This project was part of a ministry exploration project that I began in August of 2021 with funding from the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE). Around that time, I began to explore what it would mean for me to identify as a womanist and work to understand my ministry call as that focused on the intersections of Black women, faith, relationships, and sexuality, yet I was afraid to accept that as my call. In my experience, the Church was always most vocal as it relates to perceived sins around sex and sexuality because “the Bible was clear.” Yet, I had recently learned that the Bible was not so clear and had been forced to confront the harm that had been caused by the Church’s teachings around sex and sexuality, harm that I was complicit in. Why would God call me to this? What would those in my community say? What would others think? As such, I took this project as an opportunity to learn from those doing this work, to network at different conferences, and to do my own reading and studying. The journey of this project has been a journey of wrestling and coming to fully accept and stand in my ministry call at the intersections of faith and sexuality.
This project presentation includes personal blog posts and reflections on the topic and 13 interviews from Black women who do work at the intersections of faith and sexuality. I invite you to come, learn, and explore as I have. This is not a place to debate, and I’m not an apologist. Regardless of where you enter and what you believe theologically, I encourage you to read and approach this open-minded and in good faith. In these pieces, you will come to experience God in new ways. You will bear witness to an expansive God, a liberating God, a healing and sustaining God. You will encounter others who are called to this work at the intersections of faith and sexuality. Please be respectful. This project is about calling and dreams. It’s about the Church and the Academy. It’s about creating space. It’s about sex, sexuality, and sensuality. It’s about dating and relationships. It’s about women and queer folk and queer women. It’s about addressing homophobia. It’s about reproductive justice. It’s about healing and self-work. It’s about getting paid to do the work to which we’re called. It’s about networking and community.
While there are many people I could have interviewed I was bound by time and my other commitments as a student and a student leader on campus. There are many more who could have been included. Some of the other names that came up are Dr. Toni Bond, Jade T. Perry, Danyelle Thomas, Rev. Dr. Melva Sampson, Bishop Yvette Flunder, Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Min. Candace Simpson, Dr. Pamela Lightsey, Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes, Dr. Nicole Symmonds, Dr. Neichelle Guidry, Kevin Garcia, Matthias Roberts, Brenda Davies, Linda Kay Klein, and Brittany Broaddus-Smith. While the basic questions asked were the same, describe the work, discuss the journey to the work, address any barriers or challenges, and provide advice for those hoping to do this work, some questions varied based on expertise and where I was in the journey when I spoke to them. I started out with no idea of what I want to do and came to different realizations as I learned more and had more conversations. I will also admit that I lost some steam toward the end of the project. All in all, I am so excited for what you’ll be able to engage with.
While I will share more about where I am now in the conclusion, there are some things that I want to address upfront. I come to this project as a cisgendered, heterosexual/straight woman. Sexuality includes everything from combatting purity culture to addressing homophobia to promoting sex education to pushing policy, such as that concerning reproductive justice. As it relates to issues that impact the LGBTQ+ community, I recognize that I am privileged as one who is not a member of the community. As such, I recognize that it is important that I lift up the voices of those in the community who are doing the work, some of which you will hear from here. I also honor the fact that many of those leading in the field of Black Church, faith, and sexuality, are queer Black women. Queer Black women have been leading justice work for decades. Still, it is important to say that this is work that we should all be doing. As straight people, we should be working to address our own homophobia and advocating for more inclusive and affirming communities.
Additionally, there are assumptions at times that those who do this work are doing so to “justify their own sexual sin.” First, I’ll work to unpack the idea of sexual sin here in that a lot of the things that we claim are sin are intentional and unintentional misinterpretations and misunderstandings of the Bible. Personally, I won’t refer to any sexual acts that take place between two (or more) consenting adults with a mutual understanding of respect and other values as sin. At the same time, it is important to say that one can do this work while practicing abstinence or celibacy. Another assumption that people may make is that people do this work from a place of trauma, and while there are some who begin from a place of trauma, it doesn’t have to be that way. At the same time, we may be surprised to learn how much the Church’s teachings on sex and sexuality impact each and every one of us who have grown up in Christian and church spaces.
While the journey to this work is often personal, as a womanist, it is also communal. It is recognizing that at the center of this work is agency, choice, and bodily autonomy. It is working to ensure that all are free to make their own choices in alignment with their personal ethic, and for believers, their personal relationship with God, as it relates to relationships, sex, and sexuality and have the resources to do so. It is leaning into a liberating and expansive God and recognizing the many ways that the Spirit may move in our lives. We don’t get to dictate how God moves in the lives of others, and what God may say to you may be different than what God says to me. We don’t get to make rules out of our personal convictions. Furthermore, it is addressing that whether or not one is individually harmed by a system of religious beliefs, that the harmful, toxic, and sometimes deadly system must be addressed for the sake of community. Fannie Lou Hamer once said, “nobody’s free until everybody’s free,” and when it comes to faith and sexuality, I am working towards the freedom and liberation of all people, but especially Black Christian women.