A Little Too Late: An Open Letter to Kirk Franklin
HiFi’s J Matthew Cobb evaluates Kirk Franklin’s apology to gay community and says it’s not enough
I will never forget hearing Tye Tribbett’s “Victory” when it first dropped. The groove sounded good, especially knowing that the “bustin’ loose” go-go riffs of Chuck Brown made its way into the musical makeup. But what I could not wrap my head around was knowing that Tribbett — during an exercise of preachy ad-libs — reached for the hammer and went in on the gays. It’s probably a decision he now regrets, since his career has gone on the decline; some if it heavily attributed to the controversial scandal that exposed him to be an adulterous hypocrite.
Kirk, I know he’s not you. But he represents a good number of title holding leaders in the faith community that have openly attacked gay people. He’s also a friend of yours, who you have collaborated with on your 2005 Hero album. There’s also Donnie McClurkin, another well-known gay basher. The guy that serves as a co-host on a show you produce (BET’s Sunday Best). You’ve been in the cluster of dangerous homophobes of gospel media since breaking out as a trailblazer in 1993 with your self-titled debut album. And they have propped you up, made you the successful man and gospel superstar that you’ve become today. Yes, the black church has become a bit more welcoming to LGBT people since the Nineties, a decade when the HIV and AIDS crisis had matriculated into a black gay epidemic and started becoming a universal issue, but it’s still abhorrently homophobic and hardly acts as a safe space for these disenfranchised and underserved minorities.
That probably explains some of the reason behind your decision to deal with the big pink elephant in the room in your recent interview with The Grio. While working the promotional work grind for your twelfth studio album Losing My Religion, you opened up about the aggravating assaults that LGBT people have had to endure in the faith community and also apologized for many of those actions. Several quotes from the initial interview actually grabbed my attention: “We have not treated them like people. We’re talking about human beings, men and women that God has created,” you said. Then you said something that brought me back to Reality 101: “The Bible is not a book that’s an attack on gay people.”
And that’s where the music stops. Because in reality, it is a book that attacks gay people. It’s always been. Since the evangelical age of 20th century Protestantism, cherry-picked scriptures from Leviticus, the Sodom and Gomorrah saga and even Paul’s opening letter to the Romans have all been used as sharp swords to swipe into the very humanity of LGBT people. And it’s even been bloody, even as many of those preachers have benefited from many of those closeted gay persons to give them the music encyclopedia for the breath of their worship services. The constant destruction of their psyche has contributed to the emasculation of their humanity and points to how flawed religion really is.
Your culture has sat back and rested in silence as it allowed a generation of Andrew Caldwells to be birthed, to come out the closet only to reveal the ravaging deliverance scams and disgusting exodus the church does to distance themselves from their own Frankensteins. Instead of fixing the problem, your environment ignores them. The years of silence to acknowledging homophobia and untold horror stories of homophobic tirades happening in the black church is no different than the sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic church.
Kirk. You may be admitting through your new album cover that you are “losing your religion.” But it seems like you and your supporters have lost more than that. I sense you’ve also lost a lot of respect. I honestly think your apology to the LGBT community is a bit too late for arrival.
Now don’t get me wrong: The old saying comes to mind “Better late than never.” And it’s never too late to apologize. But as I put on my Mattel View-Master binoculars and discern current events, I start to become suspicious of the circus. With a new album dropping and a Grio article dressed up like a PR-driven press release, this feels like a thirsty marketing ploy to me. You very well understand that gospel music doesn’t sell any more, not like it once did. And it doesn’t take much to have a number one album on the gospel charts. Sell a thousand units a week and you’re good. The model of the music biz is also a mess – as free streaming services haven eaten away at the whole idea of people actually purchasing physical or digital copies. The game of music consumption is now grappled in fear, leaving musical artists to gig for their lives or to find secondary jobs just to survive. No wonder most established gospel artists from your era have resorted to building their own radio empires and coalitions just to make it. Yolanda, Donnie, Hezekiah are all radio personalities and running their own syndicated radio shows. Some moonlight as pastors just so they can keep the lights on in their mini-mansions. So I get the whole idea of you trying to reach and teach all, to go for the masses. It’s smart. It’s economically sound. It’s a model you’ve mastered over the years – from the contemporary swaying of “Stomp” and “Revolution” to the mass crossover appeal used in the collaborative effort of “Lean on Me” and to the jump-on-the-bandwagon old school sampling used on “Looking for You.” You’ve always found a way to reach a larger audience and to do it without risking your career. Now with recent surveys documenting that millennials aren’t rushing to churches anymore, with Pew Research Center data pointing to a rise in Agonistic and Atheist beliefs, with church memberships dropping all across the U.S., with the “ex-gay” deliverance movement now in peril and with studies strangely pointing out that the majority of LGBT people identify themselves as Christian, it makes sense for you to apologize to your gay fans.
An apology is a good step. It means mistakes have been made. But guess what – those gay persons will still have to face the wrath of God in the pulpit when they return to their institutions of faith to hear fire-and-brimstone messages about the one thing they cannot change. And they will continue to hear the same hypocritical dogma that your Bible occupies.
Not sure you recall this, but when you went on the Tom Joyner Morning Show this morning to further the discussion, you stated that “homosexuality and fornication is a sin.” You lumped the two together as if they are both disgusting to God’s nostrils. Well, science tells us another thing. Unless you get your data from Ben Carson, being gay is not a choice. Fornication is an action, but being gay isn’t. Real science tells us that homosexuality is not exactly a learned behavior; it’s in our DNA. It’s who we are. Heterosexuality and homosexuality or any other sexuality are not things you pick up at the grocery store. So I’m sorry that your God is starting to look like he hates how he made us, if he truly did make us in his image (according to Genesis 1:27). And even that is debatable, because it’s evident that no one has even seen God or knows what he looks like. If he truly made us in his image, then Kirk you need to also accept that male, female, heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, pansexuals, hermaphrodites, intersex persons and even the physically and mentally challenged are all made in his image. We all are different, and it is time for the church to start embracing those differences. These variations of the “norm” may not be highly pronounced, but these are difference that we must respect nevertheless. And we should not only accept these persons or simply tolerate them, but we must also love them. Like Jesus Christ instructed in his amendment to the big commandment: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Not just by word, but by deed. And that is the missing link in this conversation.
An apology isn’t enough. It’s time for those words to move towards action. When that happens, maybe I’ll listen to you intently. In the meantime, this quasi-publicity stunt is more than just about you “losing your religion.” Because under the surface, it’s all about you gaining your record sales. But I guess that’s all that matters when you’re trying to get a number one album. Well played, Kirk.
J MATTHEW COBB is the managing editor of HiFi Magazine.