Is there Space for Beyoncé in Worship? by Katey Zeh


Last month nearly 1,000 people gathered at Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal congregation in San Francisco, to participate in a worship service notably referred to as the Beyoncé Mass. Several of Beyoncé’s songs, including “Survivor,” “Flaws And All,” and “Freedom,” were sung throughout the liturgy. The service included a reading from Ella Baker and two versions of the Lord’s Prayer, the traditional English prayer and a modern Womanist version. The timing of the mass fell just weeks after Beyoncé’s stunning two-hour performance at Coachella (#Beychella), the first time a black woman headlined the event.

Conservative Christians had a field day attacking the Beyoncé Mass–and the Episcopal Church as a whole–on social media. At their mildest some critics simply insisted that such a gathering could not be a true worship service but merely a “Christian Beyoncé concert.” Others condemned the gathering as blasphemous, even satanic, for its idolatrous celebrity worship. When I shared my support of the service on Twitter, I was nearly instantly served a serious dose of mansplaining–that just because I was ordained didn’t make me an authority on such matters and that perhaps I should “take a break from Christianity” and “return to the basics.” Whatever that means.

The main criticism, at least the ones folks were willing to articulate, was that a Beyoncé Mass could not be a faithful expression of Christianity. What nobody said but what any of us could read between the lines is that folks can’t stand the artistry of a strong, talented black woman taking up space in the church.

In seminary I participated in a U2charist. Similar in concept to the Beyoncé Mass, the todd-poirier-1663-unsplashservice included a number of songs by the band U2 throughout the liturgy. I don’t remember anyone making a fuss about it. I searched the Internet for criticism equally venomous to that hurled at the organizers of the Beyoncé Mass but came up short. Granted the U2charist was started in the early 2000s when social media was not what it is today, but even still it would seem that we possess greater tolerance of–and even dare to celebrate–pop music in worship if the ones creating it are male and of European descent.

The Beyoncé Mass was not some kind of last-minute, thrown-together church response to #Beychella by pastors hoping to trick people into coming to church. It was born from the reflections and experiences of students enrolled in a course entitled “Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible” at San Francisco Theological Seminary. The course was created and taught by womanist scholar Rev. Yolanda Norton who says of her class’s framing, “Beyoncé’s unique status in the world gives me the unique opportunity to narrate the realities of Black women in the church and in the world.”

Who has the authority to parse out that which is sacred for another? For far too long rawpixel-546754-unsplashthose with power have pushed out the perspectives, stories, and experiences of anyone who isn’t white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, and Christian. Isn’t it time that we open our minds and hearts to that which is outside of the narrowly-defined idea of “sacred” and make space for Spirit to move in all its mystery?

RA82Rev. Katey Zeh is an ordained Baptist minister, a nonprofit strategist, writer, and speaker at the intersections of faith and gender justice.  She is the co-host of Kindreds, a podcast for soul sisters. Her book Women Rise Up will be published by the FAR Press this year.  Find her on Twitter at @kateyzeh or on her website kateyzeh.com.

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Categories: General, Popular Culture

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19 replies

  1. “The main criticism, at least the ones folks were willing to articulate, was that a Beyoncé Mass could not be a faithful expression of Christianity.”

    Outrageous.

    What “authority” decrees this to be so?

    That racism is an issue is obvious, but it’s worse than that – this obsession we have around what’s right and wrong about Christianity makes it appear that this expression of the sacred is the only one – and that too offends me.

    Liked by 4 people

    • That’s right. And there’s a lack of understanding that someone made the decisions about what is sacred in the past. Hymns were often commissioned by powerful men with money. Why are they more sacred than a Beyonce song?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The Abrahamic religions are patriarchal, no wonder people had a problem with Beyonce and not U2.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I must confess that I don’t get it. I have the DVD of Dream Girls and I think Beyonce does a good job in it. What’s the point of a mass starring a star that isn’t Jesus? Can any entertainer wrap a mass around herself?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s fine not to get it, or for it not to be your thing. To clarify Beyonce wasn’t worshipped, but her music was featured. I think it depends on the spirit in which people enter this kind of worship service. True, one could view Beyonce as the “star” of the Mass, but it could also be an opening to the Spirit’s movement through her art. That’s how I view it.

      Like

  4. Some people have reduced “Christianity” to a magic show in which they are “saved” if they say the correct words and “believe” in Jesus as a museum statue. If someone disturbs the “approved” ritual, it all falls apart.

    Our concepts of the Divine Mystery are much too narrow and small and human centered. Happily, that is starting to change. But always remember, when Jesus of Nazareth was preaching one day, his family arrived and tried to force him home because, they said: “He is crazy”. I’ll bet it happened more then the one time recorded in the Gospels.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This post make my heart sing! I love the Beyonce Mass – let’s have more across the country.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Can’t wait for the BeyonceMass to be held in my neighborhood… #inspiration and #motivation

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Beyoncé is not a deity or sovereign god. She is a creature of the Creator just as the rest of us are. God gave her all of the talent that she has. It is alright to have a Beyoncé whatever you want to call it, but church is not the place for it. I have the greatest respect for her and all of her accomplishments. I’m glad to see that women are encouraged to use all of their God-given talents and be the best that they can be. This is not the right way to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The Spirit needs all the encouragement there is, that no one can deny, but there is only One God Most High, and that needs consideration too, as Jesus says all those years ago, if you encourage others to love and foster faith, they can only be applauded.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent post. Some of the finest worship songs ever written are ‘secular’ pieces, a great example being ‘Annie’s Song’ by John Denver. Also, a perfect song to play at a funeral is ‘Into the West’ by Annie Lennox, the pieve from the end of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.

    Here’s my blog post on ‘Annie’s Song’: http://www.flyinginthespirit.cuttys.net/2016/09/02/one-of-the-greatest-worship-songs-ever-written/

    …and another on the theme from ‘Exodus’, played by Terry MacAlmon: http://www.flyinginthespirit.cuttys.net/2017/11/16/exodus/

    …and finally, one where I showcase my late wife’s Life Video which we played at her funeral – to ‘Into the West’, as per her request: http://www.flyinginthespirit.cuttys.net/2017/04/16/the-grey-rain-curtain/

    Please forgive the liberties I have taken in including these; I just thought they would add positively to the discussion.

    Thanks again for tis great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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  2. Is there Space for Beyoncé in Worship?

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