On the Intersection of Womanist Queer Theory + the Imago Dei + Kendrick Lamar

In the sultry sounds of Kendrick Lamar’s newest album, ‘Mr. Morale and Big Steppers,’ Lamar takes listeners through a highly spiritual and seemingly religious set of 18 songs. They depict deep understanding of self through therapy, discovery, education, and the social drought of the Covid-19 pandemic. Lamar’s “Auntie’s Diaries,” begins with the voiceover: “This is how we conceptualize human beings.” On the one hand, this song earned Lamar much criticism from the LGBTQ+ community. On the other hand, it earned my theological admiration after three years of seminary and at least ten years as an enthusiast of pop culture, journalism, and religion. [1] The deafening silence was disheartening of many black theological leaders/scholars who did not defend Lamar’s bold questions to his preacher. His brave voice stands up for trans folks in the midst of a very public oppressively homophobic and transphobic black church. Thus, Lamar’s song does through music what many black church leaders and theologians with far more power, education, capital, and money are too afraid to say in defense of black trans folk facing injustices and abuse in the black church and society at large.

Previous critiques missed the opportunity to connect Lamar’s song with womanist narrative that could serve as a model for many. Lamar’s song in connection with course readings related to black queer hermeneutics, demonstrates that the black community needs more courageous black theological queer leaders and black LGBTQ+ theological allies, who, even if only inadvertently adhere to a womanist ethic of the Imago Dei. [2] As womanist scholar Alice Walker stated, I argue that Lamar is,  “Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people,” especially black trans folks in the black church through this song.[3] With a reference to Pamela R. Lightsey’s Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology, I suggest that Lamar chooses to be what Lightsey states is “authentically engaged” as a black ally against injustice toward trans black folks.[4] Lamar made this song and at 3:13-3:15 references how he spoke out publicly during an Easter Sunday service. At this occasion, he critiqued the hyper-homophobic and hyper-transphobic high-ranking black theological Leader in front of the congregation. Lamar’s outburst occurs due to Lamar’s preacher publicly berating in his sermon Lamar’s two transgender family members. From 3:15 to the end of the song, Lamar described The entire congregation witnessing Lamar’s loved ones endure being referenced by Lamar’s preacher as “reasons” the world is an “abomination.” In this referenced moment, Lamar’s act is a countercultural breech in black church politics because Easter Sunday is a staple date of church attendance in the black community. Even those not frequently going to church were present. Conservative Black Christians who hold closely to the black church’s silencing politics potentially perceived Lamar’s outburst as “disrespectful.”[5]

This part in the song illuminates Lightsey’s perspective on black church homophobia. It results from black Christians who have not divested themselves of the influence of white biblical scholarship, white evangelical perspectives, and the white prosperity gospel. Lightsey explains: “Black homophobia is part of white sexual exploitation fueled by an uncritical acceptance not only of black but also of white preachers’ biblical interpretation.”[6]

All of us must thus grasp how often black Christians, myself included prior to my seminary education, have inherited systems of thought from pastors. Those revered pastors have not deeply and critically investigated the foundations of their inherited belief systems to carve out an authentic comprehensive stance for themselves that affirms what they believe about humankind without bias and manipulation. Black church leaders rarely have an opportunity to investigate LGBQT+ matters at a rigorous academic level, even if they are interested, due to their concerns about being theologically persecuted for queer sympathetic viewpoints. Unfortunately, many black church leaders live out their roles with the information to which they have been exposed, until they investigate the beauty of a more authentic and healing truth that affirms and includes more people in God’s love.

Moreover, Lamar’s song from 3:25 to 3:50 expresses solidarity with Imago Dei embodied by his two trans loved ones as the fullness of their intersectional diversity and its compounding trauma. Lamar’s song and public speech depicted in the song affirmed that in their bodily diversity, Lamar’s family members honor God and so invalidating the hegemonic binary worldview.[7] Lamar’s act of speaking out described in the song illustrates the validity of Lightsey’s statement that “not only must we love ourselves but that love of self must also extend to loving thy neighbor as thyself… We must love the folk, be with the folk, and not live our lives as separatists or stanch advocates of other-worldliness” [emphasis added].[8]

Lamar’s courage is most visible in the last verse of his song. For instance, Lamar blatantly asks the preacher at 3:50: “’Mister Preacher man, should we love thy neighbor? The laws of the land, or the heart, what’s greater?’ … The day I chose humanity over religion, the family got closer it was all forgiven.” The song makes a scriptural connection to one of the two commandments in Matt. 20:40 that Jesus identifies as being of the utmost importance. Here, I am reminded of Lightsey’s words, “A question can be both powerful and dreadful.” It is not the answer but the act of asking that shapes us into the theological leaders that we are today.

Lightsey charges all black LGBTQ+ scholars to play more of an immediate role in sharing their experiences of queer identity in relation to God and writing about the oppression they experience daily, to protect against their experiences being written about and shaped by allies.[9]  In addition, I assert that Lamar’s form of allyship is invaluable and necessary for black trans folks in writing against church oppression many face daily, especially as black LGBTQ+ women, closeted and open, remain few in number and begin to progressively increase in contribution to theological scholarship.

In conclusion, many listeners of Lamar’s song may never understand the deconstructive methods that led Lamar to his brave position choosing humanity over religion and speaking out for the oppressed. However, we must let Lamar’s bravery serve as a model to theologians, leaders, lovers, care givers, and even all of humankind, to ask courageous questions as we determine how to better attend to the “wholeness of entire people” and how to be better stewards of God’s Radical Love, as Patrick S. Cheng phrases it, toward humanity.[10]

[1] Kendrick Lamar, Aunties Diaries. PGLang, Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath Entertainment, and Interscope Records, 2022, (Accessed September 1, 2022) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vrhf1P9zwc

[2] Pamela R. Lightsey, Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015). 80.

[3] Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1983). xi.

[4] Pamela R. Lightsey, Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015). Xiii.

[5] Lightsey, Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology, 5.

[6] Ibid., 5.

[7] Ibid., 81.

[8] Ibid., 84.

[9] Ibid., 3.

[10] Ibid., 91. See also| Patrick S. Cheng, Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology (New York: Seabury Books, 2011). 60.