The Work My Soul Desires Most
“He has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” -Micah 6:8 (Common English Bible)
As a product of Black Churches and its culture, I have first-hand encounters with the politics of this specific institution known as the Black Church. Before I could personally articulate what constituted makings of this context, I was aware that it influenced a large portion of my life. As a child, I was inquisitive about the Bible and its practical application to my life and the lives of my peers. I was taught that the Bible was the authoritative word of God. Therefore, I often felt as if I had to ask my questions in silence. I was unaware of resources that could help me parse my feelings, emerging thoughts, and ideologies.
During my teenage years, I became increasingly aware of the silence of voices within my various communities. Unaware of the academic and cultural resources available, I had no theorists or methodologists to follow. I was unmindful of how these theological musings could morph into my vocational calling. I was blind to the work my soul must have.
During my time as a seminarian at The Candler School of Theology at Emory University, I began to see how my work as a minister and an educator would one day serve the Church, my community/communities, and the world. This realization released me from the need to only show up within the Church, but that the radical love of Christ was needed everywhere I placed my feet.
This does not mean that Christianity and those who practice it are not allowed to hold our church and political leaders to the fire by asking more of them. The crux of the Christian faith resulted from social change and political action. Jesus’ crucifixion was brought about because he sought not to live by the status quo of behavior within his own culture. He was murdered because of his stance on what was right and just.
As a junior scholar in the field of Theology, Ethics, and the Human Sciences at Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS), I have been allowed to freely study the intersectionality of gender and sexuality within the context of Black Church culture. As I learn and grow in my field of study, I have been able to share my findings with those who will never have a chance to see, let alone sit at the tables of higher education. My work calls me to those who are most vulnerable and in desperate need to simply be acknowledged as God’s children. This work has also allowed me to make connections on how social action, awareness, and justice manifest in various ways.
During the 2017 annual meeting for the American Academy of Religion (AAR), I co-presented under the Religion and Popular Culture Unit’s theme of “Sartorial Transgressions: Reflections on Fashion, Religion, and Resistance.” We sought to deconstruct the ways in which queer bodies have been policed in religious institutions and spaces. Specifically, my paper sought to address how those of us who identify as LGBTQ ministers and who use the pulpit as an anti-political opportunity to address the power structures of the pulpit through our attire. To this end, my vocation is intersectional as it is part of the church, theological studies, and the world at large.
As a Black queer woman, my lived experience brings diversity to theological education where gender and sexuality are often overlooked, and in gender and sexuality departments, I bring to bear the significance of religious experience. Out of my lived experiences, I have noted the importance of our narratives. That being, the narratives of sexually queer individuals within the Black church. My belief is that, without our sacred stories, there is no theory; for theory is birthed out of research on human subjects. As a result, I have a deep desire and commitment to train young students of color, with an emphasis on female students of the African diaspora, to think critically on the ways in which our spirituality influences sexuality and vice versa.
My day-to-day lived childhood and educational experiences placed me in the crux of what W.E.B. DuBois coined, “double-consciousness.” This term identifies individuals who feel as if they do not fit into one clear identity. Stemming from my social location as an inner-city raised, suburban private-school scholarship recipient, and queer Black girl from a financially poor background highly impacted my identity. Regardless of our financial status, the church was the most frequently place in our lives. And, while I did not feel most affirmed there, the absence of what I saw and felt drew me closer to God, others in my community, and my life’s work.
While my hometown has one of the lowest academic rating in the country for public education, I was not impacted by this because I was afforded the opportunity to attend one of the best high schools, from an educational standpoint, on a scholarship. Sadly, the educational models I saw during my high school years rooted my belief that students should always be afforded the opportunity to have educators who share cultural experiences with them, without their education suffering as a result.
With my mother dropping out of college at the age of 19 to become a full-time parent, I watched her work two jobs, while completing her college degree during my middle and high years. During this time, she gave birth to my brother, and I had to take on part of the responsibility my brother’s well-being at the age of 12. Early on, I became keenly aware of the necessity of education, communal support, and resources.
My commitment to educational diversity, aligned with the objectives of the Nancy E. Roach Scholarship and the desire for true equality and acceptance, fuels my obligation to be a resource in the collegiate classroom, particularly for students of color. I seek to assist them in reaching healthy self-actualization, without the need of separating their bodies from their spirituality. Students need support from professors who affirm the areas that the world has told them are disposable and unworthy. One of my desires, through both my roles as a current community leader and future university professor, is to offer students a chance to experience hope and opportunity manifested in flesh that looks like them.
As I matriculate through the PhD program at CTS, I have become increasingly aware of my vocation an activist, as well as a preacher, researcher, and scholar. As a child, I did not possess the language to fully understand institutional politics, intersectionality, and social action. There are several ways to deconstruct systems of oppression that harm, spiritually and physically, those who are kept out and hidden from faith communities because of who they love.
As someone who was keenly aware that many tried to force binaries upon me at an early age, I have long had the desire to demand and request more of the institution of the Church, regardless of racial makeup. For most of these congregations, this reinforced heteronormativity is the only way to live in a pleasing manner to God. Which, I know to be an untruth. Specifically, for the past four years, my research and academic experiences have been propelled by the collective life experiences of myself and those within my community who identify as Black and LGBTQ.
Having first presented at the 2014 annual meeting of the AAR as a second-year seminarian, I conducted a qualitative study on the effects of self-identification as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or the lack of identification, and its impact on an individual’s religious affiliation over time. My paper, “Even Me: Creating Safe Spaces for Sexually Queer Bodies in the Black Church,” was presented in the Religion and Sexuality group.
Once I began interviewing individuals who were or were no longer members of Black churches, yet identified as LGBTQ, I realized the importance of personal narrative and voice. As a result, it is my firm belief that without these narratives, we have no foundation to create theories. Additionally, my research has shown me the necessary importance of support and alliance.
Having continued to interview marginalized voices since my introduction to the AAR, my work calls me to marry the various facets of myself. Hiding and silencing parts of myself is of no benefit to those who seek freedom. And, like Jesus, I have realized the fate of this calling will cause death to manifest in various forms: Death to patriarchy. Death to homophobia. Death to transphobia. Death to any and every entity which seeks to keep believers out of the beloved community of God.
While the cross is a sign of death, I am grateful for the ideas and beliefs that can be nailed to it to die and what new life and ways of being will come forth. The work of total liberation and inclusion is the work my soul most desires. And, I will not rest until I can no longer assist in the transformation of humanity, one person at a time.
Whitney Bond is currently a third-year PhD student in the field of Theology, Ethics and the Human Sciences at Chicago Theological Seminary. Her research centers on womanist approaches to bridging gaps between pastoral care and practical theology within human sexuality and spiritual spaces, primarily Black Churches and for queer identifying individuals. A native of East Saint Louis, Illinois, she is a May 2016 graduate of The Candler School of Theology at Emory University and received her Master of Divinity with a certificate in Black Church Studies. She is also a proud alumna of Spelman College where she received her B.A. degree in Drama with a Concentration in Dance. In the past, Whitney has presented at the American Academy of Religion, served as moderator for both AAR and the Love Thyself convening. She is a member of the American Academy of Religion, The National Alumnae Association of Spelman College, the Society of Christian Ethics, and a board member for the Children of Combahee. Whitney has also been a Forum for Theological Education Fellow. Additionally, she is SafeSpace trained, creator of the apparel line Unbossed and Unbought, and a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.