Beyonce’ In the Hands of Jesus Freaks

King Bey

So apparently, Christendom is “uncomfortable” with Beyonce’s performance at this past Sunday’s Superbowl Show.

Well I’m “uncomfortable” with their discomfort.

This post from  David Henson over at, who called out his friends and acquaintances for their thinly veiled racism during the show inspired this FB rant from me:

 “Let me say as a Christian how disgusted I am with all this supposed “discomfort” over Bey’s Superbowl performance. It’s a bunch of B.S. What I saw was Girl Power to the max. And I find it interesting that this narrative about how the nation is going to hell in a hand basket always happens on the sexy, powerful bodies of Black women. Janet Jackson/Beyonce’. Was this a national conversation when Madonna/Nicki Minaj/M.I.A. were on stage last year? I mean I know the church gets its panties in a wad at Superbowl time every year, although I wish it’d get its panties in a wad at the explosion of sex-trafficking or at the serious spike in domestic violence calls that happens during the Superbowl. But I guess a grown-ass, married woman is a more likely target. And since the conservative church has by-and-large said that sexuality is only properly expressed by married people, I’m at pains to understand how Beyonce’ violated the rules. She’s a sexual being, as are we all. But she did it “the right way,” and now folk are still trippin? Go.Sit.Down. No seriously have any one of several seats. 


This is why I can’t deal with the Church on many days, because the failure to having an *INTERSECTIONAL* analysis of the ways that racism and sexism deeply inform stuff that Christian folk are taught to think is merely “moral” gets the hell on my nerves. And if you don’t know what “intersectionality” means look that ish up, since the most well known Black women academics have been talking about it for nearly a quarter-century at this point (much longer than that actually.) And that is why, although I really appreciate the piece linked [above}, I am deeply disturbed by its “gender-only” analysis. King Bey didn’t just represent girl power. It was a representation of Black Girl Power, and I am absolutely positively clear that the Church — Black and White (in particular)– is deeply uncomfortable with all things female, but all things Black female that are steeped not in shame, but in power and self-possession? Fuhgedaboutit. And that is why I don’t have not even one cotton-pickin minute (yeah pun intended) for folks who have old conservative ass theology devoid of any social analysis, because it causes them to come to ridiculous conclusions about what happened on stage. Anyway, I’m done. Seriously just done with Jesus’ people today!”

 (Yeah, I know I be doing too much on Facebook. So sue me.)

Let me also note that there seems to be serious disagreement with the claim about increased domestic violence and sex trafficking during the Superbowl, so I have provided those links here. However, what we can all agree on is that a national celebration of male violence and aggression, otherwise known as “sport,” certainly has implications for the culture of violence against women, girls and gender non-conforming folks in our country. What those implications are is less clear.

 Anyway, apparently many folks were outraged at what I took to be a deeply thoughtful analysis from Henson. So he came again with this very thoughtful reply to the scores of people who commented on that first post using the as he calls it, “what-about-the-children” defense.

In part he said,

“The overwhelming criticism I received deployed a familiar argument against certain kinds of media — the “What about the children?” defense. They argued that Beyoncé’s performance wasn’t kid-friendly, or analyzed the cut of her leotard or whether her costume was too revealing. [….] Please forgive the strong language, I think I have to be careful if I attempt to understand an adult through the lens of a child and I think I need to be even more careful when asking a performer to take in mind how what they do will affect my children. This is particularly fraught where Black women are concerned, in my opinion. Black women are not the minders of white people’s children (overwhelmingly this comment came from white people). For me, (maybe not for you?), this hits too closely to asking Beyoncé, an independent, strong woman, to perform as a veiled Mammy. In the end, though, I am responsible for what my children watch, not Beyoncé.”

Touche’, Mr. Henson.

Henson goes on to engage with a post from Dr. Christena Cleveland, a self-identified “African American evangelical” who shared her own thoughts on the performance.  Although I admire the sister for attempting to bring an intersectional analysis to this whole thing, but there were a few problems.

She argues: “yes, Beyonce was handed the mic; anyone with a sociological imagination knows that Beyonce was on stage only because powerful people  – e.g., those who produce the Super Bowl – decided that it was in their best interest to grant her access.” In other words, Bey’s performance took place not under conditions of her own making and should therefore be seen as oppressive.

First, since Bey doesn’t own the NFL or the Superbowl, being asked to perform at the event would never be solely up to her. That being said, at the point where she arrived on stage with all-female, all women’ of color band and made history as the first all female show in Superbowl history, I think it is fair to say that she absolutely transformed much of the “oppression” that is the half-time stage.

Second, reference to Bey as a “house nigger,” is really bad argumentation, based on equally dubious scholarship. There is nothing about a slave analogy that works here. Now I agree with Dr. Cleveland that we need to interrogate the ways in which white male desire commodifies and hypersexualizes the bodies of Black women. That is a perennial and enduring problem. But how the commodified white gaze turned Bey into a “house nigger,” is simply beyond me.  The Church is badly in need of an intersectional analysis, a new politics of pleasure (to quote Joan Morgan), and a theology that doesn’t stifle the possibility and potential of Black girls, because we refuse to tell the truth about the racist and sexist root of social anxieties. So when we bring it, we need to make sure we come absolutely correct.

 Bottom Line: I am really tired of the American Church conflating its age-old anxieties with the bodies of Black women, anxieties born out of sexist and racist presuppositions, with calls for conservative morality. The African American Church, in particular, has come to think that the respectability politics around proper public moral self-presentation that we created as a strategy for negotiating a violent post-Emancipation world is synonymous with a theology for living. The White Church needs to grapple with its sexualized racism and racialized sexism. Lorde help them.

It’s all  bad theology and it amounts to an unholy policing of Black women’s bodies in the name of Jesus. I rebuke all of it.  #thedevilisaliar  #andaintnotruthinhim


If the Church purports to be the“pillar and ground” of truth then it better recognize. Because trippin on King Bey and the awesome show of Black Girl Power that was Sunday night is not the way to a vote for relevance.


34 thoughts on “Beyonce’ In the Hands of Jesus Freaks

  1. I still don’t see how Beyoncé writhing on a stage in a leotard is “girl power.” There’s nothing about it that promotes the feminine agenda/equality IMHO. The performance made me uncomfortable, not because it wasn’t “Christian” (just because she says she’s Christian, doesn’t mean she is – I’ve given up that ghost a long time ago), but because it was so sexually charged and there are kids who watch the game and the halftime show. From Janet’s wardrobe malfunction, to M.I.A.s flippin the bird, to this-it’s like the halftime show is PG-13 now.

      1. ?? She was giving her opinion, not commenting on anything in the post other than the dubious claim that this was “girl power.” And I agree. Making this about black women and girl power… it’s all crap. Sometimes, things are just offensive and it has nothing to do with race, religion, gender, etc. I’m a feminist and I was offended. I know a lot of others who were as well and they are not “Jesus” people. I think if Beyonce wants to do this sort of thing in her own show, that’s fine, but not during the halftime of a show when kids will watch. It just went too far. I can’t say that about previous halftime shows I’ve seen (I didn’t see the Janet Jackson fiasco, but from what I heard of it, it sounded like no big deal). So sick of people who objected to it being portrayed as pearl clutchers or racists or whatever.

  2. It’s not just the “church” that you need to problematize in your critique. ALL religions purport to “protect” their women by telling them dress “decently” or “cover up” – all under the guise of a politics of respectability. SMH.

  3. I’m at a loss to understand how Beyonce is more responsible for what children watch than their PARENTS….just sayin…

    Beyonce has been wearing leotards, gyrating and jumping around in heels all while singing perfectly in tune for YEARS now…somehow this Superbowl show was supposed to be different?

    If you didn’t want your kids watching her do what she does best, here’s an idea: turn the channel. Jeez.

    1. I thought it was worse, her outfit was sleazier (it wasn’t just the skimpiness, it was the style). Yeah, parents could have changed the channel. But in our case, we had watched the Puppy Bowl in the afternoon and were explaining how the “kitty halftime show” would differ from the truly awesome Super Bowl halftime show, so our son was eagerly anticipating it. And we kept hoping maybe it would get better.

      Ultimately, parents watching a show that is supposed to be for the whole family shouldn’t have to worry about the content of the halftime show. I’m not saying make it Disney or G rated, but maybe not have women dressed in lingerie-style clothes doing “good to go” dance moves? The sad thing is, Beyonce is a big enough star that she could have still been sexy without being sleazy.

      1. Are you even a feminist? Do you understand the basic principles? For one, feminism stands on the idea that a woman isn’t defined solely on her sexuality, this includes the way she dresses. Of course you see “sleazy”, this white-patriarchal structure has conditioned you to see “purity” in a context in which she’s suitable to the male gaze, really, the white male gaze. But we don’t find bare-chested men as sleazy, do we? And please don’t put up that tired fucking trope of “oh men are different,” just stop. If you’re going to say half-nakedness offends you, then bare-chested men should offend you as well.

        Anyhow, what is she supposed to wear-jeans? I don’t know if you’re a dancer, I am. Most dancers wear leotards, point blank period. It’s not just about appearance, but mobility. Her outfit is tame compared to the dances I’ve seen, especially more traditional african dances, in which the naked body isn’t a problem at all.

  4. Thank You! CFC so often expresses exactly what I am thinking! I’ve been super disappointed by the critiques that have focused on Bey (who was amazing! IMO) when we have a serious crisis of violence in this country. Football is the personification of our violent construction of manhood and all the complementary issues that come along with it. Long term physical injuries from the game that are starting to get scant attention, the recent horrible instances of domestic violence among NFL players and our overall violent culture. Its crazy that these mothers are getting a platform to clutch their proverbial pearls at Bey when they don’t even approach the issues latent in our violent culture personified through the obsession with football. How dare a women display power, sexiness, independence and talent all at once while showcasing an all female halftime show for the first time in history. I need some yoga because I cant take it!

    1. How is dressing like an S&M dolly and doing strip-show dance moves displaying “power” and “independence”? If Beyonce were powerful and independent, she wouldn’t have to sell herself this way. I”m amazed that so many so-called feminists can’t see this. The all-female halftime show was great, but why dress all the women like hookers or boy toys? Sending the wrong message.

      1. The word I believe that sums this up is choice. Choice choice choice. If someone CHOOSES to dress up “like an S&M dolly” – which p.s. what about black lace says, specifically, S&M to you? – because they like it and they are CHOOSING to express their sexuality in this way than it is an empowering act. There are more nuanced discussions to have here about total choice in a sexist industry/ society, but there’s no getting to the nuance without acknowledging that the power is located in the choice. Also maybe acknowledging that the expression of sexuality is not inherently wrong/ inappropriate.

      2. a possible answer: it was the plastic/black leather look of the rest of the outfit that made me say S&M. I would actually call it an S&M/lingerie combo. Two types of clothing that the world sells to women as something they should put on to be sexy for someone else, a sort of degrading suggestion. Both types of clothing exist for male fantasies.

        The “choice” angle is interesting: are you OK then with strippers or hookers who “choose” those careers? What about women who appear in those sexist commercials that degrade and commercialize women? Is every choice that a woman makes acceptable simply because she’s a woman, and is therefore above criticism (at least in feminist circles)? What if her choice reinforces cultural norms that degrade women as a whole?

        The idea that someone who objects to a single performance is guilty of being anti-sex or anti-women’s-sexuality is problematic as well. Wouldn’t you say that’s an awfully broad brushstroke to paint with? When people say that, the feeling that comes to mind automatically is that they at heart are afraid of censorship or afraid that women are going to be pushed back into the “virgin” role. That therefore, any sexual expression by any woman is “healthy” because women used to not be allowed to do that. But that’s simply the virgin/whore dichotomy. Women, in being liberated from sexual oppression, are now celebrating their sexuality… by acting like whores or objects for male gratification. Which is also oppression. I would say that’s not genuine empowerment.

        You are free to not be offended by her performance. But I should also be free to have concerns about it and the message it’s sending about women without being shamed as an inadequate feminist or prude.

  5. I have problems with this article mainly because I feel like Beyonce’s performance feeds into the hypersexualization of women of color and is therefore not empowering, but rather another drop in the bucket of treating and displaying women as sex objects. I take no issue with being proud and comfortable with your sexuality, however I find it very frustrating that women of color often have to “shake what they got” and play up their “assets” in order to get ahead in the music industry. Historically the bodies of women of color, especially black women have been exoticized and ridiculed by the public for being so “different” (Sarah Baartman). As far as the media and music industry is concerned, I feel like we have progressed very little if at all in this respect and Beyonce does nothing to challenge this, instead she contributes to it. Her performance merely satisfied the male gaze once more.

    1. I think you’re overthinking this, Sarah. It isn’t related to her being a woman of color. Beyonce has performed on many other occasions and been more tastefully dressed (and still sexy). I think it was just straight-up sexism, and I think honestly that is has to do with her having a baby recently. Actresses and performers who have babies often feel the need to prove that they are still boy toys and sexually available to the imagination of men. ’cause married moms aren’t sexy I guess, and if men can’t fantasize about you, maybe they won’t love your act anymore. So they super-sex themselves up to show off their still-excellent bodies. It’s sending the message that women’s job is to be sexually available to men.

  6. Until Black folk become ok with they reality that nudity is not morality, we will continue to have these thinly veiled slut-shaming sessions where norms of “proper” behavior are linked with norms of shame, whiteness, and a lessening of women’s expression. For those who watch all these commercials filled with patriarchy, racism, violence, and messages of conquest, but focus on Beyonce’s performance somehow being “naked,” (what if she didn’t sing- her dance moves quite legitimated athletic garb like say, a gymnast would wear)…for those small-minded individuals, Blackness will never be free from your judgements of it.

    1. For the record, I find many of the commercials offensive as well. If this is about blackness, then why has Beyonce performed many, many other times NOT dressed like an S&M dolly and people haven’t objected? It was the outfit, the dance moves, the way she acted like a stripper. I would have been just as offended if it had been a white performer. Beyonce has enough talent that she didn’t need to do that and she cheapened herself, IMO. THAT is a bad message to send to other black women.

  7. compare Bey’s show to Alicia Keys performance at the Peoples choice. Keys work a tasteful outfit, sang great, and put on a good show all without having to dress like a Victoria’s secret centerfold.

  8. I really appreciate the article’s insightful analysis about the need to bring an intersectional approach to understanding Beyonce’s performance.

    However, I do feel that its important not only to discuss the violence of the superbowl as a particular space in which patriarchy rules )violence increases–often due to drug, alcohol abuse combined with gambling–these games are high stakes for a lot of folks) but also the ways in which black women artists like Beyonce, Rihanna, Janet etc. create music and performances that are AMERICAN!!! By that I mean, the reliance on scantily clad outfits, back-up dancers, pyrotechnics, and gyrating moves is right out of the pages of AMERICA. What they do is no different from Myley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Brittney, Lady Gaga and an entire host of fetishsized white women’s bodies. Further, these overt expressions of sexuality are nothing new–so lets remember that folks.

    Secondly, as a Christian, I do take issue with this articles title, “Jesus Freaks” I think its important to be mindful not to link all Christians in one basket. Me and my Christian girlfriends LOVED the Beyonce Show (we facebooked about it the entire performance!) and We are ecstatic to attend her upcoming tour. However, we also recognize that we wouldn’t want our five-year old daughters watching the show. Why? because it was an adult show—with adult attire, adult language, and adult lyrics. However, I don’t think these beliefs make me prude or crazy, but rather a mindful parent, scholar and activist who totally appreciates black women’s sexualities, and believes these sexualities should be expressed however they want to be, but also believes that the Word of God holds parents responsible for their children and therefore, concerned Christian parents have a right to think about what happens on their tv sets—but not, just as the author pointed out, only when it comes to Black Women’s Bodies! —if you don’t like that, take it up with God.

    As Christian adults we have a duty and responsibility to monitor what our children watch–but that doesn’t mean all Christians think that the censorship of such performances is necessary.

    1. I like what you wrote, JNique. I’d like to add that part of the issue I had with her performance was that it was being done during an event that families watch. That means kids who will think that that’s how women performers must act and dress in order to get attention. I am a very vigilant parent, but it is very difficult to monitor everything, and when your kid is eagerly anticipating the halftime show, it is disappointing to say the least to have to turn it off because it isn’t appropriate. And think of all the young girls who are Beyonce fans who would also have eagerly anticipated it. What message was it sending to them? That it’s women’s jobs to be sex toys for men?

      Nobody’s talking about official censorship, just that performers consider their *entire* audience. I’d also like the sponsors to forgo commercials for scary movies and sexist commercials. Parents have enough challenges today without feeling like they are being ambushed by inappropriate stuff.

    2. Once again I think this comes down to choice. A grown woman has the choice to present herself and her art in the manner she deems honest to herself. Parents and adults also have the choice not to expose their children or young relatives to these artistic expressions. All these choices are valid. I definitely think its interesting that the American public is obsessed with Beys tightly choreographed (and I would argue LIGHTLY sexually suggestive) show but fail to see the impact of the violence of football and what messages this violence relays to children about masculinity. IMO

  9. I definitely feel like these “Jesus freaks” (simply using this label to address the same people us readers now understand the author to address) pick and choose when they want to have a religious and/or moral issue with a public performance. If I recall correctly, no one seemed outraged and Madonna’s outfit from last Super Bowl. I definitely agree that it is not up to Beyoncé to monitor what she does (or what she wears) for the sake of children with parents who should be able to choose what their child does or does not watch. I have only skimmed over a few comments posted thus far, but someone mentioned something about their son watching the half time show and them sitting through it, hoping it would get better, simply because their son had been excited to see it. To this, I must say the responsibility rests in your hands: you are the parent. No matter how excited your son may be, you decide if you want him to watch it or not. Now, as for those who argue against the performance as an example of girl-power, I refer you to this statement, she “made history as the first all female show in Superbowl history.” If that does not translate to a performance of girl power, then I do not see how anything will. Some may argue that her dance moves or outfit make it so that this display is more oppressive than empowering. However, I firstly argue that her dance moves were not as dirty/sleazy/S&M/stripper-esque as they are made out to be. Secondly, since when is a woman not allowed to wear what she wants? How is limiting what a woman can and cannot wear an example of empowerment? I think that is the oppression.

  10. Maybe next year they can get Taylor Swift to get an all-girl band and then the nice Euro church folks can talk about how empowering her performances was and how she’s a role model for young women everywhere…


  11. I think this argument or opinion piece comes down to the true source of criticism on black feminism and how women should be perceived but the children argument may have merit more so for the black community than any other. I honestly think if Beyonce wasn’t there, the cheerleaders would be, the men in helmets trying to knock each other out would be there, the commercials that people being hit for entertainment would be there, the coaches who praise players for violent tackles would be there and the fans who are entertained with football would be there. The churches’ augment cannot in any way tackle the major social problems by tackling Beyonce’s “hyper sexualized” performance at half time. But is the argument of children watching and she should be this a true copout? You as a parent should be making a consciousness decision to turn the channel. This moves into an interesting argument. That is to argue that all parents are responsible and or let alone present. If kids are the concern and black feminism is the bases, then what does it say to black girls who watched Beyonce’s performance? Does this tell a black girl that to be praised that she needs to dress in black leather half naked and perform sexually if that’s the case? I do not buy the Churches argument however I do believe what we allow to move as “Girl Power” personified through performance can be mistaken by younger viewers. In a society where rap videos are often attacked by black feminist for Hip hop’s portrayal of black women do we pass blindly by female figures that seem to do the same?

  12. The superbowl if for men by men. They really could care less how many women watch and then discuss post-game sexism, racism and church-ism. If you don’t like it don’t watch it. That hurts the pockets of the white super structure that OWNS and PRODUCES the SPORT. So many women want to be Bey and they producers know that period. As far as the church goes, we off that. Black women in America need to get off that too because it is f’in up their self esteem thinking that some white jesus is going to help you after death when white people are not helping now. Rant, rant, rant. Rubble, rubble, rubble. And I’m out.

  13. I come from a very conservative Catholic household and from granny down everybody loves Bey. I need for folks to pull up on her.

  14. Truth to tell if you find ten articles bashing Bey (or Michelle Obama for that matter) nine of them will likely be written by a feminist so let’s keep it 100.

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