Like a true Beyoncé stan, when Renaissancedropped, I listened promptly at 12 a.m. with the rest of Twitter. The 16-track album was released just over a month after the debut of its only single “Break My Soul” and, based on my adoration for that song, I knew the album was one that I was guaranteed to dance to–even if alone in my living room. The song that directly follows “Break My Soul” on the house-inspired album is none other than the transformative track “Church Girl.”
When I first read the name of the track, I was fully prepared to hear a ballad featuring a religious reference or nod, but what I was not prepared for was hearing a sample from none other than gospel legends, The Clark Sisters. In “Church Girl,” Beyoncé samples their song “Center Thy Will.” The song starts with a religious cry from the original lyrics, “Lord, place me, Lord, place me. I want to be centered in thy will” before a beat drop that transforms the song into a certified twerk anthem that makes it impossible to sit still.
Beyoncé continues the song with lyrics that speak to life’s trials and tribulations, “I’ve been up, I’ve been down. Feel like I moved mountains, got friends that cried mountains” before heading into a sexually liberated and fierce chorus, “I’ll drop it like a thotty, drop it like a thotty.” She then goes on to sing, “Church girls acting loose, bad girls acting snotty, let it go girl, let it out girl, twirl that ass like you came up out the south girl.” And if you’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the song, you’ll understand why, as a Certified Church Girl, I had no choice but to do just that throughout the duration of the track. I happily dropped it like a ‘thotty.’
I shook my ass as well as my pretty tig ol’ bitties to a Clark Sisters-sampled banger because Beyoncé told me to. And I’d happily do it again.
I grew up in a “church on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday” home, so I know that church is a holy place of refuge for many, but I am also aware that it serves as a source of trauma for many as well. For people like myself who have experienced sexual trauma at the hands of the church, I am no stranger to the feeling of shame that is heavily perpetuated within church culture, especially when it comes to sexuality. As a teenager, I remember how small I would feel when I would come to church in clothing that I felt confident in only to be handed a sweater because the straps of my dress were “too thin.”
I remember our pastor receiving a chorus of “Amens!” and “Hallelujahs!” whenever he would casually preach about young women who are too focused on sleeping with young men (and the way he would conveniently never condemn the men who sleep with them.) I remember coming forward as a teenager against my abuser, a forty-five-year-old man within the church, and immediately being told by an elder that it was “okay” because God would forgive me, as if my existence was sinful.
I internalized the belief that I was somehow less of a woman for years because according to some people within the church, I was less of a woman.
My body became something that I was ashamed of. Back then, I always covered up because of the subconscious belief that my body was something that can only attract shame, rather than liberation. I always felt a sense of guilt for experiencing any sort of “worldly” pleasure. Today, I make a full and conscious effort to love on the parts of myself that I once believed were cursed. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I in no way deserved the trauma that I endured.
However, with all forms of trauma, I’ve learned that progress is never linear. There are times when the effects of that trauma seem too heavy of a cross to bear, and those are the days that are difficult but I believe it is the acknowledgment of this and the determination to work through it that keeps me moving forward.
Beyonce’s “Church Girl” invited me to continue to unravel toxic beliefs around my body in a way that was fun, sexy and to be frank–pleasantly twerkable. Proudly proclaiming lyrics like, “I was born free,” Beyoncé fiercely combats the shame surrounding our bodies and sexuality, shame that is often promoted rather than denounced within the church. While I’m sure that there is an ongoing list of saved and sanctified folk that would condemn the song for being raunchy or blasphemous, for people with stories like mine, the song is a celebration of all the parts of myself that were once demonized.
As an adult, I no longer choose to spend my Sunday mornings in a service but if you ask me, I am still forever and always a Certified Church Girl. It’s the way I love breaking bread with a group of friends because church folk taught me that a shared meal is both a form of fellowship and a love language. It’s the way I believe a Christmas playlist is never complete unless Kirk Franklin’s “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” has made an appearance. And now, thanks to Beyoncé, it’s also the way I can let go of this body, and love on me because nobody can judge me–but me.
As much as I’d love for it to be true, I know that the solution to confronting religious trauma can’t be found in a three-minute and forty-four-second track. But Beyoncé’s invitation to divorce the bodily shame that so many of us church girls have internalized and know too well is one that I will always gladly accept.
After all, what is more godly than living without shame?
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