Kim Burrell is one of the most famous gospel singers to have ever lived. She’s trending in the gospel world for remarks she made at televangelist Brian Carne’s church. It’s a hot headline right now, so I won’t rehash it (use google to get a fuller story). But I want to give some thoughtful commentary. Even if you do not know who Kim Burrell is, I would love for you to stay and have this conversation with me. I think this story ties in with our current series on church hurt. So, let’s go…
Here’s a clip of her comments…
It’s not about Kim Burrell. Even though we know that she is a repeat offender with being mean and shady. It’s what she represents that came through in this ill fated video that made its way to social media. I would like to point out why her comments were problematic. But first let me summarize them
Comment #1- She implies that people should make friends with people who are not “broke”, have financial problems, and who live in trailer homes, etc.
Comment #2- She boasts about gathering in a large church gathering without a mask, and also with no vaccine. SHE EQUATES THIS TO WALKING BY FAITH! (Please note that her denomination, the Church of God in Christ aka COGIC, was ravaged by COVID 19, as a significant number of their high level leaders passed away from it, early in the pandemic after several events that turned out to be super spreader events.)
Comment #3 She praised Brian Carne and labeled him “Truth Personified”. (Brian Carne has some problematic theological and religious practices, as well as some problematic stories as a church leader, but I don't have the time nor desire to delve further into that at this time.)
Comment #4 She remarks that sometimes people need to be told the truth about how ugly they are (I guess this is the "truth" that she claims Brian Carne "personifies"). At first it seems she is perhaps speaking of ugly personalities or behaviors. But then it takes the shadiest turn, when she says most people here are not ugly and have covered it up with their hats. “All of you are beautiful, I haven’t chosen anyone to be ugly yet..” (the crowd erupts in laughter).
Generally speaking, what bothers me the most about her comments is that they represent the theological school of thought that pervades American christianity- the idea that you aren't blessed unless you are material wealthy, and that poverty is a sign of poor character or even lack of favor with God. Anti-masking and Anti-vaccine sentiments are hot button issues in the age of Trumpism, and Kim’s comments supporting these ignorant and pseudo-spiritual views make her seem like a mascot for white evangelicalism. But that all makes sense, because most televangelists like Brian Carne are aligned with the American Christian Conservative power structure that has now been hijacked by the idolatry of American christian nationalism. You can’t move and shake in those circles if you don’t agree with their poisonous ethos (which is also rooted in the word of faith movement). If you do an in depth study into Kim Burrell’s public comments, you will see that she has followed leaders like Reverend Ike, who preached a false gospel of monetary gain and self actualization. Her theological breeding grounds are flooded by the most unorthodox and unbiblical streams of modern christianity (word of faith, prosperity gospel, white evangelicalism, televangelism).
"But she’s COGIC- that’s a black church denomination, so how can you say that?"
Toxic faith and theology, even the kind rooted in white supremacy, can and have seeped into various iterations of black denominations. Pentecostals tend to cross germinate, which is a good thing when we are sharing pure and virtuous things of Christ. But the leaven of human greed, oppression of the poor, rejection of modern medicine (all good things come from God), and the outright insult and public humiliation- yeah, these can be found in all kinds of traditions. Black churches are certainly not immune to this.
When Kim Burrell says that Brian Carne is “Truth Personified”, immediate spiritual red flags went up for me. The last time I checked, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…”, so it seems to me that only Jesus can be Truth personified. For KB to make that assertion about a televangelist, (who happens to be her friend, according to her), seems like a form of pastor worship, or idolatry. Again, worshiping leaders in the name of giving “double honor” to church leadership is a common form of idolatry in modern christianity.
And lastly, the remarks she made about people being ugly. I gotta be honest, I laughed at first- out loud. Her delivery was impeccable. And, if this was a Saturday Night Live skit, she would have been a total hit. I can’t lie, she’s hilarious. She has probably had to practice her sharp humor growing up as a big, black woman who may have been bullied for her appearance, maybe by some church mothers- (I don’t know if that’s true, might be my own perception). But in this case, it looks like she may have taken some internal hurt and projected back out on her audience, the very people she is supposed to be ministering to. Sharp-witted humor can be a defense mechanism forged in traumatic environments, and if healing has not taken place, it can be a tool of great cruelty.
Kim Burrell has a history of making comments that come across as boastful. I always hesitate to call black women boastful, because often we are criticized as being arrogant, just because we have an ounce’s worth of self esteem. We are not supposed to love ourselves, because the rest of the world despises us. So when I see black women affirming their sense of gifting and calling, I tend to celebrate that.
In her case, it’s giving me something different though. If you listen to how she speaks about herself in this "apology" ...
you will hear her speak of herself being called and set apart from other believers as God’s special vessel. I don’t have a problem with her affirming herself as called by God. But the problem with her, and many of these famous (and a whole bunch that aren’t famous) ministers is that they believe they are more special and called than the average saint of God. I believe therein lies the error and the pitfall of arrogance.
But here is the rub:
This is not a Kim Burrell problem!
THIS IS A SYSTEMIC TOXIC CHURCH PROBLEM!
The outcry against Kim Burrell from the masses of people is not about her personally. It is about what people have been screaming about church people and church culture for years. The power imbalance in toxic church culture has created an entire class of “Jesus Bullies” (My band mate Chris invented that term LOL!). Those who do not stand against this behavior, yes- even against the elders and leaders who have carried it down from past generations, will be overcome by it.
Let me say that again.
If the “common” people of the church, those of kind and gentle hearts-(all church people are not mean, quiet as it’s kept- I’m talking about YA’LL!)- if the people don’t stand up in righteous judgment of this behavior, they will defend it, excuse it, adopt it, replicate it and perpetuate it. Why? Because as the scripture says, “A little leaven, leavens the whole lump” (unchecked sin is pervasive in spiritual communities).
As we stand against Kim Burrell’s problematic remarks, my only admonition is that this…
Don’t become the thing that you are fighting against. Don’t become a bully, when trying to stop religious bullying. Don’t turn this into a Kim Burrell witch hunt, because Kim Burrell is not our true enemy. We know who that is, and we cannot afford to be taken by the deception of the evil one.
This is what we need to do. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Those of us who desire to follow Christ must work hard to heal our communities with the love of Christ, so that the world can look at our communities, especially on a local level, and say, “see how they love one another!”. We are not quite there yet. We have to keep fighting for love and healing in the Name of Jesus. So, don’t demonize or hate Kim. Let’s rebuke any and all actions that are similar to hers, and ask God to help us all do better.
Love you all!
LISTEN! I am still writing about church hurt, and I have a very important closing installment that will be coming out soon. It’s all about HEALING! It’s the most important part and I don’t want you to miss it. JOIN OUR EMAIL LIST so that you can be notified when it is published, and share these blog posts with anyone you think may be blessed by them. THANK YOU SO MUCH for stopping by- and I hope I will see you here again!