Pastor, Teacher, Speaker, Facilitator
Describing the Work
I just help people find their path to healing and wholeness, liberation.
The Journey to This Work
Because God’s got more time than I do. And as the classic book said, God’s yes was louder than my no. Why do I do this work? In true womanist fashion, my lived experience has definitely shaped what has brought me to this moment or to the longevity of doing the work that I do. I always knew that I would somehow be doing something because I wanted to be the Black Dr. Ruth [Westheimer] a long time ago, when I was probably around your age. I was younger and in my college time and trying to figure out what I was going to pursue, so the idea of talking about sexuality was never too far from my interests. The intersection of sexuality and faith came as a result of my lived experience and coming into my woman-loving self at 30 and wrestling with theological challenges related to LGBTQ identities and how to be Black and female and queer and justice-oriented and clergy. And you know and, and, and, so I started at 30 doing a lot of soul searching, a lot of reading and basically knowledge consumption, and that really helped me be clear that the work that I did, both in the community and in the church, would somehow be related to sexuality.
So, I started volunteering and then that turned into doing some church-based HIV/AIDS ministry, then that turned into some other thing into some other thing. And before you know it, I’m in seminary and all of my papers are about sexuality, and I have great mentors and pastors and colleagues and friends that are really just kind of shepherding me, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to this work. And so, when I went back to school in my 30s and finished seminary in my mid 30s was very clear that the Black Church has an issue with sexuality. And as such, my work and community and with Black girls, Black middle school and high school girls, teaching them Sex Ed, doing pregnancy prevention, all that kind of stuff coupled with my scholarship has just floated me along. And I started my own business at 40 where I talk about sex and faith with Black women and LGBTQ folks, and I pastor. And so just kind of like following the wave of somehow giving into the divine impulse and invitation to help people make sense of what it means to be fully sexual and fully spiritual, to love God and love sex too, and so my focus is on sexual ethics, sexual theology, and a sex-positive faith.
…Following the wave of somehow giving into the divine impulse and invitation to help people make sense of what it means to be fully sexual and fully spiritual, to love God and love sex too, and so my focus is on sexual ethics, sexual theology, and a sex-positive faith.
Overcoming Barriers and Obstacles
Ultimately, you just have to be true to yourself. You have to generate. You have to create your own personal network of support. You have to know the people that have your back regardless, that see you for you and understand that this work is a call on your life; it’s not just for play. And I’m extremely blessed and fortunate to have a network of people who see that but who also know and have experienced my gifting to be able to sit with people. So, you know I get asked this question in different iterations about how challenging and the politics of it all and yeah, I would be lying if I said it’s not disappointing. I mean I think when you go to seminary, especially as a woman, there’s already the wrestle around how male-identified do you be in order to be a part of the club and am I a preacher? Am I not? Do I want to do these things, and how much of myself am I willing to forfeit in order to fit in with whatever it means to get invitations to preach and to be in certain pulpits or to be in certain circles, with certain people? And ultimately, I mean I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Taurus. I don’t know if it’s just because of how I was created in the world. I have my solid tribe, my squad, my team, and all the other people, or whatever. But to be frank, the same people that would not associate with me publicly are in my DMs asking questions about sex and sexuality.
So, ultimately to do this work is to know that you’re called to do it, and if you don’t know that you’re called or if you’re waffling on that, then don’t do it. Because you, not only are going to mess your own self up, but you’re messing up other people because the appetite for people doing this work at this intersection is ravenous and people want it, and people are always looking for it, and there’s never a lack or a dearth of individuals, groups, institutions that want to have the conversation, whatever level or whatever entry point to the conversation. So, as somebody who sees myself as a sex and faith professional, I’ve just been clear about what my niche is and what my call is and so all the other stuff becomes less important if ultimately I’m doing what I know in my soul and my heart, you know, I mean in true womanist form, “do the work that your soul must have” and be clear about that, and let the chips fall where they may.
Navigating the Church and Academia and Creating Space
I think the Church is where the people are. I think academia is where the theories are, where the ideas are. I had a professor once say that to be able to traverse those arenas is to be multilingual, and so I am gifted in that multilingual ability. I think that is also a skill that can be crafted and honed. I mean if your mind is attuned to intellectual engagement then sometimes the work is translating it into language that is suitable for the people in the pews, right? So, I’ve always been clear as I came out of seminary that my call was to the church, to the community, and to the Academy, and so it’s just been various unfoldings across several years around that.
I created something, only to realize that other people are like, “I was looking for this space too” or, you know, “I’m so glad that you did this” because, again, it’s human tendency to want to just fit into something.
And I think to your question about creating space, the unfortunate part of that is that it is human impulse to want to fit in, so I don’t think anybody that’s out here creating spaces is doing it because they just want to create something new. We do it because we searched for the space, and it wasn’t there. I tell people all the time, I started, Will You Be Whole because I was looking for that which I didn’t find when I was at that point in my own personal journey of figuring out who I am as a sexual person and my orientation in my identity and figuring out my faith perspective and being clear about what I wanted to keep and let go of as it relates to Christianity. So yeah, I created something, only to realize that other people are like, “I was looking for this space too” or, you know, “I’m so glad that you did this” because, again, it’s human tendency to want to just fit into something.
And I think that for those of us that grew up in the Church, for those of us that love the Black Church and love what it stands for and are shaped and influenced by it, that we also want it to be better. And we want the people that make up the institution to do better, and so it’s not a light matter to say. “Oh, I’m going to go and create this thing that might be church adjacent,” or even to those courageous individuals that are fighting within institutions, you know thinking about the siblings that are part of the AME church that are looking for a level of acknowledgement and figuring out how to do this within the institution. So, I think part of your discernment process will have to be: am I called to change from within or without and what that looks like. And I think that has to be very specific for people because it is a different kind of labor to know that you are called to change an institution from within versus to be clear about changing an institution from without, and both paths have their pros and their cons.
Advice For Those Who Hope to Do This Work
Black women are the most educated populace in this country, so like no, I’m not going to tell another Black woman to get another certification, another degree, or anything because, ultimately, the work at the intersection of sex and faith is not institutionalized enough for me to say “oh, go to this program to do this thing” or “oh, these people are experimenting in these ways.” Any of us that, you know, that are out there, are forging our paths…I mean you mentioned Dr. Monique Moultrie who did her dissertation on [Juanita Bynum’s] “No More Sheets” [sermon] and like talks about her forging a path in the in the Academy, and that’s her path. But you also know folks like Lyvonne Proverbs [Briggs], who does some sexuality- and sensuality-based stuff. Jade Perry who brings all the sensuality and all the mystics and you know brings those things into play. I mean elders like Bishop [Yvette] Flunder who are out here like just blazing trails. I mean the list is wide and long and deep, Candice Benbow, who’s doing the work that she’s doing in her unique way. I mean everybody’s out here in their lane doing their thing the way that they know how to do.
To me, the clarion call is to identify what is your entry point? To go deeper and not wider because to go deeper is to set the plumb line, and as you go deeper…you reach the water table, and ultimately, you’re going to reach a cross section of people or a cross section of identities and interest where it just absolutely comes together and make sense.
And so, if you look at any of those people or each of those people, they all have different levels of education and they all have different you know paths toward what they produce in the world. And will tell you that what we see today is not where they were three months ago, three years ago, five years ago, and the same is true for my own journey. I mean, this stuff just continues to unfold. So, to me, the clarion call is to identify what is your entry point? To go deeper and not wider because to go deeper is to set the plumb line, and as you go deeper, as I say, geographically you reach the water table, and ultimately, you’re going to reach a cross section of people or a cross section of identities and interest where it just absolutely comes together and make sense. So, I wish that I could say oh go to this program or oh go to this thing and it’s like that’s just not true, and maybe it will be true. Like I work with an organization called the Incarnation Institute for Sex and Faith that was founded by a white woman who’s out here bringing together sexologist and people who are theologically trained in church ministry in some kind of way and teaching them how to be sex and faith educators through two levels of training, so I work with her, and I work with that work.
But ultimately, there’s too many humans with too many problems around this intersection that as long as you’re clear about what you’re about and you’re clear about the value you offer to people there’s no education, no certification no whatever…I definitely am clear that if you are going to do work around anything related to theology and faith and all of that that you’re learned in those areas and same is with, like you mentioned, the arts. Like there are so many people also writing and doing and producing at those intersections. You should know, we should, all of us should know who are the writers, who are the thinkers, who are the influencers in those ways? But there are not any institutionalized or you know certifications and things like that that I would say, “oh, you know, people who do this will result in a certain thing. That’s just not real.