Earlier this week, we stumbled upon this tweet from Kia, where she briefly shared that her hometown pastor denied her communion.
It started a larger conversation about the way women have been oppressed in church settings. We reached out to Kia to get the details behind her story. See what she said below.
It was Memorial Day 1999. I was 17-years-old and I had just finished my junior of high school when I learned I was pregnant. I was shocked but I was grounded. I’m the type of person that when you tell me I can’t do something, I’m more committed to getting it done. So I didn’t see it as ‘This is the end of the road.’ I saw it as, ‘Now, I have something to prove to people. I have to do what I had already planned to do.’ I had just been elected Student Government Association (SGA) president so I was like, ‘You know what, it’s time to finish off senior year strong so you can go to college.’ This won’t be an obstacle. It’s a challenge but it will not stop you from doing what you have to do. ‘
MN: Did you feel any nervousness or fear about telling certain people in your life that you were pregnant?
I did not tell people. So, I told my son’s father. I told my friends but I did not tell my parents. I actually went off to a college program about an hour away from home that summer and my mom did not find out until I came back home in late July, early August and she realized I had the same pads that I went off to school with and that’s when she bought me a pregnancy. But I just didn’t have the words to tell them and I don’t know when I would have.
MN: At what point, did you have to have the conversation with the people in your church about you being pregnant?
No one wanted me to have my child and there were conversations around that. But I was committed to doing this no matter what the cost was. So, once we got past that, it was when my child was about—he was still an arm baby. The pastor talked to my parents and there was a conversation about me apologizing to the church. And I just told my parents, ‘That’s not going to happen.’ And I was very clear. I had been having this conversation with a lot of people in my school like, ‘What are angry about? Are you angry because I had sex or are you angry because I got pregnant?’ That was a conversation I’d had with my best friends’ cousins actually. And he was like, ‘Ooo you’re pregnant.’ And I was like, ‘Everyone in this cafeteria is having sex. So what is your issue with the fact that I am pregnant?’
When my parents brought up the topic of apologizing to the church, the pastor had six sons and three of them had kids out of wedlock at this point. And there were many other people in the church, male and female, who had kids and they were not married. And no one had ever been asked to come in front of the church. It was very targeted. He was in a position where he thought he could prove a point with me. He thought that I was just going to go with it. And I was like, ‘No. They’re only doing this because I am a woman and they’re only doing this because they think that they can control me.’ And I refused to do it.
There was never another conversation about it. I don’t remember him directly having the conversation with me.
MN: He just told your parents.
Yeah. And what was even worse about it, the week that we had communion, he walked up to me with the communion tray and said, ‘You can’t take this unless you apologize.’ And I politely put my hands in my lap and said, ‘Oh well.’
I was upset that he even did it in that way without ever having a conversation with me one-on-one but he publicly denies me. It was all this pressure to confirm and I was just at a point where I would not.
MN: Were your parents in agreement that you should apologize?
I don’t think my parents were in agreement that I should apologize but my parents have never challenged their theology in the way that I do. I feel like they took a much more passive stance. And because of a lot of the challenges I encountered when I was 17/18 and pregnant, that is where I learned my voice and the power of my voice. I really learned that I had to advocate for myself. I don’t recall my parents saying anything one way or another. I did not feel pressure by them to apologize. They may have passively said, ‘That’s wrong.’ But I don’t remember them having strong feelings one way or another.
He also would not bless my child if I didn’t apologize.
Yup. Yeah. So that was a part of it. I feel like that may have been the carrot he dangled in front of me. ‘If you apologize, you know we can go ahead and bless Cameron.’ And I was like, ‘Well, I guess he won’t be getting blessed because it makes no sense.’
But and this is where it gets complicated—What’s amazing is in all of this, his wife was the one who watched my baby when I went back to school. I had my baby in January. I still had six months of school. So his wife kept my child. It speaks to the complexities of community and it really brings the question, what trust looks like?
MN: You were willing to trust your son in that household, just with his wife.
Yeah. And that was the option. We were in a community where we didn’t have immediate family. It was me, my parents and my sister. When it comes to ‘Who watches this baby when everyone is at school and work?’ Those were the most trustworthy people.
And even with the complications of misogyny and abusive theology, this is who there was to care for my child.
MN: How did this end? Did you stop going to that church? What was the resolution?
Well a lot of it was, I went away to college in August. I came to Atlanta to go to school and I know that if I was home on the weekends, I would go to that church. I moved away in 2004 and I started finding a church community in Atlanta. My mom would invite me back to my home church to speak to the youth groups and he would let me come. Like, I was the first woman standing in his pulpit and preaching because Baptist women don’t preach. There was never a deep conversation about the past.
My mom is one of those deep Christian, ‘You gotta forgive people’ women and I was like, ‘He ain’t apologize to me!’ But they kept my kid for three years until he went to preschool. They would send him birthday and Christmas cards until he was 12 or 13. They loved that baby like he was their grandchild. But in the midst of all of this, there was this mess, this misogynistic, toxic, theological mess.
MN: Was your son ever blessed by this pastor or another pastor?
This pastor actually baptized my son when he was around five.
MN: Did you talk to your son about the circumstances of his birth and the drama that came along with that?
Yeah. We started having those conversations when he was early middle school. He heard it and I think it helped him understand a lot of tensions he didn’t really understand. And it also made him not afraid to question theology and what he’s being taught. It gave him the ability to not be led and not be afraid to approach theological teachings with a critical eye and make sure it aligns with what he believes about God. I think he has a healthier understanding of who God is and what church should be because of the conversations we had around that.
I would challenge our understanding, our mainstream definition of what sin is. A lot of times we define sin as these piety issues and it’s very personal and it’s designed to make us behave a certain way in society. You see it a lot in the church around what women wear. It’s all about micromanaging behavior but there’s so little talk about the things that actually cause harm to people. We don’t talk about homophobia as a sin like we should—or how our ideas oppress and cause harm to others.
I’m also in seminary so I’ve had a lot of room and space to think about this on different levels.
MN: Some of people would have taken your experience and it would have easily deterred them from church. Why do you think that wasn’t the case for you?
It’s two things. It did deter me from church. It did not deter me from God. I know God through my personal experiences. I don’t know God because I read the Bible . I don’t know God because I go to church every Sunday. I know God from the moments when I’m in my shower and we’re having a conversation. I know God from when I’m crying in my car. I know God and God’s voice through my personal desire to understand who God is and how God operates in my life.
Growing up in church helped frame that in good and bad ways. There was a lot of unlearning as I tried to figure out who God is.
But I will say that experience broke my experience to trust church as a community. And honestly, it broke my ability to trust people with my sh*t. When I’m in a vulnerable situation, I have issues trusting people to support me and be there for me. Through lots of therapy and self-reflection, I traced it back to that moment. When I needed people the most, no one was there for me and I had to learn how to advocate for myself.
I still have a lot of issues with church. But what is important to me is that we have better public and mainstream understanding of who God is. And I want to shift that to the loving and liberating God that I have learned. I don’t go to church because I feel like the God they talk about in church is so much smaller than the God that I know. It feels like a waste of time and space. I really want people to know this big loving, liberating God that I know. When I find spaces that talk about that God, I’m there.
There has to be more to God than the box we’re trying to put Him in.
MN: What can churches do to change the rhetoric and be more loving like the God they claim to serve?
More churches have to stop being afraid of challenging the traditional norms. I was talking to a friend about a pretty popular pastor who said ‘I don’t disagree with you theologically. I don’t think that that goes in the pulpit.’ So a lot of it is fear of helping people unlearn what pastors know is problematic. And that’s sad to me. That feels like spiritual malpractice honestly. When you are in a position when you know something in harmful but you refuse to challenge it for fear of losing membership, losing the ability to be in certain rooms, that’s spiritual malpractice and at that point, I don’t think you deserve to have a congregation.
A lot of the Black church has been influenced by White evangelical culture. So we need to critically analyze what we believe and why we believe it so that we can let go of what’s not healthy. A lot of stuff we think is God really comes from a rich, White man who wants you to stay in your place. We need to do the hard work of untangling that so we can get to the truth of who God is. And that’s what churches have to do if they’re going to be anything more than oppressive powers in our community.
Kia earned a B.A. in English from Spelman College and graduated from Kennesaw State University with an M.A. in Professional Writing. She is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary. You can follow her on KiaSpeaksAlso.com or on social media platforms at @KiaSpeaks.
You can read the first story in our Unholy series, here.