Rev. Ann Jefferson reflects on why she is attending the Souls A’ Fire conference on Black queer theology again this year
“Now more than ever” – “For such a time as this” – “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”
All of these phrases capture the spirit of why I am so greatly anticipating this year’s “Souls A’ Fire” Gathering convened by the African-American Roundtable of PSR’s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion and Many Voices. I am excited for the opportunity to gather in Nashville in collaboration with Dr. Emilie Townes and Vanderbilt Divinity School as Dr. Victor Anderson (Vanderbilt’s Oberlin Theological School Professor of Ethics and Society and Professor of the Program in African American and Diaspora Studies and Religious Studies) was among the scholars who participated in the very first “Souls A’Fire” gathering. And so, this time of reflection, learning, worship, celebration and strategizing represents a kind of “full-circle homecoming” to the part of our nation that is a central locus of African-American faith and life – Nashville, Tennessee: home of Fisk University and American Baptist College and the headquarters of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. along with many other traditionally “evangelical” denominations and congregations.
Who could’ve imagined 15 years ago how that first gathering would evolve to this point? Since its inception, Souls A’ Fire has stayed true to its goal of bringing together African-American scholars, pastors and activists for the healing of ourselves and our communities around the intersections of LGBTQ identity and faith. This has been both a challenging and exhilarating journey which has brought us to the point of nurturing and strengthening a new generation of LGBTQI change-makers.
And now, more than ever, in the wake of the 2016 election and all that has ensued since that day, this work, our hands and our “many voices” are needed to drown out the chorus of injustice rising daily through the policies of this present Washington regime. Just in this year, “more than 100 anti-LGBT bills in 29 states have been introduced over the past five months, according to the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), a think tank that researches and analyzes state and federal laws with LGBT implications.” The acceptance of LGBTQI persons is on the decline since 2016. Our people are still disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS and the disparity in care is growing. Transgender women of color – so many African-American – are still being assaulted and murdered at incomprehensible rates, all while the current so-called administration is writing our tribe/family OUT of federal policies and protections, from housing to healthcare. Simultaneously, “religious liberty” is being used to give license to and inscribe discrimination, violence, and death ultimately. We must sharpen our hermeneutical and prophetic tools to combat the death-dealing interpretations of scripture made “living word” in our congregations and communities. This gathering prepares us to do just that.
When I think about this particular conference, I am seeing “Souls A’ Fire” as a Medicine Circle. Here we will find joy and healing in beholding each other’s faces. Here we will sharpen our intellect and strengthen the bonds across disciplines and religious traditions and community engagement. Here we will have the opportunity to go deeper into what Bishop William Barber calls “Fusion Politics” so that we draw the very best from the well of our varied theologies and praxis. Here we will have a reunion and a sending forth for all that must be done in this very present time of trouble. Indeed, “for such a time as this, we ARE the ones we’ve been waiting for!”