation and are more concerned with feelings of dissonance, guilt, or helping them navigate privilege.
The pain of people of color is often erased or decentered in order to serve White people’s needs in the race conversation. This creates traumatic experiences for people of color as we are asked to console, teach, or relive the traumas of racism in order to educate. When we do this, we place the onus on white folks to fix the problem and for white folks to be fixed. What would happen if we empowered people of color to lead us in the redemption of our congregations and our communities in ways that don’t force the reliving of trauma nor leave it up to White people to fix (which, without a multi-ethnic theological conviction there is very little motivation to do)?
3. Honoring Vulnerability and Honesty
The rawness and vulnerability of Lemonade was sobering, an account of reality. Our churches struggle to engage and fully include people of color because we inherently don’t know what to do with pain and often show up as our best selves to our gatherings. What would happen if we created spaces for our congregations to practice honesty and vulnerability in such a way that creates space for complicated and painful narratives to be heard and responded to?
4. Acknowledging history
The church notoriously acts as though history between 33 AD and the present does not matter. We tell people to get over their historic oppression and consequently ignore the conditions of their present suffering. Beyonce does no such thing. She ties, through images of plantations, suffering, pain, and poetry, history to the present and paints a picture of the current suffering of Black people. The images of the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown force us to see people and history as tied together. Do our churches know the racial history of the cities that we occupy? Can we offer good news that isn’t just spiritual but speaks to people’s current realities. The Kingdom of God brings liberation now, the question is whether we will be partners in it.
5. Recognizing that White People and Christians do not have a monopoly on “Good”
The critiques of twerking, language, and honest storytelling as a means of expression reveal the litmus test that evangelicals use for “good.” If Jesus isn’t explicitly named (and for the record, he is in Lemonade) or is not expressed in a way that we deem as consistent with cultural Christianity, then it is judged as useless. Beyonce gives an hour of Black excellence that regardless of what you think about her spirituality, is worthy of celebration and honor.
A bible verse or gospel presentation wouldn’t make the poetry of Warsan Shire more beautiful nor would weaving in a WWJD ribbon into Beyonce’s nefertiti braids make them more good. Beyonce created something beautiful, so in the spirit of Philippians 4:8, we are invited to think on that which is good, not just that which is Christian.
Are evangelicals willing to grow in cross-cultural engagement by finding and pressing into the goodness and excellence in other cultures in order to expand our view of God? The Church needs help to care about what Jesus does and Lemonade offers us a space to enter in. Beyonce celebrates the image of God in Black people and in so displays and proclaims that #blacklivesmatter, the question is if we will.
It shouldn’t take a pop icon to model the dignity of Black lives. Where we at church?
…I forgot…maybe at a “Boycott Beyonce” rally.