UCR Department of Ethnic Studies



UCR Department of Ethnic Studies
[BT 6.3 (2008) 308-329]
doi: 10.1558/blth2008v6i3.308
ISSN (print)
ISSN (online)
Ashon T. Crawley
Emory University
28 Wayne Ave.
East Orange, NJ 07018-1908
[email protected]
In this paper, performance theory, augmented with both feminist and queer
theory critiques and ideas, help analyze the various aspects of Black Pentecostal experience. This paper is primarily concerned with the rhetorics of the
Black Church and how these rhetorical strategies can immure congregants to
abject embodied experience. I use the Black Pentecostal church tradition as a
site that both consolidates and disrupts binary, heteronormative, heterosexist
and homoracist gender systems, analyzing a sermon titled "Let's Get It On*
by Bishop Iona Locke to demonstrate this.
Keywords: Black theology, gender, Pentecostalism, performance theory,
Reflecting on my life in the Black Pentecostal church tradition recalls ecstatic
celebrations: loud and raucous singing, dancing, raised hands, genuflection, prostration, speaking in tongues. My mind remembers women with huge COGIC
(Church of God in Christ) hats and dresses,flailingarms, and feet that shuffled;
men, who sometimes stood with hands raised, sometimes danced or ran around
the sanctuary. Certainly, there were hollers, screams, chants, tears. In the tradition, there is an excessive amount of emotion, an intensity, which to outsiders
may appear to be erratic and exotic. The aisle where people danced and the altar
where people prayed as well as tarried were sites of superfluous emotionalism—
the speaking oftongues; the laying on of hands; the tears (the homonym, here, is
useful); the fissures with normative postures for acceptable behavior and respectability; the opportunity for gender rupture. "Nonsense" seems to be the point of
access for many not familiar with the Pentecostal tradition. I use this nomenclature because it is consistent with an outsider's reading of the tradition,
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008, Unit 6, The Village, 101 Amies Street, London SW11 2JW.
Crawley "Let's Get It On!"
though I use it not in a pejorative sense. Rather, "nonsense," in this writing is
utilized to name the complicated and at times contradictory nature, the nonnormative and non-heteronormative behavior—the excessiveness—ofthe Black
Pentecostal tradition. Black Pentecostalism not only allows but also encourages
aflourishingand viability of this nonsense, for its sustenance and reproduction,
its amplification and expansion. As such, I am not trying to rush to make "sense"
of the Black Pentecostal tradition because often the rush to make "sense"
occludes deep analysis, critical engagement with topics; the rush to "sense" often
eclipses contradictions, excluding them as nonessential, rendering them too
difficult to ascertain or understand. Instead, I want to analyze the at times contradictory declarations, postures, emotions and theologies undergirding Black
Pentecostal traditions. My theoretical analysis works in concert with—and not
against—a Pentecostal hermeneutic because, as Elaine Lawless elucidates,
Pentecostals cherish being a "peculiar people," a people who may appear to lack
sense or who, at the very least, are difficult to understand.1
As a black, queer male reared in the Black Pentecostal tradition generally,
the Church of God in Christ specifically, I am very familiar with the nonsense
with which I wrestle in this essay. This nonsense has been the cause of my own
internal ruptures andfissureswith reality because queer sexualities were spoken
against with voracity and intensity, me sitting in the pews hoping to never be
detected as a deviant and someone who was—because of my libidinal appetites—
against God. Pentecostal nonsense—the call for emotionalism, for a dance, a
shout, an embodied inhabitation of the Holy Spirit—was also a cause for cognitive dissonance that resulted from trying to reconcile my seemingly deviant
sexuality with religious rhetoric and strong theological convictions about God,
sin, salvation, holiness and sex. I have inhabited the space of the quintessential
black queer of Black Church lore: not only am I the son of a Pentecostal pastor
but I have personally directed choirs, written music, been a musician for several
Pentecostal congregations, and have preached. Thus, I am well aware of the
schizophrenic impulse that theologies encourage with contradictory and ambivalent stances towards sexuality. My personal experiences are what lead me to
this particular writing—part ethnography, part theoretical analysis.
The "space" of the Black Pentecostal tradition is multivocal: it is a space where
the sensuousness of the black body finds meaning through the conferral of
power and authority while, simultaneously and contradictorily, the space disciplines and polices particularly dangerous modes of power and authority of the
agential self, through confusing and abusive discourse about sexuality. I expand
on queer theorist and cultural critic E. Patrick Johnson's notion of "space"
when he argues that space is a location that lacks a prescribed performance of
1. Elaine J. Lawless, God's Peculiar People: Women's Voices and Folk Tradition in a Pentecostal Church (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1988).
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Black Theology: An International Journal
identity; rather, the performance of identity emerges from the contextual cues
and markers.2 Space allows for variations and riffs of identity and has no prescripted ideals towards which subjects must aspire. Though Johnson generally
views the church as "place"—a location with prescribed performances that
leave no room for interpretation or improvisation—I find it useful to think of
the Black Pentecostal experience through the lens of (categorically) nonprescripted space.
In this paper, performance theory, augmented with both feminist and queer
theory critiques and ideas, help analyze the various aspects ofBlack Pentecostal
experience. Mine is afledglingattempt to view Black Pentecostalism through
the hermeneutics of performance theory, in particular. My positionality is that I
am a black, queer, Pentecostal, my research deals with gender and sexuality
discourse generally and I am primarily concerned with the rhetorics ofthe Black
Church and how these devices can immure congregants to abject embodied
experience. I use the Black Pentecostal church tradition as a site that both consolidates and disrupts binary, heteronormative gender systems, analyzing a
sermon titled "Let's Get It On" by Bishop Iona Locke to demonstrate this.3
Based on a performance theory analysis, I postulate that not only is the
pulpit a stage upon which theatricality is produced but that both preacher and
congregation function through call and response, creating a unified-disjointing,
harmonic-cacophonous, performance. In this context, both the preacher and
the congregation confess, comport and contort their bodies in ways that uplift
the importance of and reliance on heteronormative—and by extension, what I
call "homoracist"—tropes of gender and sexuality invoked during her preaching. Homoracist, here, is the idea that deviant sexualities are always racialized
others. This functions in black communities believing that gayness is a "white
thing" and that any black queer people are feeding into a white, normative culture, that queer sexualities for black people are a diasporic consequence, not
organically part of an Africanist way of life. Simply, being gay is some "white
shit." This essay engages Judith Butler's notion of performance and citation to
ground the subsequent reading of Locke's sermon and the congregation's
response to it as her early work was foundational to present discussions of
performance theory that have influenced cultural, gender and sexuality studies
subsequently.4 Performance theorists will augment Butlerian notions of performativity in helpful and instructive ways.
2. E. PatrickJohnson, "Feeling the Spirit in the Dark: Expanding Notions ofthe Sacred
in the African-American Gay Community," Cattabo 21, no. 2 (1998): 400.
3. Iona Locke, Let's Get It On (Intersound Records, 1994).
4. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Tenth Anniversary Edition, 10th ed. (New York: Routledge, 1999); Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004).
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Crawley "Let's Get It On!"
But what is the importance of Bishop Iona Locke's sermon "Let's Get It
On?" Because of my own research interests, I believe that sermon encapsulates
everything Pentecostal: it is loud, it is emotional, there is prevalent call and
response, there is musicality. Moreover, the rhetorical strategies of Locke, using
homophobic and heterosexist declarations to excite the congregation, are very
consistent with my own experience in the tradition. And stylistically, it is a fascinating sermon. When I was much younger, the then Elder Iona Locke's sermons
would be shown on the local Cable Access station and my entire family would
watch. I was intrigued by her posture, by her charismatic charm, her voice and
her stature. This essay is as much a critical analysis of what I think are contradictions and ambiguities in her preaching as much as it is a way to affirm how
she has influenced my life. Building on the question of quotidian experience of
Christian life with which all Pentecostals must contend and that haunt them
daily, this paper attempts to explicate how gender and sexuality are experienced,
received, disrupted, contested and accepted within a Black Pentecostal context
through language and actions that concurrently normalize and rupture heteronormative and homoracist assumptions. I hope to demonstrate that there is a
crisis within the discourse of Black Pentecostalism: humankind "born of a
woman is of few days, and full of [gendered] trouble."5
Performance Theory—An Overview
Butler defined gender performance as "the repeated stylization ofthe body, a set
of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to
produce appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being."6 Gender as performance, then, is instigated and affected by time, space and place—context
matters—and problematizes gender as a fixed, ontological category. In Gender
Trouble, Butler contends that there is no gender standing behind or existing
beneath the performance of gender; rather, gender is citational, dependent upon
a long string of iterations and imitations, accessed through repetition of accepted
or contested behavior. However, gender is much more than just behaviors of the
body, it transcends mere gestures. Gender is that towards which we all aspire
but never attain, never seize, never grab because of its evanescence; just when
we think we have it, it exceeds. Gender is discourse— rhetorical histories about
bodies, the "set of boundaries, individual and social, [which are] politically signified and maintained."7 The apparatus—the systemic and institutional structure
and its concomitant powers—that produces gender is language. Performance,
5. This is a riffon the Job 14:1 passage, a riff consistent with improvisation necessary to
Black Pentecostal experience.
6. Butler, Gender Trouble, 43-44.
7. Butler, Gender Trouble, 44.
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Black Theology: An International Journal
whether a speech utterance or a bodily stylization, calcifies as a ritual act to be
referenced, accepted, contested or some combination therein.8 Gender as a discourse is that which normalizes the body; it is that which names the body as
human. Further, gender is produced correctly only when there is an accessible,
referential, discrete, discursive gender system—that of discourse.9 This apparatus arises through language that gives "meaningful experience, through the
repression of primary libidinal drives."10
All performances are "excessive" in that there are always multiple ways to
read a performance. But not only are there multiple reads for a performance but
each has the propensity to fail, each character may lack the capacity to produce
the right behaviors or the location of the performance may be incorrect. J. L.
Austin, foundational for much scholarship in performance studies, argues that
there is a particular "chosen" subject given the "capacity" to speak within given
contexts such as when a minister pronounces two as partners in a marriage or
commitment ceremony.11 If someone were to utter the same words, but lacked
capacity (i.e., not ordained clergy), then the phrase is of no effect.
Performance theorist Diana Taylor contends that performances "function as
vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory, and a sense of
identity through reiterated or...'twice-behaved behavior.'"12 She argues that
performances are concurrently "real" and "constructed."13 Additionally, instead
of asking if a performance is true or false, performance as a category of analysis
searches for the efficaciousness of performances. William Sax elucidates: "In
their respective historical and cultural contexts, various kinds of performances
are efficacious in all sorts ofways."14 Simply, when performance is the analytical framework, one asks if the performance successfully completes its intended
goal. Joseph Roach in Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance discusses
how a "culture reproduces and re-creates itself through performance traditions.15 These performances "carry within them the memory of otherwise
8. Judith P. Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics oj the Performative (New York: Routledge,
1997), 2.
9. Butler, Gender Trouble, 78.
10. Butler, Gender Trouble, 101.
11. J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975), 23.
12. Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in theAmericas
(Durham, N C : Duke University Press, 2003), 2-3.
13. Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire.
14. William Sturman Sax, Dancing the Self: Personhood and Performance in the P*a*N*Dava
L*Il*a ofGarhwal (Oxford and N e w York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 3.
15. Joseph R. Roach, Cities ofthe Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (NewYork: Columbia
University Press, 1996), 2.
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Crawley "Let's Get It On!"
forgotten" material and social culture. Black Pentecostalism, then, is fertile and
fecund ground for inquiry, because the indwelling of the Holy Spirit changes
one's identity knowledge, memories and identities are made new, eventuated
through particular embodied comportments, contortions and countenances.
Aisles and Altars
Space which Speaks
In the following section, I tease out how space performs and produces affects
on bodies—how it functions in reciprocal relation to bodies—in ways that alter
subjectivities. I am interested in how space is implicated in the transfer of social
knowledge, memories and behaviors because spaces are constructed in order to
establish and rigidify social relationships, spaces are pregnant with normative
assumptions that are projected onto bodies. I use the Black Pentecostal pulpit as
a useful area of observation to make larger claims about gender, sexuality and
discourse. I propose the term "spatial genitals" to be the gendered interpolations of space based on the binary sex system (male/female). Bodies in specific
locations are read through spatial genitals and are understood to concede,
contest or contaminate social relationships based on their reflection within the
space. Put simply, based on biological constructions of bodies (i.e., "sex"), subjectivities are inculcated (i.e., "gender") with acceptable gestures, stylizations of
body, conversation.17
Because the built environment creates and maintains social relationships,
spatial genitals are always external to the body, forever immuring the body to
outside forces, marking locations as gendered. Thus, bodies are read with reference to those gendered tropes. However, similar to Butlerian notions of gender
performance, spatial genitals are not ontologically determined but through their
very production—the repetition, reiteration and citation of them—they make
16. Roach, Cities of the Dead, 5.
17. Spatial genitals is what I define as a response to reading about cultural genitals in
Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (New
York: Basic Books, 2000). In it, she writes about how there are particular cultural markers
such as clothing, gesture, voice timbre that engender particular bodies, that we rarely see
someone's genitals, but still assume a particular biological construction of their bodies—their
"sex*—based on those aforementioned cultural markers. From that, I extract the idea that
gendering occurs at the level of the social, not at the level of the biological. The built environment—buildings, streets, parks, etc.—functionally create and maintain social relationships:
e.g., the house is normatively seen as the "woman's domain" and, as such, particular architectural constructions ascribe peculiar social expectations of bodies that will inhabit those spaces.
It seems to me that different spaces are gendered socially in similar ways that different bodies
are gendered—spaces are created with particular genders in mind, with social expectations for
how bodies are supposed to cohere in those spaces.
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Black Theology: An International Journal
spaces a contested site of gendered behavior. Space becomes gendered through
discourses of and access to power and the "system of relations that can be established" between various spaces as well as bodies that create, maintain or destroy
social relations.18
It appears that the structure of church buildings do this work of ordering
social relations, mirroring the boundaries of salvation through privileging certain
areas as holy based on the rubrics of spirituality. While a member of a Pentecostal congregation in Philadelphia, there was one occasion when I needed to
walk across the pulpit after service. The pastor's husband quizzed me, semijokingly, "Are you saved?" The question implicated that if I were not "saved,"
that I would not be suitable to walk on the sacred ground of the pulpit. This
illustrates how bodies interplay with spaces, and bodies hold within them potential energy, which can contaminate space if not holy, sanctified, or saved. Contamination of sacred space does not only occur through unsaved individuals but
can occur when an unacceptable gendered subject tries to perform certain rites
and ordinances within churches. For this reason, several Pentecostal churches
will not allow women to preach or speak from the pulpit area. There are Pentecostal churches that will only allow women to "speak" (certainly not preach)
from the floor but not the pulpit.
The church in general and the pulpit in particular are both religio-cultural
"constructions that are structured to help define proper performances and relationships."19 These performances and relationships include the heteronormative, homophobic, homoracist and sexist ideologies which purport how genders
should interact with each other. The pulpit is a stark illustration of the creation
and maintenance of boundaries based on the rubrics ofsocial gender and spatial
genitals. With regard to the Black Pentecostal pulpit, it seems that it not only is
normative of masculine gender but also assigns currency to biological maleness
and, as such, social masculinity. It is a space that assigns positive value to masculinity—it is parochial, not porous; restrictive, not open. Still, because Black Pentecostalism is an excessive tradition it seems appropriate to argue that the pulpit
functions as shifting space and is not a static "up there" in front of the church,
high and lifted up, though the built pulpit remains the marker for acceptable
and established boundaries of social behavior.
As a shifting, contested site, the Pentecostal "pulpit" allows one to move
around, to be excessive, and to make use of the entire sacred place as holy
ground. All ground can be sanctified because the spirit of God resides in the
believer. The physically built pulpit is a marker of sacred meaning, a physical
representation that space can be sanctified. The Black Pentecostal pulpit, then,
18. Terri Kapsalis, Public Privates: Performing Gynecologyfrom Both Ends of the Speculum
(Durham, N C : Duke University Press, 1997), 26.
19. Kapsalis, Public Privates, 16.
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Crawley "Let's Get It Ont"
is produced by the commingling of human body and contextual intention.
When preaching, the performer is not confined to the lectern but can preach
from anywhere within the church. It is not unusual for the preacher to leave
the lectern, to walk across the floor, to walk up and down the aisles, to sit on
the pulpit steps, to stand on pews when preaching. This movement displays an
intimacy with the audience and that the preacher is a spirited individual. All
spaces can be "pulpitized" by the preacher within a Black Pentecostal context
through the congregants' social expectations of what preaching produces in
them but also through the rhetorics, the preacher-figure's gestures and bodily
comportments. Because the pulpit shifts and is not stable, is a space that can be
anywhere within the church, I posit that historically, women were able to
perform preaching work from other locations, transgressing the physical and
rhetorical meaning of preaching, contesting their social gender and the pulpit's
spatial genitals. From the very outset ofthe modern-day Pentecostal movement
from the late nineteenth century, women have preached in pulpits, have started
organizations and pastored churches.
Black women's bodies in Pentecostal pulpits literally shift and reestablish
borders, are oppositional forces to the very idea of the iconographie status of
masculinity. This demonstrates women who "developed a means to move more
freely and to be culturally at 'odds,' to turn the tables on normativity and to
employ their own bodies as canvasses of dissent in popular performance culture."20 The black woman's performance of her body as the preaching body
becomes the illustration of the shaky ground upon which not only religious
authority is built but also the rhetorics regarding sex, gender and sexuality.
Queer theory illumines the discussion about the shifting nature and instability of identity. The constant shifts and negotiations of the Black Pentecostal
pulpit implicate the eschatological nature of identity, the already/not yet. It is a
process of recognizing, reckoning, recovering, reconciling and refashioning oneself or group from the ruptures of the past. As such, I postulate that both the
pulpit and women's performance on the shifting pulpit are indeed queer. The
literal shifts in their bodies while preaching as well as the continual shifts ofthe
pulpit beckon a consideration of subjectivity, a consideration of space, a consideration of new possibilities for coherence with and fissures from social
gender and spatial genitals.
The Pentecostal Body
Within Black Pentecostalism, the body is accentuated, privileging the body as an
epistemologica! tool—a material surface in need of strict regulation, no doubt—
20. Daphne Brooks, Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances ofRace and Freedom, 1850Í9Í0 (Durham, N C : Duke University Press, 2006), 6.
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Black Theology: An InternationalJournal
in order to know God. The body is the medium for ritual and integral to sanctification and, thus, Black Pentecostalism is a sensuous, corporeal experience.
But what does it mean for the Spirit to embody particularly gendered bodies?
When the preacher discusses males and females, sexual roles and positions, the
sexually astute and the deviant, how do they create the characters they are disciplining through the very discourse invoked? Lastly, in what ways does Black
Pentecostalism police and discipline bodies, particularly as sexual bodies,
through discourse?
I contend that Black Pentecostalism is a marginalized religious practice
within both the dominant and the black religious imaginaries. As a racially marginalized group, the construct of blackness functions as the antithesis ofwhiteness. The "paradoxical anthropological problem" of black bodies that try to
attain white, pure and clean souls is indicative of the way in which "black,"
understood linguistically, functions to malign bodies as sinful.21 Within dominant discourse, racism and sexism intersects in ways that institutionalize the
vilification and exoticizing of black bodies. Black male and female bodies have
historically and are continually hypersexualized, fetishized by white imaginations.22
Within black religious discourse, the politics of respectability in the early
twentieth century was one of the black religious imaginary's answers to the
demonization of the black body.23 Additionally, it seems plausible that respectability was a response to, or at the very least was in tension with, the liberal,
nonheteronormative sexual ethic of the Harlem Renaissance as well. However,
the performance of respectability, while liberatory atfirstblush also became a
way to undergird whiteness and a white way of being as normative, deeming
some aspects of black expressive culture and behavior sinful. Particularly speaking of Black Baptists in the early twentieth century, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham says of black Baptist women that " [ t] heir assimilationist leanings led to
their insistence upon blacks' conformity to the dominant society's norms of
manners and morals."24 Manners and morals certainly included how one should
behave in church as well as one's control over their libidinal impulses.
Rationality and intelligence were privileged over emotionalism, yet Black
Pentecostalism emphasized the emotions and the body. "Historically, the
21. Riggins Earl, "Loving Our Black Bodies as God's Luminously Dark Temples: The
Quest for Black Restoration," in Loving the Body: Black Religious Studies and the Erotic, ed.
Dwight N . Hopkins and Anthony B. Pinn (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
22. See Kelly Brown Douglas, Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective
(Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999); Patricia Hill Collins, Blaa Sexual Polities:African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism (New York: Routledge, 2004).
23. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black
Baptist Church, Î880-1920 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).
24. Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent, 187.
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Crawley "Let's Get It On!"
emotionalism of black church denominations like the Holiness, Pentecostal,
and Apostolic churches originated from black Christians' departure from mainline denominational churches."25 The Black Pentecostal church represented a
site for nonsense in the literal, pejorative sense of the word for those trying to
employ respectability: "It don't take all that [to worship God]" is a common
critique of the tradition from outsiders. This history influences the way in
which Black Pentecostalism is embraced today though there is much more
openness to the tradition. Historically, Black Pentecostalism's emphasis on the
body in worship through dancing, screaming, falling out and speaking in
tongues highlighted a body that was demonic in dominant discourse. The
deeply embedded connection of Black Pentecostalism's embodied practice to
spirit possession and the ring shout prevalent in Haitian voodoo and traditional
African religions also proved problematic.26 As such, a dual marginalization was
foundational in Black Pentecostalism within the public imaginary: the demonic
black body and the seemingly erratic religious expression. Black Pentecostalism
was imagined as irrational with the constant and encouraged emotionalism, the
antithesis of intellectualism and prudence. In this religious tradition, the black
body, then, is read as out ofcontrol and given to libidinal impulse or nonsense,
rather than sound judgment.
Regarding the sexual ethics of Black Pentecostalism, much of the discourse
is embedded in biblical inerrancy, the belief that the Bible is the literal "Word
of God" and that it is infallible. Though there are nuances in interpretation of
biblical truth, there has been an almost wholesale acceptance of the sexual roles
embedded within the text.27 Historically, to buck against the notion that black
bodies were demonic and that Black Pentecostalism was too emotional, churches
tended to establish themselves as a legitimate Christian practice through the normalizing of sexual practice. This is a unique way of integrating concepts within
the politics of respectability while maintaining a highly enthusiastic and sensuous spiritual practice. "Modern regulatory apparatuses seized sexuality as the
object of rationalization and control because—in the eyes of hegemonic rationality—sexuality is a fundamentally irrational force."28 Sexual activity, in order
to be done correctly and sanctioned by God, is to be done correctly and within
the confines of marriage only. Any sexual activity outside marriage was and is
vilified whether fornication, incest, adultery or "deviant" sexualities. If one is
25. Roderick A. Ferguson, Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique, Critical
American Studies Series (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 91.
26. Ferguson, Aberrations in Black.
27. See Ephesians 6:5 (KfV). In this rendering of the scripture, the word "servant" is
originally "slave." This scripture had been used during the US slave trade to validate slave
owners and was quoted to slaves regarding their social position as "servants."
28. Ferguson, Aberrations in Black, 84.
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Black Theology: An International Journal
unmarried, the assumption is that they will remain abstinent in order to live
holy and sanctified. "As an ascetic ethic, Pentecostal sanctification targets the
body and sexuality as objects of regulation. Such regulation renders the body
and sexuality as the locus of corruptions that threaten religious sanctity."29 It is
through this heteronormative sexual ethic that Locke preaches.
Let's Get It On!
Bishop Iona Locke is approximately 60 years old and was born in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania. She is currently pastor of Abyssinia Christ Centered Ministries
in Detroit, Michigan, founded in 1994 and was ordained to the bishopric in
2000. Though formal education is discussed on her website (e.g., attendance of
Bible school), it is minimized to underscore God's power in her life.30 Emphasized is her "divine calling," her "anointing to preach," and her "[heeding] the
call from the Lord," suggesting that secular education cannot take the place of
God's anointing and appointing for performing ministry functions, a common
theme in much Pentecostal discourse. This is particularly important for a
woman functioning in historically male-dominated areas—the pastorate and
bishopric—as she can argue that her calling is from God, making her gender
negligible to biblical injunctions on women's roles in churches.31 Not only is
her role one that has historically been reserved for men but the physical space
of the pulpit has generally been reserved for men as well. As discussed above,
her social gender does not cohere with the cultural genitals ofthe pulpit. However, the occasion for the Black Pentecostal pulpit puts Locke in a unique position to contest norms.
To describe Locke, I borrow terms from feminist and queer theory to discuss
the performative aspects she embodies as a preacher. Her body gestures are citational in that the body transcends itself both towards past and future readings of
preacher-bodies. Through her embodied behavior, she cites acceptable notions
for preaching but also occasions future variations, riffs and failures for the
acceptable preaching body. The congregation consciously or unconsciously reads
her body through their familiarity and comfort with other preacher figures, normally male bodies. The way she moves is always read through the lens of
(re)iterating and imitating men who preach; how close she mirrors or deviates
29. Ferguson, Aberrations in Black, 101.
30. Iona Locke, "Abyssinia Christ Centered Ministries—Iona Locke Ministries," http;//
31. See Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; and 1 Timothy 3 discusses the role of
the bishop as a male.
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Crawley "Let's Get It On!"
from the "mannish" style of preaching.32 Speaking in an historical context but
still appropriate for today, Wallace Best says, "manliness became the template
by which to judge black preachers—male and female."33 This is a salient issue
for our understanding of how to understand Locke's embodiment as a preacher.
Her website lists her pastor and preacher mentors who are all men.34 It is not
far-fetched to think that she did not simply learn how to perform administrative duties from these mentors. It is possible that many of her gestures, guttural
moves and voice inflections are at least influenced in part by these mentors.
Her performance of preaching would certainlyfitwithin the "genealogy ofperformance" of the black preacher tradition that "documents]—and suspect[s]—
the historical transmission and dissemination of cultural practices through
collective representations."35
In tandem with the cultural genitals of the pulpit, I postulate that the pulpit
interpolates subjects through their proximity of displaying and/or producing
masculinity. As a historically male site, the pulpit forces people to judge preachers as to how male and, as such, masculine they are.36 Masculinity becomes the
standard by which preachers' performances are intelligible. This is evident when
women are sometimes demeaned for "preaching like a man" or "preaching too
hard," or praised for "not trying to be a man in the pulpit." I note the strong
performative aspects of these phrases; they intimate a stable gendered system,
implicate one's sexuality, and are erotic ("too hard"). For women, the perceived
efficaciousness of the performance depends primarily on the proximity to and
production of masculinity. In this way, women's performances of preaching are
intelligible only through an understanding of male performances of the same.
Using men and masculinity as the standard trope, women preaching become
deviant bodies trying to access this meaning and share in the pulpit's power.
Yet, terms such as "mannish," "like a man" or "too hard" are slippery grounds
on which to stand. The performance of gender as the gender itself, the meaning
of "too hard" has no tangible or ontological reference.
32. Wallace D. Best, Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black
Chicago, Î9Î5-Î952 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005).
33. Best, Passionately Human, No Less Divine, 155.
34. Locke, "Abyssinia Christ Centered Ministries." The site says: "God has afforded
Bishop Locke, throughout the years, the opportunity to train under noted leaders such as:
Bishop F.M. Thomas of Pittsburgh, PA, the late Bishop Robert McMurray of Los Angeles,
CA and Elder John Lloyd of Bridgeport, CT. Additional training has also come from her
father in the gospel, Bishop Norman L. Wagner, Presiding Prelate of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc., Youngstown, Ohio."
35. Roach, Cities of the Dead, 25.
36. For a wonderful discussion about the historicity of the pulpit as a masculine site, see
Roxanne Mountford, The Gendered Pulpit: Preaching in American Protestant Spaces, Studies in
Rhetorics and Feminisms (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003).
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Black Theology: An International Journal
As an excessive performance, it is possible to read Locke in the pulpit as
subversive of and resistant to patriarchal structures of church power, functioning as preacher, pastor and bishop while concurrently buttressing heterosexism
and patriarchy. This occurs though her physical body in the physical pulpit
transgresses through her continual references to the discrete gender system and
unholy sexualities throughout her sermon, which will be discussed below.
Returning to J. L. Austin's argument that there is a particular "chosen" subject
given the "capacity" to speak within given contexts, I ask: How does Locke,
with a female body, come to be the chosen subject to preach, though her body
does not exemplify the normative body set apart for preaching? Locke, like
many other women who preach, not only occupies a position that belongs to a
male generally, but that which belongs to a husband particularly. She is not
married and is not a male which problematizes this Pauline idea. This is an
aberration with biblical text and Christian tradition, to be sure. Within this
space, her body performs its excess, read two ways: (1) as a female body's
approximating but never occupying a male religio-social position and (2) as a
female body trying to maintain social womanhood.
Her physical performance, then, is of grave importance. When she speaks,
one can be initially surprised by the tenor of her voice and the ways in which
she deliberately over-pronounces words with precision. She draws out her
words for emphasis yet uses staccato phrasing to end them crisply. She utilizes
her hands throughout sermons, pointing with the indexfinger,balling the hand
into afistwhile pounding the air, and punctuates the end of some phrases with
a double clap, a hmmm or mmm. When preaching, she does not confine her
body to the podium but transgresses the pulpit, moving around the entire area
and sometimes to thefloor.In this way, she displays for the audience a comfort
with the sermon and an embodiment of the Spirit as she does not need to rely
on notes or the biblical text. As a black, Pentecostal, female preacher, she moves
her body and encourages the audience to move likewise in Pentecostal nonsense. The volume of her voice, the voracity with which she speaks, her hand
gestures, her movement throughout the church space to preach and her pronunciation of words exaggerate that which was imagined as nonsense. To be
successful with preaching, then, Locke must inhabit liminal space, buttressing
heteronormative ideas regarding sex, sexuality and gender found in scripture
through rhetoric while simultaneously disrupting those ideals through her
social relationship to the physical space and the congregation as woman and
The Sermon
It is virtually impossible to parse if a particular exclamation of Tes," "Thank
you, Jesus," or "hmm" has any truthiness embedded within it. Performance as a
category of analysis theorizes the efficaciousness of particular moments, modes
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Crawley "Let's Get It On!"
or models and is not primarily concerned with the "truth" of what is presented.
Thus, I ask how efficacious the performances are rather than the truthfulness of
such. The performance of gesture and speech in the form of call and response of
both Locke and the congregation are neither true nor false statements. I use the
sermon "Let's Get It On!" preached by Bishop Locke for several reasons. As I
intimated above, in terms of the physical performance of the sermon, it is
simply intriguing. Each time I listen to the sermon, I smile and laugh at the
ways the audience responds to her vocality, her enunciations, her declarations.
The sermon also allowed her to set precedence for Pentecostal recordings. Her
website declares: "The anointing to preach the gpspel was recognized by the
music industry through Intersound Records in 1993... Bishop Locke recorded
two compact disc messages released on the Intersound Label. The recordings
include What Kind of Fool Are You?, and Let's Get It On! These releases have
marked Bishop Locke as thefirstPentecostal preacher to have the spoken Word
distributed on compact disc. Rave reviews in great demands [sic] have and
continue to follow the recordings of these sermons."
Locke's sermon utilizes text from the Apostle Paul from the book of
Romans.37 She localizes her argument based on his words that one should "put
on the Lord Jesus" which is the antithesis of making "provision for the flesh."
Her reliance on Paul is intriguing because elsewhere, Paul ascribes roles for
women patently telling them that they are to remain quiet in congregations and
elsewhere that they are not permitted to teach or "usurp authority" from men.38
Though an expansive theological discussion is outside the scope of this work,
what is of import is that Locke, through preaching within the church, ruptures
the heteronormative gender roles which Paul ascribes while at the same time
relying on Paul to make her argument about "putting on" Jesus. Her role as
preacher and her speaking problematize the heteronormative assertions Paul
espouses. Locke's nuanced reading of Paul in order to effectively, persuasively
and correctly (re)present her body and words literally render her body and
words as ambiguous. That is, her performance is a queer one, though the
disruption does not serve to critique Paul wholesale. Instead, her words support heteronormativity by explicating the virtues of normative sexual practices
and of household rules and order.
For my analysis, I use approximately thefirstfive minutes from the beginning of the sermon and portions of the final 18 minutes of the sermon for
several reasons. The first few minutes I highlight are when Locke names the
sermon, which shapes how the congregation will receive the performance. Witty
names for sermons can create tension, euphoria or anticipation and are literal
stagings or heightenings of the congregation's awareness of the intellect, wit,
37. Romans 13:10-13 (K|V).
38. 1 Corinthians 13:34 (KfV); 1 Timothy 2:12 (KJV).
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Black Theology: An InternationalJournal
playfulness and gravity of her preaching style. In the final 18 minutes of the
sermon, Locke is least dependent on her notes and is "whooping" or chanting.
This is an occasion for improvisation but also the moment where she excites the
crowd through bodily movements, exhortations, hollers, speaking in tongues
and repetitious phrasing. It is during this moment in the sermon where the disruption and rupture of spatial genitals and social gender are most pronounced,
physically and rhetorically so. Importantly, also in the final 18 minutes of the
sermon, Locke explicitly discusses gender roles and sexuality. Lastly, it is at this
point in the sermon where the call and response is most prevalent. Locke
speaks a phrase and the congregation responds with a variety of "Hallelujah!"
"Thankyou Jesus!" "Yes!" and other such phrases. I believe that this interplay of
voices and bodies between preacher and parishioner is a collective performative
utterance. The overall outline of the sermon is: (1) Introduction of scripture
text and naming of the sermon; (2) Who is God? In this section, Locke asks the
congregation to consider with her the nature of God; (3) Historicizing the
scriptural text. In this section, Locke places Paul's words in historical context;
(4) "Let's get it on." Thisfinalsection of the sermon is where Locke encourages
the congregation to "put on the Lord Jesus."
Beginning with the title of the sermon, "Let's Get It On," I note how Locke
is trying to incite and excite the congregation. She says, "Look at somebody and
tell 'em, 'Let's get it on!'... You may not know what you're talking about but
you in a safe place. So whatever we get on it's gon' be alright to get it on. Come
on, look at your neighbor again, say 'Let's get it on!'" Before any explanation of
the sexually ripe phrase is given, the libidinal appetite of the congregation is
whet. The call to "get it on" arouses the senses and intensifies the anticipation
for the preaching moment. The title is from the popular Marvin Gaye song
titled "Let's Get It On," which has a sexually explicit meaning.39 Gaye's rendering of the phrase, "getting it on" is two bodies engaging in sex, two bodies
intermingling, engaging in foreplay and intercourse.
What effect does this sermon title perform on the congregants? It appears to
function as a double-entendre, utilizing the sexual meaning of the phrase to
grab the attention of and establish a rapport with the congregation. Locke draws
from the erotic/sexual meaning of the phrase and then tries to untangle this
reading, tries to displace it, moving towards one that resonates more closely
with rationality and sexual control. Still, from the moment when the "neighbors" are asked to recite the phrase to each other, the utterance constitutes their
bodies as sexually charged, renders their bodies as surfaces primed for sexualizing, fetishizing and voyeuristic impulses. Since the content of the sermon had
yet to be revealed, looking at neighbors' bodies with eyes while reciting Gaye's
39. Marvin Gaye and Ed Townsend, Let's Get It On (Motown, 2003).
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Crawley "Let's Get It On!"
phrase could have been a moment of sexual display within the sexually repressive space, illustrating an ambivalent relationship to sexuality. "Neighbors" are
told to look at "some/body." The sexually conservative ethic ofBlack Pentecostalism tends to render bodies invisible unless those bodies are engaged in
acceptable behavior such as shouting, dancing and speaking in tongues. However, this particular call to look at "some/body" is different in that it is coupled
with the recitation of a sexually and sensually charged phrase.
This naming makes intelligible black, sexual bodies; it allows for the fantasizing and sexualizing of these black bodies. Uttering "let's get it on" to
another body, while mentally pondering Gaye's rendering of the same, with
eyes glancing across neighbors standing in close proximity to each other allows
congregants to obstruct notions of repressed sexuality, if only for a short
moment. The gazes are reciprocal. Each person both subjects and is subjected,
calling each to concurrently occupy the space of one casting a voyeuristic gaze
and one being gazed upon. Because one's neighbor can be either male or
female, the recitation to neighbors also becomes a titillating moment of heteroand homo-erotics concurrently. It is only through the sermon that Locke tries
to defang the phrase, and relies heavily on heteronormative erotics to do this.
Locke is not ignorant of what her sermon title performs and produces: "You
may not know what you're talking about but you in a safe place. So whatever we
get on it's gon' be alright to get it on." She understands the connotations of her
title—that they recall and remember their bodies as sexual bodies—yet uses it
and tells the congregation that they are safe to recite it. Through simple naming
conventions, Locke decenters acceptable social gender behavior for women and
the spatial genitals of the pulpit: she is not coy regarding sex or sexuality; she
engages in playful banter and titillates the congregation, utilizing the pulpit to
engage in erotic discourse.
Locke insists on subverting the meaning of Gaye's phrase throughout her
sermon by castigating his overtly sexual posture. However, the very idea of
"putting on of Jesus" using Gaye's phrase intimates gender ambiguity and
sexual deviance. Only through the putting on of Jesus or the Holy Spirit, both
male "bodies" to be sure, will the flesh be controlled, allowing a person to live
holy and sanctified. This idea poses a set of problems: With her Pentecostal
theology, what does it mean for a male or female to put on Jesus or the Holy
Spirit? Theologically, Jesus functions as "God in the flesh" and Locke constantly refers to the Holy Spirit as "he." Implicitly, all flesh is called upon to put
on maleness and this through actual behavior, careful processes, the limiting of
voracious emotions, and the squandering of excessive sexuality. When "getting
it on," according to Gaye, there are two bodies intermingling, engaging in
foreplay and intercourse. Locke's various refrains of "sinking into a garment,"
"sinking down into a covering," "total immersion," "fall down into," "hidden
down in and under," "covered up from our head to our toes," "let's put it on,"
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Black Theology: An International Journal
"let's get it on" all are tantamount to putting or getting on Jesus and/or the Holy
Spirit. What the sermon is calling for is engagement with another "body," the
body of Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit, quite consistent with what Gaye's understands of intercourse. Moreover, both Gaye's and Locke's renderings have the
ability to sanctify.40
Apparent is the need for libidinal control, for proper desires and for heteronormative cohesion, prevalent in the final 18 minutes of the sermon when
Locke explicitly discusses gender and sexuality. She makes the point that when
one decides to "put on" or "get on" Jesus, they make a conscious decision to do
so. When one puts on the Lord Jesus, according to Locke, they can declare, "the
things I used to do, I don't do no more.. .the places I used to go, I don't go no
more." For Locke, when one puts on Jesus, they choose to stay away from
certain activities and places. Rationality and control are the primary markers
between a person who simply is "tongue-talking" and one that has been fully
"immersed in the power of God." Rationality and control, then, become not
only markers of holiness but an identity towards which people should aspire.
Through this conscious decision of what to do and where to go, a pious
disposition can be inculcated in the life of the believer. Speaking of Egyptian
Muslim women but applicable here, Saba Mahmood says, "One might say...
ritual performances are understood to be disciplinary practices through which
pious dispositions are formed, rather than symbolic acts that have no relationship to pragmatic or utilitarian activity."41 Pious dispositions are not only a
result of putting on Jesus, but also—particularly the control of the sexual
appetite—can support, assist, form and create the "putting on" ofJesus.
I briefly want to trace Locke's usage of the word "junk" and "junky."
Put him on. Let's get it on! Let's separate the men from the boys. Let's get it
on. Let's separate the women from the girls. If you bad, put on Jesus. If you
got your act together, put on Jesus. If you know what I'm talking about kick
that junk to the curb, let's put on Jesus. Soul says yes! Yes! Yeah! Owwww...
put your hands together and give him a praise! Come on. Come on. Let's put
it on. Let's get it on... Square your shoulders. Come out from them junky
saints. Come away from that junky lifestyle. Get out ofthat wishy-washy
thinking. Why I got to look at you and wonder if you male or female? If you
got the Holy Ghost, square your shoulders... Stop yourjunk. You can't teach
this thing, it's a holy thing. You can't practice "eeta eeta" and "eeta eeta"...
Tired ofjunky saints running around with Bibles but not living two cents
worth of nothing.
It is through a discreet gender binary system that she first mentions "[kicking] that junk to the curb." She implicates that gender stability is a resultant of
40. Gaye and Townsend, Let's Get It On.
41. Saba Mahmood, Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 128.
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008
Crawley "Let's Get It On!"
spiritual maturity, when genderedfluidityends and when the libidinal impulses
of the subject are fully under control. The "junky saints" are those whom are
not easily determined male or female and find community with those of the
same ilk. Locke beckons those who want to put on Jesus to "come away" from
ambiguities—of their bodies, their sexualities and from communities that accept
this behavior. Here, the idea that gender ambiguity (and homosexuality) is easily
transferable is expressed and is consistent with and similar to how the "contagious word" works for Butler.42 Through the oral and bodily utterances of
gender ambiguity, others are implicated: "that discursive relationship becomes
constituted by virtue ofthat utterance [in this case, a body gesture], and that
very [gender ambiguity] is communicated in the transitive sense. The utterance
appears to both communicate and transfer that [gender ambiguity]."43
How does the talk of sexual discipline function as humanizing; how does it
operate to name the subjects as human within the excessive space of Black Pentecostalism? Similar to Foucault's declarations of discourse, Locke's disciplining
of bodies demonstrates that the subjects have bodies but must work to produce
right behaviors within those bodies.44 Locke explicitly and provocatively says,
"Why I got to look at you and wonder if you male or female?" In other words,
when she looks at a subject, she wants to know their gender identification.
Through means of a discreet male/female system, these ambiguous subjects
become intelligible as human but she implies that they are performing irrationally,fleshlyand that they lack control. This bespeaks a terror and fear of ambiguous desires, conflating gender identity with sexuality without nuance.
I must note the invisibility embedded within the statement, "Why I got to
look at you and wonder if you male or female?" Here she speaks of male gender ambiguity, one that is unholy, uncontrolled and excessive. The congregation scowls and howls at the indictment of ambiguity. Squaring the shoulders is
tantamount to controlling the sexual, libidinal, ambiguous self. It seems that
thefirstgendered subject mentioned, "male," is the referent in her indictment.
In other words, this is not a wholesale condemnation of men and women who
are gender ambiguous. This becomes the occasion for the occlusion ofthe queer
woman subject. "Punks" and "sissies" have been referenced in many sermons
and there is much lore of churches with gay choir directors. Though Locke
castigates the gender ambiguous male subject, the gender ambiguous female is
violated through a process of erasure.45 Gender ambiguity is a failure of putting
42. Butler, Excitable Speech.
43. Butler, Excitable Speech, 114-15.
44. Michel Foucault, The History ofSexuality, 1st Vintage Books ed. (New York: Vintage
Books, 1980).
45. In another portion of the sermon not analyzed here, Locke speaks about the "homosexual practices of women loving women and men loving men," but certainly not with as
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Black Theology: An International Journal
on Jesus, the performance is not felicitous and gender norms are performed
incorrectly or what Austin would call a "misexecution" of the performance.46
Still, through scolding gender ambiguity, the subject becomes human through
discourse. What the gender ambiguous subject does for Locke is provide the disruptive character upon which a normative character can be articulated. In this
way, sexually deviant bodies serve as a repository containing those unthinkable,
unfathomable elements that allow the controlled sexual self to materialize.
Performances as "vital acts of transfer," shuttling knowledge through and
between embodied behaviors, is implicitly present.47 This is a pragmatic way to
think about the many ritual performances found in Black Pentecostalism.
However, through Locke, we have a slight nuance to Butler's idea that there is
no "ontology of gender."48 For Locke, the locus ofgender is the performance of
putting on of Jesus and putting on Jesus is evident when one behaves according
to the rubrics of heteronormativity. Confusingly—circular logic the necessary
conclusion—holy, heteronormative behavior is naturally aspired towards when
one puts on Jesus but putting on Jesus, for all intents and purposes, is the display
of heteronormative behavior. "[AJction does not issue forth from natural
feelings but creates them.. .it is through repeated bodily acts that one trains one's
memory, desire, and intellect to behave according to established standards of
conduct."49 Utilizing both concepts, that normalized bodily stylizations are
naturally aspired towards when Jesus is put on and that bodily acts create this
naturalness, forms a reciprocal relationship between behavior and desire.
"Natural" behavior becomes the standard by which to measure how holy and
sanctified a person is: as Locke proclaims, 'You can't teach this thing, it's a holy
thing!" When one deviates from normative behavior, it evinces that they have
not fully put on the Lord Jesus, that they have not been fully immersed and
that, in her words, they need to "try this thing again."
Still, Locke's sermon does not successfully liberate the congregants from
Gaye's meaning of copulation with another body:
Now I know some folks sing let's get it on. But what they sing is not what we
gettin' on. We not puttin' on fornication. We not puttin' on lust. We not gon'
knock the boots all night. We gon' do what God told us to do. Ifwe are submerged in Jesus the right kind ofway, we gon'fleefornication, we gon' come
out of adultery, we gon' shun the appearance of evil, we gon' come out of
much voracity as she speaks of the gender ambiguous male subject in thefinalportion of the
sermon. "Women loving women" was aflat,simple historical analysis and not castigatory
46. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, 17.
47. Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire, 2-3.
48. Butler, Gender Trouble, 189.
49. Mahmood, Politics ofPiety, 157.
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Crawley "Let's Get It On!"
wickedness, we gon' undo the heavy burdens of those that are oppressed. We
gon' lay hands on the sick, they shall recover. We gon' open the blinded eye.
I quote at length because it is rich with texture and meaning. She implies that
Gaye's version of "getting it on" is the antithesis of what God desires. Through
Gaye, the body is out of control and given to its own devices rather than being
controlled by the power of God. Each sexual behavior listed by Locke (i.e., fornication, lust, etc.) is a physical, corporeal, bodily act. These behaviors become the
literal physical manifestation of the antithesis of the putting on of Jesus. This
further suggests that getting or putting on Jesus literally manifests itself through
libidinal control and heteronormative cohesion. But one can ponder if Locke
herself has fully put on Jesus because her very performance of preaching in the
pulpit transgresses acceptable notions of heteronormativity.
The congregation engages in performative speech acts in response to Locke.
When she beckons them to say "Let's get it on," they repeat it with voracity.
When she makes assertions, they respond with "Hallelujah!" "Thank you Jesus!"
"Yes!" She tells them more than once, "Put your hands together and give him a
praise," and they respond in concert to those requests. These are bodily and
verbal performative utterances. From my purview, the verbal utterances combined with the physical movements (e.g., hand-clapping) are the initiatory performative acts of "putting on" Jesus or the Holy Spirit, initiatory in that they
begin a process but must be lived out everyday; Jesus and the Holy Spirit are
put on by the act of performing sexual control.
The speech acts and bodily comportments within the space become the occasion for publicly private confession. "The aim ofthis verbalization [during confession] is to convert the attachment that the human being has to himself [and
his sexuality] to an attachment to something beyond the human, to God."50
Moreover, "in the confession, the body acts again, displaying its capacity for
doing a deed, and announces, apart from what is actually said, that it is, actively,
sexually there."51 Though Butler was speaking specifically about confession in
clinical psychology, contextually, the same bodies that are in the aisle and altar
during the moments of preaching, praise and prayer are the same bodies which
Locke castigates as junky and sexually ambiguous. The same bodies that praise
are producing confession through their praises.
It seems appropriate to close by discussing the Pentecostal dance. In many
services, the preacher desires that the congregation praise through the body as a
50. Butler, Excitable Speech, 162.
51. Butler, Excitable Speech, 165-66.
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Black Theology: An InternationalJournal
culmination of the preaching moment. This holy dance or "shouting" is thought
to be both physical and spiritual: emotions pour out through crying, screaming,
hollering, feet moving, heads swaying, hugs, prayers and being slain in the
Spirit, dark bodies moving, women and men together. Locke's body, her sermon and the congregation all engage in communal utterance of oral and body
performativities. It is the black Pentecostal space upon which the nonheteronormative subjects are created and against which Locke's sermon contends.
Though Locke utilizes the pulpit space in a way to enact speech acts of discipline that are injurious to those who do not or cannot fit within the binary
rubrics of sexual use (role or performative function), this exploration not only
exposes the ambiguity in her speech acts but the responses from the audience
through affirmation, screams, scowls, yells, ecstatic dancing, crying and praise
"expose the body of the one who speaks."52 All the speaking bodies, preacher
and congregants, are exposed.
This is true for Locke. During thefinalportion of the sermon, she calls the
congregation to dance. This is the last opportunity for the congregation and
preacher to perform a symbolic putting on of Jesus within a communal context;
the performance occurs at the utterance of the body. Insofar as an utterance
exceeds itself at a particular moment, the hope is that the getting on ofJesus
through bodily and verbal orations in the church will be demonstrated in life
outside the church by living holy and sanctified everyday.53
Not only does the mouth speak through speaking in tongues, hollering and
loud affirmation within the space, but the body moves, dances, sways, tears
form, hands clap. The same bodies castigated as sexually ambiguous are the
same bodies that erupt in the dance praise. That which was vilified and demonized by the preaching as base finds hope in the dance for a new fleshly, and
eventually spiritual, reality. Locke implies that the getting it on transaction has
taken place somewhere between the beginning and end of her preaching. She
says "you can't dance if he didn't do nothing for you." The body utters that
which exceeds, transcends, and surpasses its own nonsense. The belief is that
the Lord had done something; that the person had "put on the Lord Jesus."
The moments for displacing gender norms occurred through the very presence
of the black woman preacher in the Pentecostal space. She displaces as she
normalizes. She cites as she ruptures. Evident in both the oral and bodily
utterances of Locke and congregation is that the space of Black Pentecostalism
becomes the occasion for disorienting and disruptive performances.
52. Butler, Excitable Speech, 12.
53. Butler, Excitable Speech.
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
Crawley "Let's Get It On!"
Austin, J. L. How to Do Things with Words. 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1975.
Best, W. D. Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 19151952. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.
Brooks, D. Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910. Durham,
N C : Duke University Press, 2006.
Butler, J. P. Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. New York: Routledge, 1997.
—Gender Trouble: Tenth Anniversary Edition. 10th ed. N e w York: Routledge, 1999.
—Undoing Gender. N e w York: Routledge, 2004.
Douglas, K. B. Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis
Books, 1999.
Earl, R. "Loving Our Black Bodies as God's Luminously Dark Temples: The Quest for Black
Restoration." In Black Loving the Body: Black Religious Studies and the Erotic, ed. D. N .
Hopkins and A. B. Pinn. N e w York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Fausto-Sterling, A. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction ofSexuality. N e w York:
Basic Books, 2000.
Ferguson, R. A. Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer ofColor Critique. Critical American Studies
Series. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.
Foucault, M. The History ofSexuality. 1st Vintage Books ed. N e w York: Vintage Books, 1980.
Higginbotham, E. B. Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church,
1880-1920. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.
Hill Collins, P. Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. N e w York:
Routledge, 2004.
Johnson, E. P. "Feeling the Spirit in the Dark: Expanding Notions of the Sacred in the
African-American Gay Community." Callaloo 21, no. 2 (1998): 399-416. doi:10.1353/
Kapsalis, T. Public Privates: Performing Gynecologyfrom Both Ends ofthe Speculum. Durham, N C :
Duke University Press, 1997.
Lawless, E. J. God's Peculiar People: Women's Voices and Folk Tradition in a Pentecostal Church.
Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1988.
Mahmood, S. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Fetninist Subject. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 2005.
Mountford, R. The Gendered Pulpit: Preaching in American Protestant Spaces. Studies in Rhetorics
and Feminisms. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003.
Roach, J. R. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Adantic Perfortnatice. N e w York: Columbia University
Press, 1996.
Sax, W. S. Dancing the Self: Personhood and Performance in the P*a*N*Dava L*Il*a ofGarhwal.
Oxford and N e w York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Taylor, D. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham,
N C : Duke University Press, 2003.
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008.
^ s
Copyright and Use:
As an ATLAS user, you may print, download, or send articles for individual use
according to fair use as defined by U.S. and international copyright law and as
otherwise authorized under your respective ATLAS subscriber agreement.
No content may be copied or emailed to multiple sites or publicly posted without the
copyright holder(s)' express written permission. Any use, decompiling,
reproduction, or distribution of this journal in excess of fair use provisions may be a
violation of copyright law.
This journal is made available to you through the ATLAS collection with permission
from the copyright holder(s). The copyright holder for an entire issue of a journal
typically is the journal owner, who also may own the copyright in each article. However,
for certain articles, the author of the article may maintain the copyright in the article.
Please contact the copyright holder(s) to request permission to use an article or specific
work for any use not covered by the fair use provisions of the copyright laws or covered
by your respective ATLAS subscriber agreement. For information regarding the
copyright holder(s), please refer to the copyright information in the journal, if available,
or contact ATLA to request contact information for the copyright holder(s).
About ATLAS:
The ATLA Serials (ATLAS®) collection contains electronic versions of previously
published religion and theology journals reproduced with permission. The ATLAS
collection is owned and managed by the American Theological Library Association
(ATLA) and received initial funding from Lilly Endowment Inc.
The design and final form of this electronic document is the property of the American
Theological Library Association.