Beyoncé And The Intersectionality Of Faith

INDIO, CA – APRIL 14: Beyonce Knowles performs onstage during 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival Weekend 1 at the Empire Polo Field on April 14, 2018 in Indio, California. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Coachella )

By now you have probably heard of the Beyoncé Mass. At first glance, this looks like an entirely blasphemous church service praising Queen Bey, and many people of faith have taken deep offense to the fact that it even exists. Some have outright refused to watch the investigative piece about the service, dismissing whatever value it may have simply because it looks unorthodox on the surface.

As with many things in life, though, you need to look a little closer to get a clear idea of what’s really going on here. Contrary to assumptions, the Beyoncé Mass isn’t a service supplanting Bey as our Lord and savior. It uses her music as a lens through which Black women can examine their relationship with the Almighty and I think the creators are on to something.

People who are deep in their faith can find a Biblical lesson in anything. Pastors created whole sermon series around Black Panther weeks after its release–some where women from their congregation dressed up like the Dora Milaje! There is even a website called Christ X Pop Culture, dedicated to the intersection of Christianity and pop culture that also found Biblical lessons in the Horror movie A Quiet Place. If a message can be found in these works, why is there so much static when the lessons center on Beyoncé’s music?

Beyoncé’s music speaks to Black women on a spiritual level because it is centered on us and our experiences. We are celebrated and defended in her music. It acknowledges the fullness of our being, instead of painting us as these stone statues built to withstand any hardship or abuse without lasting injury–chiseled with nothing more than self-determination and sass. Granted, there are some who carry their fandom to the level of discipleship, but that doesn’t make her at fault. Beyoncé isn’t telling anyone to praise her like a god. Listening to her music, though, can often feel like rebellion to Black women who live in a world that constantly polices our self-expression. For countless women, Bey’s catalog is empowering in a way we don’t often get to enjoy outside of our safe spaces.

Within the context of our faith, that image and expectation carries over for Black women. We are expected to stand strong with God at all times. There is no room for struggle or weak moments. There is no room for us to be less sure in our faith, questioning God’s goodness in our hard times. Black women are expected to be perfect and undaunted in our faith, no matter what. Outside of our personal relationship with God, we are the backbone of the Black Christian church in many congregations in the United States.

That doesn’t allow much opportunity for us to get comfortable in our faith. And if we can’t do that, how can we ever truly hope to rest on our understanding of God? We don’t just stand strong with God at our peaks; for Christians, the bond and trust is often built in the spiritual valleys. Valleys that no one ever expects Black women to fall into. But, when combining our Christian foundation with an ability to find a lesson in anything, Beyoncé’s music sounds a little different. It sounds like a recognition of our humanness inside of faith.

“I’ve been asked time and time again, ‘Why Beyoncé?’” Rev. Yolanda Norton said during last month’s service at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. “Because she reminds us that sometimes you have to do your thing your way. You don’t do it on demand, you don’t do it for your oppressor, you don’t sing when they want you to sing, you sing when God tells you to sing! Never give them your song!”

In not giving them your song, Black women of faith were invited to feel all of the ups and downs of their relationship with God with this service. Yes, they also got a chance to bop to some Bey (what fan wouldn’t love that?), but her music was simply another channel that was opened so that more Black women could better tune into God. It gave congregants another opportunity to shout in praise.

This service was never centered on Beyoncé, but it was punctuated by her music. A picture of the program snapped by KQED even shows the order of service. Congregants weren’t exactly twerking in the aisles to Bootylicious or Partition.

Along with news that Beyoncé recently purchased a church for herself, I’m hoping more services aimed at empowering women are held. I’m hoping that more women will get a chance to explore all aspects of their spirituality. And if they can do it while listening to Bey, I ain’t sorry.