Johnson vs The Church: 5 Things About Church Respectability Politics

Last week the black church world was in yet another uproar due to Facebook Live. In this installment, infamous gospel, Leandria Johnson goes on a smoke filled rant that included some content worthy of a Parental Advisement sticker. She goes in on the ecclesiastical establishment about hypocrisy, elitism, and the damage it causes people; punctuating her complaints with strong stiff “f*** you” to the church.

In the days since, Ms. Johnson has retracted her statements and apologized to any and everyone she may have offended. Of course black social media lit all the way up on both sides of the aisle, and in typical social media fashion EVERYONE has an opinion. What you are reading now isn’t so much an opinion piece on what went down, but more of a “big picture” look at how people treat each other in the name of truth and righteousness. In her apology, Ms. Johnson stated that the conversation needed to be had …. so here we go:


    For as long as there has been religion there has been hypocrisy and elitism. Even Jesus went toe to toe with the religious establishment of His day. The synoptic gospels are full of Jesus’ commentary on the Pharisees and Sadducees, and how they used God, scriptures and sacred rhetoric to alienate people. If Jesus had to deal with this over 2000 years ago, why are we surprised to see the same type of behavior today? No matter how close people claim they want to be to God, most of us can’t resist the urge to claim power and stiff-arm everyone else; especially when there is organization and hierarchy involved.


    Most people wouldn’t argue the correctness of treating people right and promoting righteousness. The problem occurs when we explore the methods of doing so. Your point can be valid while the expression of said point can be WAAAYYY off.


    We have become accustomed to offensive rhetoric to breed conversations thinking that it is the same as provocative language. Provocation is the act of saying or doing something outrageous, hopefully with the intent to spark thought, interest, and/or conversations. But people in the last few decades have been provocative just for the sake of provocation. From disk jockeys to comedians to TV stars, so many people just want to shock people simply because they can. So then the next logical step for a people desensitized to provocation is offensive action. To be offensive means to purposefully insult, berate, and assail people. But you can’t expect to be offensive and be accepted, even if your argument is correct. Offensive language will always get a reaction, that is typically polarizing. Sure, there will be some people on your side and all for it, but pitting people against each other around a shared offense will never solve anything. So both sides of this particular debate could stand to learn the difference between provoking thought and offending others.


    The basic idea of respectability politics is that if an outsider would only present themselves in a “respectable” way, they would earn their way into the privileged few. On the surface this sounds “reasonable” but is fundamentally flawed. First of all, only the few get to decide what is respectable. More importantly, if too many people become part of the privileged few then you have to up the ante on what is respectable. In the case of the church, much like in anything else, respectability politics never breeds respect, but a pendulum of contempt and competition.


    If we are absolutely honest, most people we encounter, whether they go to church or not, are decent people. People in church are not all overly pious and holier-than-thou, just like everybody in the world aren’t whores and drunks. If we could just simply stop projecting what we perceive to be the worst in each other, maybe we would get along better. Oh wait … we’re all human … and prone to imperfection.

©2018 Derek J. Murphy Enterprises, and I AM KINGDOM Publishing, All Rights Reserved.

If you enjoyed this essay, please feel free to share it with your family, friends and social media to help spread this encouragement. Thank you for reading!

1 Comment

  1. Cool and insightful blog post! The last statement is interesting… many hide behind “being just human”, like we’re just flesh and blood and not identifying that we are spirit, soul, and flesh, in that order. When we let the other parts override, we get what has been the latest buzz.

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