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Unholy Hush: on Keion Henderson, Public Lament, and Misogyny in the Church

The viral clip of Pastor Keion Henderson of Houston’s Lighthouse Church telling a wailing woman to “hush” during a May 5 service has been viewed more than 14 million times on Instagram. Henderson defended his behavior on Tamron Hall’s nationally syndicated daytime talk show days later. He said the viral moment reflected a “four-year battle.” The rising celebrity pastor claimed the woman, despite private conversations with himself and interventions by ushers and prayer warriors, cried out “publicly after being asked not to.” Henderson made a distinction between “disruption and worship” and said that by confronting the woman, he “brought order” to his church “so people could hear God and not her.” He also said he would do it again if he needed to. However, I question whether a person lamenting in church — no matter how regularly or for how long — warrants a public rebuke.

The Bible includes numerous stories of afflicted people who suffered for years crying out publicly. When we consider Jesus’ response to such people, we find that he did not rebuke them but treated them with empathy and compassion. For example, in Matthew 15:22-18, we read how a woman with a daughter suffering from an affliction pursued Jesus and his disciples, constantly crying out for mercy as she followed them. Clearly, the disciples were annoyed (Jesus, too), but in the end, Jesus marveled at the woman’s faithful persistence, which led to her daughter’s deliverance.

Many argue that we don’t know the full story behind that viral church clip, which is true because the only perspectives we’ve heard are those of Pastor Keion, his “Basketball Wives” producer wife Shaunie Henderson, and purported church members commenting online. The hushed woman’s perspective is unknown. Yet, those defending her public humiliation assume that only Henderson was justified in his actions during that Sunday service.

The online discourse among some pastors includes statements such as “what goes on over there is none of my business,” betraying the kind of attitude that breeds a lack of accountability. And though Henderson “is in charge [and] that’s his church,” pastoring is a divine assignment and does not give leaders the liberty to treat people carelessly. God entrusted the church and its people to the pastor, otherwise known as the shepherd. Pastors are not without fault or error, but good leaders should be driven by compassion, not dismissiveness and ego. Sure, one can argue that it is also a leader’s duty to correct people, but we must not become accustomed to watching others be mistreated or allowing ourselves to be mistreated in the church. As the Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart stated on Facebook, “You can tell what kind of God exists in a person’s imagination by the kind of pastor they’ll defend.”

The ridiculing behavior we see in the viral clip happens regularly in some churches on Sundays and is often aimed at women. I grew up in a church where the pastor did immense harm that other faith leaders were privy to, but his peers pacified his behavior because he was a “great preacher.” Never mind accountability. Never mind reimagining the church as more than a space where we condone poor decisions just because the leader is “gifted.” We must not allow admiration of our “faves” or those holding revered roles to blind us to what is ethically right.

One of the core values of Christianity is reconciliation predicated on admission of fault. Pastors encourage parishioners to take this posture. Imagine if Pastor Henderson had taken a different stance on Tamron Hall’s show and chosen to protect this sister under his spiritual care. Imagine if he had admitted in humility that the “hush” moment was one of weakness and could have been addressed differently. Instead, he chose to use a national platform to further shame her.

Lament is holy, just as praise is holy. So I am challenged by Henderson’s insinuation that this woman’s lament was problematic. I am baffled by those defending his posture without considering the harm or hurt of the woman. Would those defending Henderson and turning a blind eye hold the same view if he had snapped his fingers at a man and told him to “hush?” Probably not, revealing again how patriarchy and misogyny still run deep in the church.

If those of us who are supposed to be closest to God are mean and dismissive, especially from the pulpit, we should not be surprised when people continue to flee the church.

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Hazel M. Cherry
Hazel M. Cherry
Hazel M. Cherry, M.Div., MFA is a creative writer, ordained minister, and media curator. A native of Oakland, California, her interests lie at the intersection of faith, womanism, and Black culture. Cherry considers herself a daughter of Hip-Hop and the Black church. Her mission is to empower women to love themselves fully and chart their spiritual paths with authenticity and freedom. Currently, she serves as Director of Student Affairs at Howard University School of Divinity.

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