Progressive Pastor Defends Holding ‘Beyoncé Mass’ at San Francisco Cathedral

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 12: Singer Beyonce performs during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS)
Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS

The pastor of Grace Cathedral, a San Francisco progressive Episcopal church, has held the first-ever “Beyoncé Mass,” featuring songs by the pop artist and a sermon on “Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible.”

More than 900 people showed up for the April 25 worship service using the music and message of the pop star on an evening billed as “empowering black women.” The mass included a selection of Beyoncé’s major hits, Bible readings, preaching, prayer, and communion.

The founding pastor of the Vine, a Wednesday night ministry of Grace Cathedral Church, has defended the service against criticism from “fundamentalist” Christians who say the liturgical stunt bordered on idolatry.

“I know there are people who will say using Beyoncé is just a cheap way of trying to get people in the church,” said Pastor Jude Harmon. “But Jesus used very provocative images in the stories he would tell to incite people to ask hard questions about their own religious assumptions. He regularly provoked. We’re following in the way of Jesus.”

Along with the music of Beyoncé, the event featured a sermon by the Rev. Yolanda Norton of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, inspired by her seminary course on “Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible.”

“Empire never falls lightly,” Norton said in her sermon. “Sometimes we call it racism; we call it empire. You call it homophobia; we call it heterosexual aggression; and tonight, we call it empire.”

According to Norton, the “Mass” sought to remind people that “God is in all the world and that Beyoncé is made in God’s image. The church has not treated women of color fairly and it is time to face this truth.”

“I’ve been asked time and time again, ‘Why Beyoncé?’” Norton told the congregation, “I believe in Beyoncé because she reminds us you have to do things your way.”

“When we talk about womanist biblical interpretation, Beyoncé felt like a natural fit,” she said. If we look at the trajectory of her person and her relationships, we can see so many issues black women face and how it can affect how we interpret the text.”

The Beyoncé Mass was the third in a series called “Speaking Truth: The Power of Story in Community,” which recounts stories of marginalized Christians, such as women and people of color.

The lead-off event in the series focused on Mary Magdalene as “The Original Nasty Woman” and compared Mary Magdalene to Hillary Clinton, noting that “strong, smart women being insulted and marginalized by agents of patriarchy is as old as time.”

“If Mary Magdalene were alive today, she’d surely be wearing a pink hat and marching with all who wear that epithet, ‘nasty woman,’ as a badge of honor,” the church declared.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter

.