The Girl Behind the Microphone: The Trauma of Kid Preachers


I preached my first sermon at the age of 15. I can still remember  standing up, shaking like a leaf and beginning to speak what I knew about Jesus. I fluttered and flustered through a message with a cracking and nervous high-pitched voice. I remember saying,


And lowering the microphone. I remember how large everyone’s eyes were in surprise and awe. I remember there was what seemed like a long silence and then a standing ovation.

And in that moment my whole life changed.

I went from being Tiffany, a normal average and  unremarkable teenager to

Minister Tiffany.

Preacher Tiffany.

As Minister Tiffany, I was required to change drastically. Everything had to change to suit my new role. There were no models for 15 year female ministers so I had to become a 40-year-old woman over night.

“You have to dress modestly,”

was constantly said to a girl with great legs who preferred short shorts.

“You have to wear closed toe shoes,”

was constantly said to a girl who just learned to walk in every kind of high heels.

My mother would bring home new clothes, more appropriate attire for my suddenly new preaching life, and I’d try the clothes on

too big

and too old

and I’d just cry.

“Why do I have to be someone else?” I sobbed.

“Because you are a preacher and preachers are supposed to be holy,” was the constant reply.

Thus began a life of resentment. Of guilt. Of not measuring up to the role I was called to fulfill. Thus began a life of compulsively pursuing perfection and approval at every turn.

I began preaching when I was just getting to know myself and the world around me. I was reading Rene Descartes and John Locke and discovering politics and philosophy. I was feeling the consuming fire of passion for the boy who I let kiss me in the locker room. I was becoming.

Who was I becoming? Who knows.

But as soon as I put on the cloak of righteousness, all becoming ceased.

I had to speak not for me but for a people.

I had to speak not for me but for a God.

Me  got lost in shame and sin. Obeisance and Obligation.

Me got lost in every prayer and sermon.

Me got lost in every tear spilled

for having any desire at all.

for wanting any pleasure at all.

For needing to be human at all.

I lived a life of guilt. Everyday, to feel happiness was to feel selfish and sinful. Everyday I had to stand, speak, dress, and sit




and wise

before I could drive a car, vote in an election, or take a shot of whiskey.

And it nearly killed me.

I had no idea who I was except for who the church told me I should be. And I would contort myself into a pretzel for the approval of the Christian community.

I started coping with an ever-present sense of core-shame and self-alienation in very unhelpful and unhealthy ways. Every attempt to express my true sense of self was met with:

“But you’re a minister. You can’t do/say/wear/think that.”

And that’s what we do to young people who have any spiritual inclination. We try to control them and kill their spirit. We tell them who it is they can and cannot be until they run away from the church, substance abuse, or kill themselves.

We talk about the trauma we do to preacher’s kids but little is told of the story of kid preachers who, once they are given a microphone, their lives become trauma and abuse.

As a kid preacher in recovery, I’m opposed to the notion of stifling a young person’s expression- artistic, sexual, stylistic or otherwise- for the sake of Christian groupthink.

It is killing us.

Not long ago, I was asked to lead a conference to a group of teenagers who were discerning a call to ministry.

I got behind the microphone

and it took everything in me not to yell,

“Run! Get out! Go make disastrous mistakes. Go get a DUI, get pregnant. Drop out of college and then enroll again. Go be selfish and stupid. Learn what the truth is and what it isn’t. Go find yourself before you give yourself to God, country, and community because once you give up your youthful right to folly you can never get it back again!”

I didn’t say that. Because I wouldn’t get my check if I encouraged minors to get a DUI and drop out of school. I wanted to though. I wanted to tell them that you cannot offer yourself to the Lord if you do not have a sense of self to begin with.

I didn’t say any of these words. But I did tell them that my generation took many bullets for them. Therefore, they no longer had to sacrifice their authentic selves to be leaders in the Church. I told them that they could love God and love sagging pants or short skirts. They could love God and trap music. They could love God and let the boy kiss you in the back of the locker room.

You can celebrate the divine and

celebrate your humanity

at the same time.

The administrators of this conference said that nearly 80 young people came forward to become ministers that night, the largest number in the history of the conference. I merely told them what I wished someone had told me when I was their age.

I’ve had to learn the hard way. I’ve had to teach myself. And I have had to go back and reclaim the girl behind the microphone who was only just beginning to know herself, her God, and the world.

And for the first time in more than 15 years that girl is  no longer shaking like a leaf, no longer fluttered, flustered, confused and ashamed.

For the first time in 15 years that girl is


whoever the fuck she wants to be.

In Jesus’ name.





White Washed, White Lies, White Jesus


I preached this sermon at Goodson Chapel at Duke Divinity in February of 2016. I have reproduced it in light of the racial tension that has currently come to a boil among the faculty at Duke Divinity School. It’s a year old but it’s still true.

White Washed, White Lies, White Jesus

Matthew 7:15-23

As it is Black history month, I would like for us to consider for a moment a prominent black writer by the name of Phillis Wheatley. Phillis Wheatley is the first person of African descent, male or female, to be a published in the American Colonies. She is the progenitor of black discourse in America. Her work, published in 1773, was entitled “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.” Interestingly enough, her publication had two prefaces. The first was a letter from her Master explaining that Phillis Wheatley was his slave and apologizing for any defects in her writing. The second preface was an attestation by a group of notable white men, the then Governor of Massachusetts and other famous preachers and politicians, to verify that she wrote the poems herself. They wrote these words of her and her work,

WE whose Names are under-written, do assure the World, that the POEMS specified in the following Page,* were (as we verily believe) written by Phillis, a young Negro Girl, who was but a few Years since, brought an uncultivated Barbarian from Africa, and has ever since been, and now is, under the Disadvantage of serving as a Slave in a Family in this Town. She has been examined by some of the best Judges, and is thought qualified to write them.*

Note that they called her a barbarian from Africa and note that they called themselves, these notable white men, the best judges to determine her efficacy for poetry writing. It is troubling indeed.

But what is more troubling, I would argue, is Wheatley’s poetry. Take a look:

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negro’s, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

Here in this poem you can see she is articulating some pretty troubling theology, theology that would have been popularly propagated by preachers and theologians at that time. Theological statements like,

Africans were pagan people in need of saving.
Africans were descendants of Cain and their dark skin is the sign of Cain’s curse.
African people are naturally barbaric and need to be refined.

These are all lies. These are all theological untruths. Someone lied to her. Someone lied to her about herself, her people, her God and she believed these lies, internalized these lies and then reproduced these lies for the approval of her oppressors. They were so impressed with her ability to reproduce their racist theological rhetoric that they published her work. And this folks, is the beginning of black literary and theological discourse in America. Reproducing the oppressor’s lies for the oppressor’s approval.

Of course, we don’t tell these bold audacious lies anymore. In institutions where theology is created, institutions like let’s say… seminaries, it would be considered impolite to state out loud that African people and people of African descent are pagan, cursed, or barbaric.

In institutions where theology is created, like let’s say… seminaries, We don’t tell these big bold lies anymore. We tell little lies.

Tiny little lies.

Almost imperceptible lies. Flimsily little untruths.

What do you call a little lie?

Oh that’s right… white lies. We tell white lies here.

It’s little stuff.

Like how in our books and media St. Augustine is always depicted as a lily white Western European but we all know that he was North African. So he probably looked…oh I don’t know…African.

It’s little white lies like that.

Hardly noticeable.

Hardly worth mentioning at all.

It’s how we are always talking about racial reconciliation but when you walk into the Duke University Chapel, the most sacred place on the campus, you will find a statue of Robert E. Lee with the Confederate flag etched into his belt ( a symbol for so many black people of slavery and racial trauma) standing next to John Wesley.   We cannot have a conversation about racial reconciliation until someone reconciles that damn statue.

It’s the little things.

It’s the micro-aggressions.

It’s when you are offering insight in class and your peers and professors say with such shock and amazement, “My goodness, you are so articulate!”

As if black people don’t know how to speak.

It’s the little institutional decisions. It’s how the thoughts and the work uplifting voices of people of color, of people of the African diaspora are relegated to one lecture in a semester or an entirely different class and it’s not called just “Theology” it’s called “Black theology.” It is how the primary pedagogy overwhelmingly lifts up the voices of White German men or men with German sounding surnames as if

Martin Luther

John Wesley

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Walter Brueggemann

And Stanley Hauerwas

Were the only ones to ever say anything thoughtful about Jesus.

It’s the little things.

It’s just white lies.

It’s little white theological untruths.

And the temptation is to, like Phillis Wheatley, to internalize these lies reproduce them for the approval of the oppressive people who created the lies.

It is tempting to white-wash in the white lies for the sake of a better grade, or a better field education assignment, or a higher paying job after graduation. It’s tempting to distance yourself from the mumblings and grumblings of the low country black church because no one nods their heads in approval when you moan, “I know it was the blood, I know it was the blood, I know it was the blood for me”

But everyone smiles in exhilaration when you can sing, “Come thou fount of every blessing tune my heart to sing thy praise”

There is a constant and continuous temptation here to reproduce for this institution a white-washed theology, predicated on white lies, created in order to worship a white Jesus.

And Jesus, the Most High himself, has something to say about this.

In the text for today, Matthew 7 Jesus says,

‘Beware of false teachers who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Mat 7:15)

He goes on to say,

 “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…one day many will say to me ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ and then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Mat 7:21-23)

This is an incredibly significant text for students of theology.

Jesus is saying here that not everyone who claims to know Jesus actually knows Jesus. This is really important in your work. Not everyone around you who is talking about Jesus actually knows anything about Jesus.

There are people sitting next to you in chapel right now who don’t have any idea who Jesus actually is.

There are two hundred dollar text books that you will have to purchase where the writers have no idea who Jesus actually is.

There are professors standing behind their podiums who have no idea who Jesus actually is.

It is crucial for you to not just internalize and the reproduce everything that you hear in this institution.

It is crucial l that you listen to every sermon, listen to every lecture, read every book with a holy critical and suspicious lens.

It’s crucial. It’s not nothing. Because what you are doing here incredibly significant. You aren’t just writing papers here you are creating theology for the masses.

What you are doing is not nothing.

In fact it is everything.

You are creating the theology that undergirds our community. You are creating the theology that undergirds the presidential elections, the educational system, the justice system.

You are creating the theology that determines what bodies are legitimate and what bodies are illegitimate in society.

It’s everything. What you are doing impacts everything. It impacts even little Phillis Wheatley’s

little black girls who have the inclination to write poetry.

What you are doing here will influence what she thinks about herself, her people, her God.

And It’s up to you not to continue to spread false prophecies or rather, white lies.

It’s crucial that you maintain a critical ear, a critical eye on everything here because if you do not you personally run the risk of never knowing who Jesus actually is. It was here, in these hallowed walls of Duke Divinity School, where I learned who Jesus really is. I learned really complicated and esoteric ways to discuss Jesus here. I learned lots of 75 cents words on how to discuss Jesus but I also learned the truth of the uneducated elders in my little black church on the South side of Columbus. I learned that  they were right about who Jesus is.

When my bank account said that there was no way I was going to finish this degree I learned that these little old uneducated black folks were right when they said that Jesus will make a way out of no way.

When I was all alone and had no one to turn to I learned they were right when they said “Jesus is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

When my body was sick and my mind was troubled I learned they were right when they said that “Jesus is a bridge over troubled waters.”

I learned so much here about Jesus. In these classrooms. In these hallways. I learned deeply and intimately who Jesus is. But I think the most important thing I learned here at Duke Divinity School, despite the pressures of the oppressive pedagogy here, is this one inimitable fact about Jesus:

He. Is. Not. White.



Gay, Jesus.

An Epiphany Reflection.

Kim Burrell recently made a media splash for a pretty angry speech (I’m quite selective as to what I call a sermon) that made pretty incendiary claims about the moral integrity of the LGBTQ community. Her speech caught national attention when she was conspicuously dis-invited to perform on The Ellen Show. The “Burrell incident” is gasoline to an ever blazing fire of the Christian stance on homosexuality.

My initial thought when hearing the news was, “Jesus! Here we go again.”

I am of the general opinion that we are currently in a very critical time where people are dying.

We are drowning in the blood of and the tears for the slain from the plague of violence in our land (Reports on the Ft. Lauderdale shooting flood my computer before I could even publish this piece).

People are dying from hatred.
And Poverty.
And sickness.
And sadness.
People are dying.

Confused, scared, and anxious souls wander into the church looking to hear something, anything, to believe in, to hope for, to live for.
Looking for something to get from one day to the next, one moment to the next because
life is so hard.
Times are so hard.

Confused, scared, and anxious souls are waiting with baited breath for the Church to open its mouth to say something, to offer something of clarity, or comfort, or consolation.
And when we open our mouth to speak, out sputters the same diatribe on homosexuality.

My initial thought when hearing the news was, “Jesus! Why in this critical moment is the debate on homosexuality the reason the Christian church is making headlines?”
Why is this what’s at the top of everyone’s Facebook and twitter feed?

My initial thought when hearing the news was, “Jesus! What the hell does it matter?”
In this time, in all that is going on in this country, in this world what does it matter what two grown consenting adults are doing in their bedrooms? Why would that be point of anyone’s sermonic moment right now?

But then I had an Epiphany.

This matters. Talking about sex matters.
Because people are dying.
We are dying from a lack of knowledge, a lack of insight, a lack of understanding about our bodies and our sexuality.
People are dying
From sickness as STD’s conquer communities like the plague.
From sadness as relationships crumble beneath the weight of adultery.
From a lack of safety as rape and child sexual abuse numbers continue to climb.
Talking about sex, it matters.

But the peculiar thing is that whenever we take on the task of discussing sexuality, we can only get as close as identifying homosexuality as a sin. And so often, that’s it.

Personally, I would want to trouble our hermeneutics or interpretation of the Bible’s discourse on sexual sin but if we are to take it at face value, there is a sexual sin to tag each and every one of us. The Bible says that:

Sex before marriage is a sin. Even if you’re married now, according to the Bible You are no more exempt from anyone else who is held accountable for sexual misconduct.

Adultery is a sin. Cheating on your mate, although common, is a damnable sin.

Divorce is a sin. According to our good Lord and savior, Divorce and remarriage is a form of adultery and sin in the eyes of God.

Our Lord says even looking upon another with lust is a sin.

And with his words, we are all guilty of sexual sin.

The interesting thing about the Bible is that it is all written in the same font. The few bits on homosexuality, contrary to popular opinion, are not bold, italicized, or underlined. It is all the same. And we are all guilty.
We all stand accused.
We pretend, when we walk into church, that we have magically become Ken and Barbie dolls, devoid of sex organs or Porn Hub accounts. But if we take the Bible’s discourse on sexuality seriously, even the holiest among stands before God as guilty as the woman caught in the act of adultery. I have always wondered if we know this to be true why do we only know how to identify the gay community as sinners?

But then I had an epiphany.

I realized that we do not know what to do with this sin. We do not know how to talk about, address, or face it. We need someone to carry the weight of it for us. We need someone to take our sin and shame from us.
We need someone to die again and again for us.
We need someone to be the scapegoat.
The lamb who is slain.
We need someone to be crucified for our sexual sins.

We have chosen the gay community to do that for us, to be that for us.

We have chosen them to carry our sins as their own. To suffer the shame and ridicule that we deserve.

And so we have chosen them to be our salvation.
And so we have chosen them to be Jesus for us.

And so on this day as we celebrate the Epiphany- the realization of that our Christ came among us.

I have had an epiphany.

I have had the realization that our Christ is yet among us.
Our savior is here.
Still suffering for us. Still crying for us. Still bleeding for us.
Still dying for us.
Our savior is here.

And our savior is Gay.

Nursing a Black Eye: A Call for Peace

When I was little my brother, three years my senior, gave me a black eye. My mother tells me that I was a very mean toddler, especially mean to my mild-mannered and gentle brother. If I cried, to soothe me, he would give me a rattle. I’d take the rattle and hit him with it and continue to cry. Then he’d start crying.

I, in fact, hit him all the time. I was quite a bully to him. My mother would urge him to defend himself, “don’t let her hit you, Justin. Hit her back.” He would hit me softly. Then I’d begin to cry. Then he’d start crying.

Until one day, he had had enough. I hit him per my usual. He turned around and punched me dead in my eye. I was stunned. Then I began to cry. He didn’t cry.

Nor did he get into trouble. Rather, my mother sat me down and said, “that’s what happens when you hit people.” It was enough for me. My days as a bully were over. I’ve never hit him or anyone ever since nursing that black eye.

Charlotte, NC and the nation is nursing a black eye this morning. After the excessive use of force on black citizens at the hand of the police, the excessive bullying of black people, black people began to hit back with rioting, looting, and destruction last night. Allow me to share with the city and with the nation the lesson my mother taught me so many years ago:

“that’s what happens when you hit people.”

That’s what happens when you bully a race.

I am in awe at the way that politicians, public figures, and especially pastors are decrying the violence that took place last night as if the protestors were the perpetrators of the current civil unrest. We have to stop this long and painful tradition of blaming the victim. We have to stop offering the people platitudes of peace and start telling the truth.

The truth is that the police are killing black people. Without reason. Without repercussion

The truth is that black people have had enough.

As an ordained minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I have dedicated my life to the radical peace that Jesus upheld. It is the same radical peace that has been championed by every faith leader from Apostle Paul to Martin Luther King, Jr. But it has not escaped my notice that Jesus, Paul, and King (yes, King) were all three violently killed by a state sanctioned execution in the middle of the streets just like every black man whose blood has been spilt at the hands of a police officer. That’s why when I see the pictures of Keith Lamont Scott, Terence Crutcher, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice I see Jesus.

They killed him.

They shot. him.

They crucified him.

They will keep shooting, crucifying black men until we as a nation make peace. Peace is the only solution.

But peace must begin where the problem begins.

Peace must begin by calling the police the perpetrators and not the victims.

Peace must begin by calling the black community who have retaliated in rage the victims and not the perpetrators.

Peace must begin with naming the use of excessive force sinful, not understandable.

Peace must begin with making fatal shooting illegal, not allowable.

Peace begins with naming the problem. The problem is not the rioters. The problem is the reason for the riot.

The problem is the lack of regulation of the police force.

The problem is state sanctioned executions in the middle of the street.

The problem is systemic racism that is as old as the nation itself.

If we want peace, we must begin there. And if we do not start now the city, the nation will be nursing much more than a black eye. Because so many grew up with two great proverbs in tensions:

the proverb of Jesus the Christ who said,

“when someone hits you, turn the other cheek.”

And the proverb of every black mother in America who said,

“If someone hits you. Hit them back.”

We must seek peace now because the time for marching is over. The time for hashtag memorials are over. Black people aren’t going to beg for our lives. We are going to do exactly what our mothers taught us to do. We are going to fight for them.



Verses of Singleness: A Completely Unhelpful and Mildly Trite but Totally Thoughtful Reflection on Singleness.

Genesis 2:18 – It is not good for man to be alone.

In Genesis, we are introduced to a God who creates all things. In chapter two, this God creates the first human, a dude named Adam, from the dust. This God breathes the breath of life in Adam. And this God watches pleasantly as Adam begins a very fulfilling job as an environmental scientist and farmer. But the text says that God looked upon Adam in worry and concern because Adam was alone a lot. In an effort to find Adam a companion, God made a whole bunch of creatures but the text states that no suitable partner was found (Gen. 2:20). Adam couldn’t find a suitable mate. So God put Adam to sleep and created Eve from his rib. And Adam was immediately smitten with her.

And that was that.

His lonely days as a single person were over.

He goes on with a normal life. Just like any typical person, he makes some poor choices but recovers from them. He experiences the joy of having children, the grief of losing a loved one when he buries his son Abel. He leads a generally fulfilling life and his legacy includes the whole human race and, most importantly, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Kudos for him.

He was single for all of what? 12 verses?

I am not sure how long that worked out in actual years but I suspect not long given how fast the plot picks up after he meets Eve.

And that’s exactly the problem with looking to the Bible for advice of navigating singleness. While this story of Adam and Eve is truly beautiful and we cherish it as a community of faith, it is definitely hard to relate to. And in general, the question of singleness in the Bible is a non-question. Generally speaking, mates, partners, companions are just there, finding each other is just the backstory. Adam meeting Eve is the prologue. The real story is inviting sin into the world by eating the forbidden fruit. Abraham meeting Sarah is the back story. The real story is how they produced an heir despite Sarah’s barreness Mary being betrothed to Joseph was the backstory. The real story was that God told her that despite her virginity, she would conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit (I really hope that was the best or most “divine” orgasm ever by the way).

The reality is that there aren’t a lot of single people walking around in the Bible. I mean there are. Some of the prophets were single. Ruth was single (look out for my reflection on how she navigated her singleness). Hell, Jesus was single. No, fuck Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” and whatever nonsense the History Channel is saying these days. Jesus was single. There are tons of single people in the Bible but their singleness was not a major aspect of their lives, or at least the Biblical writers didn’t feel it significant enough to reflect upon.

But presently, the reality for so many of God’s people is the same problem Adam had, a suitable mate has not been found.

Don’t get me wrong, people find mates. People couple up. People get married. People have children. People mate.

But the decline in marriage suggests

But the rise in the divorce rate suggests

The shockingly high numbers of survivors of domestic/ intimate/ relationship violence and abuse suggests

That we have a “suitable mate” problem as a community of faith.

And Genesis 2 tells us that this is a problem that God is deeply concerned about. This is a problem that God feels very compelled to fix. I mean think about it. God didn’t say to Adam

“I see you’re single. Maybe you should use these 12 verses to work on yourself.”


“Adam, have you ever tried online dating?”


“Here’s a book on the 12 steps to navigating the single life and landing the bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh of your dreams.”

No, God had to get actively involved. God had to cut some things open. Rearrange some things. God had to re-create to make this first relationship happen.

And that’s the reality of it all.

Finding a suitable mate is one of the few things that we cannot create for ourselves, give to ourselves, or do for ourselves. God has to do it. And that may be 12 verses or 12 years but it is God’s job to provide a suitable mate.

This reality makes me think that perhaps being single is the first act of faith.

Single people must believe that this God that we worship is just as concerned about us as God was about Adam. This God is still crying out, “it is not good for humans to be alone.” Single people must allow this God to get actively involved. To cut some things open. To rearrange and recreate to make suitable relationships happen.

That means that the answer to singleness is that we have to do the uncomfortable,

The unimaginable,

The unthinkable…

We have to do nothing.

We have to actually to do the command that we are given again and again in the Bible:

We have to actually… you know… like… Wait on the Lord.


When I was a child I used to suffer from homesickness a great deal. After a day or two of wherever I was, I pined for home. I felt a similar feeling when a family member was absent. I would get brother-sick when my brother Justin was away at Boy Scout’s camp, dad-sick when my father would travel to teach in other cities. And mom-sick, oh would I get mom-sick. My mother traveled a great deal for her job and for sport. After a day of her absence I would start crying. A few days later I would stop eating. I remember once when she was in California for a week my dad called her and said, “You’re going to have to come soon or she is going to die. We can’t get her to eat anything.” Homesickness, or my close orientation to my family, was not something I quickly grew out of either. I was the drum major of my High School marching band, a source of great honor and pride. But on the second day of Band Camp, I would call my mother in tears saying, “I’m ready to come home.”

My mom would reply every year, “I anticipated this call. I thought at least you could make it until day four. You’re the leader of the Band Tiffany, you can’t come home right now.”
One day, my mother sat me down said, “While the rest of the family has attended college in Ohio, I want to send you away to school. My fear for you is that you will go to school here and never see how big the world is outside of this city, outside of your home.”
And so we turned down offers to colleges in Ohio and at the ripe young age of 18, I headed to Atlanta bound with a call to ministry, a bible, and a miniskirt and sought to make a life for myself away from home. Committing myself in devotion to God and in service to the Church led me throughout the World. I have lived and ministered in many cities, preached and taught in places all over the country and all over the world. I have come to know, as my mother assured me, the world is indeed a big place and I have found that God is everywhere.

While I have found God leading my path every step of the way, and have made community wherever I have landed, every minister will tell you that the journey of ministry can be quite a lonely road. I believe that Jesus acted very intentionally when he sent his disciples out two by two so that they could lean on each other and comfort each other in times of fatigue and duress. Ministers need that. They need people to fill them up after giving all they have to a broken world. They need people who can see and love them without the “pastor persona.”

They need family.

There are not a lot of good models for healthy professional ministry. Due to the scarcity of pastoral positions available in general, and the confining nature of being a woman in ministry in particular, there are not a lot of spaces to state out loud what we need. The expectation is to give and give and give until we burn out or until we die in the pulpit around 72- in both instances being used up to the point that we are no longer healthy to ourselves or useful to the Church.

I defy this model.

I intend to serve God for the rest of my years and to serve God in a way that allows me to thrive and not perish. That begins with stating out loud what I need:

I need people who I can lean on in times of fatigue and duress.

I need a people who can fill me up after giving all that I have to a broken world.

I need people who can love me apart from my work in the Church.

I need my family.

I need to go home.

I’m homesick.

So after much prayer and discernment, I have decided to step down from my position at South Tryon Community Church and will be returning to Columbus, Ohio to spend time with my family. I have several opportunities to serve in Ohio but I have not yet chosen which community I will be serving. I have resisted choosing a community at random just so that I can say I have my next steps planned out.

I would like to thank the Western North Carolina Conference, my mentor James Howell and the Myers Park family for their support in my work and for their support as I took time to discern my calling.

Finally, I would like to thank my beautiful and cherished South Tryon Community Church. I strolled up with a call to ministry, a bible, and a miniskirt and they loved me, supported me, and allowed me to lead them from the first day to the last day. They have been my family. They have been my home. And I am grateful.

The Reverend Tiffany Thomas
South Tryon Community Church
Senior Pastor

When the Church Becomes an Abusive Boyfriend

Ministry shouldn’t hurt. Before you start hurling scriptures at me about taking up the cross, and suffering, hear me out. It is true that ministry is hard. It is true that ministry takes sacrifice. But ministry shouldn’t hurt. That is a truth that no one ever taught me in seminary.  But it is a conviction that lives resolutely in my soul: ministry shouldn’t hurt.
We teach young women the same concept in romance. We teach that love shouldn’t hurt. And we tell young women that if a man says he loves you but hits you or treats you badly emotionally or psychologically, then it isn’t love at all.
It is the same with ministry. If you find yourself in a ministerial setting where you are taking a pounding from the congregation, the senior staff, or the denomination, it isn’t ministry at all.
We do not tell female clergy this enough.

We live in a time when more and more women are choosing pastoral ministry as a vocation. And yet we live in a time when vocational ministry for women is still plagued with a concept of scarcity. There are so many women who stand with seminary degrees and who also stand without a job. Therefore, women are taught to just be thankful for any opportunity to serve, to pastor, to lead in the church.

“I’m just happy to be here,” is the mindset for many women as they assume their appointment, their call, and their positions. This desperation to work, this zealous willingness to serve in any location, under any circumstances, regardless of condition or compensation can lead a woman minister to wake up one day are realize that The Church has become her abusive boyfriend.

It is the elephant in the room that we all know but do not articulate out loud: women in ministry are not treated well.
The tales of abuse of women in ministry are as shocking as they are numerous.

Tales of violence. I know a female minister who was nearly raped while sitting in her pastor’s study preparing for Sunday worship. I know a woman who was fired from her prominent position because she refused to submit to the sexual propositions of her senior pastor

Tales of bullying. I know a woman who was attempting to run a leadership meeting but couldn’t get through the meeting because a hostile trustee openly and aggressively undermined her authority as pastor. I know a woman who was trapped in her office as the senior minister yelled at her until she was nearly faint with fear, pain, and grief.

Tales of disrespect. I know a woman who was denied the opportunity to serve communion even though she was fully ordained and had more seminary training than the rest of the entire ministerial staff. I know a woman who was paid least in an executive ministry team even though she had the most ministerial experience and corporate executive experience.
I could go on and on lifting up the abuses that women in ministry face in the church.

Why does this happen? If one in five seminarians are female, if more and more women are serving in fulltime professional ministry, why are women in ministry facing such abuse? The answer is two-fold, bad theology and fear.

Women clergy get trapped in abusive ministerial environments because of bad theology. Pastoral vocation is a vocation that is wrapped around the language of divine calling. We do not chose pastoral ministry, rather we are called by God into pastoral ministry. So even if the ministerial position causes pain, harm, or abuse women in ministry rationalize it by telling ourselves that God has called me to this pain, harm, or abuse. Moreover, women in ministry can easily normalize the pain and abuse by over identifying with the elements of suffering and painful sacrifice that are present in the Christian faith, “I am hurting so I must be doing something right. I must be like Christ.” And just as with an abusive boyfriend it becomes difficult for a woman to separate love from pain, love from violence, love from abuse so too when The Church becomes an abusive boyfriend it becomes difficult to separate God from violence, separate calling from coercion, and separate ministry from abuse. This is simply bad theology. God does not affirm or support violence, corruption, or coercion. God is a God of peace, of love, and of justice. If peace, love, and justice are not present in your ministerial position, then your ministerial position is not of God.

Women clergy get trapped in abusive ministerial environments because of fear. A female minister can be consumed with fear in her ministerial position. There is the fear of being disliked which makes her smile and say that everything is ok when everything is not ok. There is the fear of failure which makes a female minister muscle through even the worst situations so that others won’t say “she simply wasn’t cut out for ministry.” There is the fear of dispensability, a female minister must endure the covert and overt messages that tell her that she can be replaced at any moment with another more benign, more amiable woman.

The Church can be an abusive boyfriend to many women in ministry. The answer is not to quit for God has called us women in to pastoral ministry and we are here to stay. The answer is not to endure the abuse because God does not ordain this sort of oppression happening within The Church. The answer is in recreating the relationship between The Church and women in ministry. In order to recreate this relationship, there are three things that every woman in ministry must do:

1. Believe in your calling. If God has called you into ministry, you have to believe it. Believing in your calling will make you bolder and stronger, and less afraid. Because when God calls you, no one can take that calling from you.

2. Hold fast to your value. If you have been appointed or hired for a pastoral position, you must really believe that the gifts for ministry that you bring with you are valuable. You must really believe that the Church is made better because you are there to serve. You are not dispensable, the Church would not be the same without you.

3. Advocate for yourself. You have to speak up for yourself, no one is going to do it for you. Learn to speak up about your compensation, your job description, your support staff and other elements of employment that are hard to discuss but are necessary conversations for healthy ministry environments. Learn to speak up when someone is disrespecting you, “you are not allowed to treat me this way, talk to me this way. I am a minister of the Gospel, and a child of God.” Say it again and again until you believe it and others will believe it as well.

Being called into pastoral ministry is one of the greatest gifts that God can give. When you are called into pastoral ministry you get spend the whole day helping others to see God in Life’s great and small moments, in life’s happy and sad moments. Ministry is beautiful. And ministry is taxing. And ministry is hard. But ministry shouldn’t hurt.

Is the Devil in the Music?


Is the Devil in the Music

Ezekiel 28: 12-19

Music affects me tremendously. I remember after I broke up with my college boyfriend, I couldn’t listen to music at all.  Because every song reminded me of him. Every song made me cry. So I just sat in silence for a year. Yesterday, I was running errands all day with a friend and she was listening to hip hop on the radio. By the time we returned home in the evening she looked over at me and asked,

“what’s wrong?”

“It’s the music,” I replied. “All the violence. All of the misogyny.  It’s literally making me sick.”

Now hear me out, I like Drake, and Lil’ Wayne, and Nicki Minaj, and Meek Mill (… well Meek Mill not so much) as much as the next millennial. But when you listen to the music for 6, 8, 12 hours it does something to you.  Do you know what I mean?

There are many Christians who will respond that there is a reason for that. They say that hip hop makes me feel this way because hip hop is demonic. There is a popular argument that suggests that the Devil uses music to turn people away from God and there is Biblical evidence to prove it.

My Bible study class and I had a debate one the subject and they insisted that I present our arguments to you today and so here I am. Now I confess, I have played the role of the devil’s advocate (almost literally) but I promised to present a neutral discussion, as the one’s who disagree with me don’t get the opportunity to preach. So here goes:

Is the devil in the music?

Let’s begin with a brief history of music in the Western world. So from about the 1200’s to about the 1700’s music what we call “classical.” It was the music of the Renaissance era, the Romantic era, the Enlightenment era, it was the symphonies of Bach and Beethoven… you know… the music that puts us all to sleep. That’s what music sounded like for a long time in the Western world.

And then in the late 1600’s, early 1700’s there was that peculiar institution that brought African bodies bound for America. And there, deep in the mud and muck of the southern plantations and African slave labor camps was born two new forms of music: the Spirituals and the Blues.

We know the Spirituals, we still sing them today.

“Don’t you let nobody turn you round,'”

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,”

“Wade in the water… God’s gonna’ trouble the water.”

They were songs about God.  They gave rise to the contemporary Gospel that we sing today, the songs that we sang this morning. It all started with the Spirituals.

And then there was the Blues.

It was the music that “ached so good.” It was music that wasn’t about God, it was about life. Music that spoke of how bad it felt when your woman walked out of your life. Music that spoke of how bad it felt to be poor and not have a penny to your name.

I want you to know that even in slavery this debate went on among Christians, the Spirituals were good and the Blues were sinful. But for some reason our ancestors couldn’t let the Blues go. So even after slavery and well into the reconstruction era and beyond, there were places called Juke joints where people would sing, gamble, and grind on each other- places that were called the den of sin, the den of the devil- and then the very they would be up early for church on Sunday. And people began to notice that the same musicians who were performing on Saturday night were the same church musicians on Sunday morning. And everyone loved the music all the same.

As the Blues began to grow and develop it gave rise to Jazz, and rock and roll, and r&b, and finally in the 1980’s, in the mean streets of New York City, something entirely new was born… hip hop.

Hip hop is but poetry with a beat, poetry set to a rhythm.

In defense of hip-hop, it is the music of African American intrepidation and defiance. In a culture that has for centuries attempted to control, imprison, oppress, and kill the black race, hip-hop is the voice of a people who refuse to die. And when the young black boy who hasn’t eaten in three days walks to school with shoes that have holes through and through, as he puts his headphones on and turns Jay-Z up he is saying to the world, “despite it all. I am still here. I am still alive.” That’s what hip-hop is.

On the other hand, hip-hop is marked by it’s negative themes:

Gang violence- the “us vs. them” rhetoric.

Drug use and distribution- getting high and getting rich getting others high.

Sexually explicit content- have you noticed that every rap song lately is about strippers?

If I had the time I could identify for you where in history these elements came from, the rising of gangs in the 80’s, the introduction of crack-cocaine in poor black communities in the late 70’s, the sexual revolution in the 60’s- but I don’t have time to break it down for you… you should have come to Bible study. Suffice it to say, hip hop has some pretty violent imagery and get’s blamed for the ills in the black community:

Hip hop is the reason that teenage girls are getting pregnant at 15.

Hip hop is the reason that the homicide rate is so high in the black community.

Hip hop is the reason that young boys do not mind going to prison.

Hip hop is the reason that drug abuse is ripping families apart.

Hip hop is at fault. Because hip hop is of the devil.

It’s the devil, you see. The devil is using the music to kill, steal, and destroy us. And we have for some time used the Bible to “prove” this argument. We have told this tale about Satan. That he was the head of music in heaven and then he became pretentious and willful and was cast from the sky on to earth. But he still uses his gifts for music to stir us all to sin. And the text we read together this morning is typically used as Biblical evidence for this legend. Ezekiel 28 is the text that is used to back this claim that the devil is in the music:

verse 12, “you were the seal of perfection full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.

verse 14, “with an anointed cherub as guardian, I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God.”

Verse 17, “your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.

Verse 19b, “you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever

When we read this text we think that Ezekiel is talking about Satan’s great expulsion from the choir loft in the sky.

But what if I told you that this text is not about Satan at all?

This text and the book of Ezekiel is to and about the kings in and around Israel. This particular text is about the King of Tyre. The prophet is using the ancient rhetoric of the garden of Eden to let the king know that God will expel him from his kingdom in the same way that Adam was expelled from paradise. It’s a political, contextual, specific polemic against a corrupt monarch. It is not about Lucifer at all.

What if I were to tell you that contrary to what we have been saying all this time…what if I said  the devil is not in the music… the devil is in the church.

I said it. The problem is not the music, the problem is the church.

There is no essential power in hip hop music. You could sit me in a room and force me to listen to Nicki Minaj talk about her butt all day and there is nothing she could say, no music video she could make that was so compelling that it would make me want to get butt injections.

You could sit me in a room and force me to listen to Lil Wayne rap about getting high all day and there is nothing that he could say that would make me want to drink that syrup or whatever it is that makes him crazy as hell.

Why? Because my identity is not formed or shaped by Nicki Minaj or Lil Wayne. My identity is formed in Christ.

Therein lies the problem. For a whole generation of people, hip hop is providing a sense of identity. Hip hop is providing a sense of hope. Hip hop is offering a world view and perspective…. Hip hop is doing the work of the church.

The problem is that the  Church provides an identity, a world view and a perspective too but it is one that most people do not fit into. At church you are expected to be a “good stand up Christian.” And being a good Christian is a journey, it takes a lifetime. But church members are expected to have it already figured out. And for those who haven’t got it figured out, for those who can’t fake it like they have it figured out, they do not belong at church.

People who are dealing with the mud and muck of life

when things are not right in life.

when life is a mess:

“I love my wife, I do, but I can’t stop cheating on her.” People like that.

“I know I should leave my boyfriend, he hits me. But I love him so deeply.” People like that.

“I want to put the crack pipe down but it’s like fire inside of me. And I hunger for it all of the time.” People like that.”

“I was born a man. But I feel like I was supposed to be a woman.” People like that.

“I can’t find a job so I sell drugs because mamma’s rent still has to get paid.” People like that.

People like that are not welcome in the church.

And so such people just don’t show up to church and  turn to other voices for identity, and hope, and meaning. They turn to hip hop.

And as Christians, as a community of believers, we have to stop blaming the Devil and take a long hard look at our institution. We have the answer. We have the truth. It’s our mission to tell everyone that the provision you are looking for,

the hope that you are looking for,

the love that you have been waiting on,

the answer you have been searching for is not found in Drake,

or Tupac,

or Jay-Z,

the answer is in Jesus.

Jesus is the one you have been waiting on. Jesus is the one who can save you. Jesus is the one who can heal you. Jesus is the one who can free you. It’s not Jay-Z, it’s Jesus.

It is not until we the church stops pointing the finger of blame at the Devil and starts actually being the Church that transformation can ever happen. When we begin to let people who are broken be broken before God in our sanctuaries and find healing with our Lord, transformation will finally happen.

Then teenagers will stop getting pregnant.

Then the homicide rate will go down.

Then drug abuse will stop ripping apart families.

Then we will finally reign in the kingdom of God.

The devil is not in the music, my friends. The devil is in here. And it’s time to exorcise our Christian institution of hatred, of judgement, of exclusion, and intolerance in order to make  room for peace and hope, and healing, and love so that God’s people may finally find exactly what they need.

And what they need is Jesus.

Let’s stop blaming the music, let’s stop blaming the devil, and let’s start changing the world.

Bringing Up the Rear: For Those Troublesome Women Preachers


I preached this sermon at the North Carolina Women’s Preaching Festival. It is part B of a duo preaching presentation in which my sister in Christ, Rev. Kara Slade (coincidentally the coolest Episcopalian Priest you will ever meet in life), gave part A. We followed the Lectionary text for the day and purposefully chose the Pauline Epistle to make the statement that female preachers can and do find liberating and affirming messages in Paul’s writings.

Bringing Up The Rear

I Corinthians 15:1-11

  1-2 Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)

3-9 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.

10-11 But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven’t I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn’t amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it. So whether you heard it from me or from those others, it’s all the same: We spoke God’s truth and you entrusted your lives. (I Corinthians 15:1-11 MSG)

A woman preacher is a woman in trouble.

There is that troublesome God who plucks us from the simple linear life that we created for ourselves and calls us into ministry.

There are those troublesome insecurities, that voice that rings in our heads “who am I to stand in front of people and speak. I am nobody.”

There is that troublesome glass ceiling that women have been hurling stones at for generations but that pesky glass is strong and hard to crack.

There are those troublesome stereotypes. The covert and overt messages that say “if you are going to be a woman preacher you have to look a certain way. Talk a certain way. Stand a certain way. Be a certain way.”

And then. And then. And then

There are those troublesome voices who say again and again to women preachers that you do not belong in the pulpit, you do not belong in the episcopacy, you do not belong in leadership in the church. And if you think otherwise then you are are just being troublesome.

That’s why I love this text in I Corinthians 15. Because Paul here is the exemplary model for every preacher but I would argue his words here are an exemplary model for women preachers especially.


For a simple truth, a simple fact that we all know to be true about Paul: Paul was troublesome.

He preached the Gospel all over the Roman Empire. Without license, without approval, without permission. And he was constantly facing resistance from his fellow preachers.

“You little upstart, who do you think you are,” they would declare. “You don’t belong to our good ol’ boy preaching club. You are not an Apostle. Were you there to see Jesus walk on water? Did you see him feed the masses? Where you there when he died on the cross and revealed himself to us in the upper room?”

“Aha!” Paul replies here in this text. “It is just as you say. Jesus presented himself alive  to Peter. To his disciples. To James and to many more.

And then. And then. And then.

he presented himself alive to me! to me! to me!

It was fitting that I bring up the rear (I Corinthians 1:3-9 MSG).”

It was fitting that I, too, join this long legacy of Prophetic witness to the Holy Gospel.

He goes on to say that it was fitting not because he was so holy. Not because he was so worthy. Not because he had never made any mistakes.  But because God is so gracious. And he says in the text “And I am not about to let his grace go to waste (I Corinthians 10-11 MSG).”

And so he responds I’m sorry if proclaiming the Message is so troublesome to you. I’m sorry if I cause you trouble. But you see, it’s not me it is the troublesome God who is in me. It is the troublesome God who has sent me. It is that troublesome God who presented himself alive to me.

And don’t you see that similar to Paul, a woman preacher is a woman in trouble.

Every time she lifts her voice to preach the Message

she is troubling the still waters of the Church.

She is troubling how things used to be.

She is troubling our understanding of I Timothy and Ephesians.

So it is incumbent upon all female preachers to, like Paul, stand boldly and declare

I know I am a lot of trouble.

But you have to understand that it is not me.

It is the God in me.

It is the God who sent me.

It is the God who presented himself alive to me.

It is exactly as scripture says, Jesus died for our sins.

It is exactly as scripture says, he was buried in the grave.

It is exactly as scripture says, he was raised from the dead.

And it is exactly as scripture says, Jesus revealed himself to Peter,

and James,

and Paul,

And me! And me! And me!

Because it is exactly as scripture says in Joel 2, ” I will pour out my Spirit on all people and your sons and your daughters will prophesy” (Joel 2:28).

And so it is fitting that I bring up the rear.

Not because I am so holy. Not because I am so special. Not because I have never made any mistakes. But because God is so gracious. And I am not about to let that grace go to waste.

And so I admonish you today, you women preachers, to own your space in the long legacy of prophetic witness to the Holy Gospel.

Do not be afraid to bring up the rear.

What does that mean? Ultimately, that means do not be afraid to be troublesome.

For a woman preacher is a woman in power.

A woman preacher is woman in strength.

A woman preacher is a woman in audacity.

A woman preacher is a woman in trouble.