Black Women, Faith, and Sexuality

Sensual Faith: An Interview with Lyvonne Briggs

Body- and Sex-Positive Womanist Preacher, Author and Speaker; Author of the forthcoming book Sensual Faith: The Art of Coming Home to Your Body

Describing the Work

My name is Lyvonne Briggs, formerly known as Pastor Baé and Proverbs and all these other monikers that are basically a tribute to the power of my gift as a storyteller. I identify as a body- and sex-positive womanist preacher and author and speaker. I come to this work as a daughter of the Black Church, even though it started in a very particular Church, which is a middle-class Caribbean Episcopal church and went to a Pentecostal church and then Baptist and then COVID. So, I’m a liberated Black woman who loves God and loves sex and loves to learn and loves to enjoy life.

The Journey to This Work (Content Warning: Childhood Sexual Abuse)

This is a content warning for childhood sexual abuse. Having suffered sexual abuse as a child, I grew up hearing lots of sermons about Jesus but never anything about what Jesus meant for me as a child suffering abuse. And so, when I was in seminary, I started to take a deep dive into Black women’s issues. And we know that child sexual abuse, male sexual violence, these issues affect people across race, class, status, gender, etc., but when you start talking to Black women, the numbers are just really astronomical. And so, as a clergy woman, as a survivor, I was like how are we not having these conversations? So, 2017, after the rise of the #MeToo movement, was really when I homed in and started to amplify male sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse in the Black Church and wanted to address it systematically.

As you can imagine, talking about that kind of trauma day in and day out for a year was extremely draining, and around February 2019 was when I had this really pivotal moment. I was featured in Cosmopolitan Magazine, and I remember identifying as a body- and sex-positive pastor for the first time publicly. It was something that I came into that January of 2019. So, all of this to say that I realized that if I talk about trauma, we’re going to get healed, and if I talk about pleasure, we’re going to get healed because you can’t talk about pleasure without the speed bumps coming up. If I say masturbation is better than dealing with a fuckboy, and you have shame around masturbating, we’re gonna have to talk about why. We’re gonna have to talk about toxic theology. We’re gonna have to talk about purity culture. We’re gonna have to talk about trauma that you’ve experienced. It’s going to come up. So, I was like, if I can talk about pleasure, we’re still going to get healed, so that’s what I’m going to do and that’s what I do.

On Facing Pushback and Coming into Your Own

We get to be intentional. We get to be magnets for wealth. We get to call in money. We get to pray for resources because having the resources empowers us to support the causes that we want…We need money to do the ministry we say God is calling us to do.

The Black Church is not a monolith, right, so I can’t say that the Black Church writ large has rejected me. But I do I have sense that there is some hesitation to engage with me now that I’m this boisterous about it, so that being said, while there is a major culture shift, there is also a critical mass of pastors, preachers, teachers, lay leaders, congregation members, who desire to have these conversations. And partly due to COVID and also because I wanted to create a spiritual space that felt good to me and that welcomes all of me, I started a church online on Instagram and Clubhouse. And now that we outside again, I think folks have screen fatigue, and so it’s not the immediate sort of space that we need to work out these things. Folks are now having their own conversations. There are blogs. There are podcasts. There are Zooms. There is social media. We’re having the conversation now so, on the one hand, the Black Church as we know it pre-COVID, what does that look like going forward? Two: Black women are coming into their own power of faith of reclamation of spiritual practices of an identity and an identification with our culture and our heritage. I’m thinking about African spirituality. Like all of these variables are just like orbiting to kind of combine to give us this time to say what do you believe, why do you believe it, and is it serving you to believe that?

On Barriers and Challenges

So the first thing that’s coming to mind is patriarchy and sexism in the Church, particularly misogyny and misogynoir, or thinking about the ways that Black male pastors and preachers can inherit a church. There is no parallel for that really for women in ministry, and so the structure, the hierarchy, the old boys club nature of it, just my presence is subterfuge for that, to quote my friend Reverend Kanisha. That’s one thing that we’re challenging.

I will say money is a thing because in many Black churches, we hear that, you know, foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head. And also, I got this from HoodBotanicals on social media, but she was talking about the scripture that basically talks about Jesus’s treasurer, and you don’t have a treasurer if you don’t have no money, so Jesus had a bag. I believe Jesus was a minimalist. I believe that. I believe Jesus was intentional about where he was using his money and that money shouldn’t be an idol. But when I think about funding, who gets financed, you know everything from ministry to tech to entrepreneurs and just how we’re shifting this narrative, historically Black women haven’t been funded as well as other people. So that’s frustrating because we live in a capitalist society and, like I was telling you earlier, unless God is just like do a nonprofit, we get to be intentional. We get to be magnets for wealth. We get to call in money. We get to pray for resources because having the resources empowers us to support the causes that we want to do. If you run up against some old fuddy duddy pastor who doesn’t want to let you lead Bible study on Rahab, whatever, if I as a billionaire have $500,000 that I can just give to you and be like go start your Bible study, go buy a space, the rent is paid for a year, like if we have queer kids in our congregation and their parents kick them out when they come out, we can provide housing for them. Like we need money to do the ministry we say God is calling us to do so, those are the two things I can think of.

Advice for Those Who Hope to Do This Work and On Monetizing Gifts

My advice for people who want to do this work is to deal with your shit. We are often coming into this because we ourselves have been harmed in some way. Oftentimes if you are a Blackademic, you’re probably writing about the things that matter to you because it’s happened to you. And so, just taking inventory with self and being like what is it that I am being called to, and how can I show up as my healthiest self, and how can I learn how to practice self-care as a spiritual mandate so that I am able to show up fully? I think many of us, particularly Black women, growing up in church were conditioned to believe that we had to serve, and show up, and be here, and lead this, and try that, and clean this, and design this, and print… it’s exhausting. The Proverbs 31 woman is not real. The Proverbs 31 woman is a composite of lots of different women. It wasn’t one woman who was picking up after her kids and cleaning for her husband and going to the market and coming…And so demolish the delusion. Demolish the illusion of perfection because anytime you’re going to do something new in ministry, you’re going to ruffle feathers, you’re going to piss people off, you’re going to drive wedges between you and others. But if this is what God is calling you to do, if this is in the words of Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, “the work your soul must have,” nothing is going to compare to your embodying your purpose.

The things that we care about when we’re in the voting booth are also the things that we care about when we’re in the sanctuary, and we want people to help us integrate all of that.

So, deal with your shit. Be prepared for pushback because anything that’s new, anything that has an eye towards liberation, the system is going to buck against it, whether it’s a white American delusional, colonized, capitalist system or a Black Christian also colonized, patriarchal system. Like any system that thrives on your acquiescence is going to buck when you decide to depart from it. So, that being said, I don’t think you know the Black Church is just gonna crumble or anything. There’s just so many people who attached their identity and their worth to it, but I do think that over time, alongside the liberation of Black women and Femmes, the Black Church will not have as much influence over us because we’re already seeing that younger generations are like, “I don’t really fuck with church, but I love Jesus” because we don’t want to hear “Oh, if you have sex before marriage, you’re going to hell.” Like we want to know, do you have a theological social justice compass? Do you care about mental health and well-being? Do you care about housing and education? Like the things that we care about when we’re in the voting booth are also the things that we care about when we’re in the sanctuary, and we want people to help us integrate all of that.

So, for folks who are interested in doing this work outside of the traditional church, I think a lot of seminaries talk about bridging the gap between church and society, and it’s like, there is no gap. There is no gap; the gap has been created by humankind and by degrees and by degree requirements and ivory towers and all that. Now listen, I have two theological degrees, so I did the work and I know that that’s not the end all be all because I’m not going to end up teaching. Well, let me not say that [because] you never know, but right now I’m not teaching, like you were saying, in academia, and I’m not pastoring like a brick and mortar, like a denominational church. So, when I think about the 21st century, the ever-increasing globalization of our society, how we use social media to build community to bypass structures that are inherently exclusive to certain people in certain bodies, when I think about Rev. Dr. Melva Sampson and Pink Robe Chronicles, when I think about Rev. Dr. Irie Sessions [and Rev. Kamilah Hall Sharp] and the Womanist Church in Dallas, Texas, I’m thinking about women who are creative and innovative and in the spirit of Jarena Lee who are saying I don’t care who don’t like my call, I am called, and I am listening to the call, and I’m following the call. So, to know that, to be empowered, to be emboldened.

And that is at the core of my message in my heart: to love yourself so unapologetically that it frightens other people just a little bit, but ultimately encourages them to love themselves as well.

And then I’ll close this part by saying that when I’m working with my communities, constituents, clients, that I talk about the sweet spot in terms of monetizing. The sweet spot is what you’re called to do, what you’re trained to do, what you love to do, and what you can get paid to do. And it’s hard to even think of an example of something that won’t really make you a lot of money because I can monetize just about everything, but what I was thinking of is you might want to spend your time counting ants. But not everybody gives a shit about ants like you give a shit about ants. But if you teach people homeopathic natural ways to exterminate pests, well okay, now you’re talking because people are trying to be conscious about what they consume. Folks are becoming vegan, and they want their products to be vegan too. People are having kids, and they don’t want to have all those chemicals around their children. You just counting the ants, that’s not going to do anything, but if you start to help people see how you are solving my ant problem then I’m going to pay you what you want for me to get your services. So, it’s about expertise. It’s about market research. It’s about value. And above all, it’s about purpose and calling. And so, the last part I’ll say about this is putting a price on something. Don’t feel like because you’re new and you’re just launching this you got to do shit for free, that you know, I gotta prove myself. You don’t have to prove anything, okay? You were born proven. You’re born authorized. Get your coin, and if you are charging, double your prices.

A Final Offering

A couple of things: Trust yourself. Trust your body to talk to you, whether it’s acculturation, habituation, self-minimizing…sometimes as Black woman we can minimize our needs and our desires and so I would just invite you to think of your sensuality as a spiritual practice. If you trust that the God of all creation created your body and looked at your body and said that’s good, trust that everything about you, is good. There is a church business, because it is a business, that is built on you being at odds with your sexual urges which are happening naturally, so if you’re constantly fighting that, that energy is not going towards other things that God is calling you to do. There is a $4 billion beauty industry that is banking on you not liking yourself and so ultimately, it’s intriguing, it’s provocative, it gets the people going to talk about God and faith and sex, but what is really at the center of it is radical self-love and self-acceptance. And that is at the core of my message in my heart: to love yourself so unapologetically that it frightens other people just a little bit, but ultimately encourages them to love themselves as well. So, yeah, deal with your stuff, tap in, seek joy, know that your pleasure matters and pleasure is your birthright as its abundance and joy and peace. And I’m excited about what it means to be a womanist. I’m excited about what it means to be a Black woman going into 2022 because you know we wearing our heels and our J’s, and we are taking up space, and we are praising God and venerating our ancestors and loving up on our community and living our best lives now, not later, so I’m here for it.

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