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A Black church where queer members still seek a home of faith is central to playwright Norton’s new work

By Jo Lowden | Arts Angle Vantage Reporter

Homeschool Student, Class of 2025


As Good Friday services are happening inside New Jerusalem Mission Baptist Church, in the parking lot several members are telling stories about their lives of hardship, love, faith, betrayal, and misunderstandings.

 

“I Am Delivered’T,” written by Jonathan Norton and directed by Robert Barry Fleming, details the lives of four Black queer characters: Sis, Pickles, Breedlove, and Effie. It ran at Actors Theatre of Louisville from March 13 through 24.


Naigui Macabroad and Zachary J. Willis in “I Am Delivered'T” at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Photo by Denisha McCauley and Actors Theatre of Louisville.


The outside of this beautiful church is adorned with stained glass windows. Its main glass doors open upon a picture of the pastor and his wife. In the lot, there are parking spots, chairs, and a cooler.

 

Sis (Liz Mikel) is a tall woman with short hair, wearing her best usher board suit with a yellow vest and a yellow rose in her jacket pocket. Jackie Breedlove (E. Faye Butler) sports a coral jacket over a flowery top a flowery top with skirt and has beautiful curls down to her shoulders. Effie (Naiqui Macabroad) is a tall, thin young man wearing a light blue jacket, gray dress pants, black boots, hair in braids tied up into a ponytail, and the glitteriest eyeshadow known to man. Pickles (Zachary J. Willis) is slight and young in his usher board suit with a yellow tie and a yellow handkerchief in the breast pocket. Connecting them all are their hardships in the church community.

 

All have their struggles independently. But they come together with their struggles in their church. Sis finds herself wrestling with her faith in her pastor. Yet, she stands tall, cloaked in confidence, using it as a shield against her inner fears. Pickles muses about the cruelty of those who ridicule others for daring to dream beyond their expectations. Later, Effie, even with his complexities and trials regarding his relationship with Pickles, tells Pickles to stand firm. “Whatever they try and do, don’t you dare let them run you off,” Effie says.

 

This story spoke personally to me. As a queer person born in the church, I have experienced surrounding cultures that have been very uplifting but at the same time very damaging. This is often the case with other queer people and others who are different. Growing up we hear hateful comments, sermons, their cherry-picked Bible quotes, and others critical remarks. A lot of us lose faith — whether it’s faith in God, people or the church. We lose it.

 

Nearly two-thirds of queer individuals raised in Christian households leave their faith upon reaching adulthood, according to research from the Williams Institute. Among those who remain, a demographic profile emerges — predominantly older, Black, cisgender men residing in the South.

 

This study also highlights a disparity between Black and white LGBTQ individuals' experiences within Christian settings. A higher proportion of Black LGBTQ individuals were raised in Christian households compared to their White counterparts. Furthermore, a majority chose to maintain their ties to Christianity, with over half opting to remain within the faith.

 

Despite facing unique challenges and minority stressors, many LGBTQ individuals, particularly within the Black community, find comfort and support within their Christian faith. The social, cultural, and religious networks they are part of often provide a sense of belonging and community that outweighs the negative experiences they may encounter.


Zachary J. Willis, Liz Mikel, and Naiqui Macabroad in “I Am Delivered'T” at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Photo by Denisha McCauley and Actors Theatre of Louisville.


“I Am Delivered’T” tells us about Black LGBTQ individuals who choose to stay in the church and strive to be authentic.

 

But after the performance, playwright Norton warned of the consequences of being authentic in a church setting. There, people often find reasons to separate themselves because of their differences, creating a spiritual homelessness. While the pastor in this play is never seen, the story shows he listens but rarely acknowledges these members’ spiritual needs and issues.

 

“I don't think it's necessarily that he was homophobic as much (as he has) a fear of just standing up, doing the right thing because of the fear of what those consequences would be,” Norton said.

 

The homophobia people feel from the church, Norton added, is not always personal homophobia from the church but from “groupthink” and fear of abandonment. That prompts church members to concur with and say things they don’t believe so they can still be a part of something.

 

“The majority of people I know,” Norton said, “the folks in church who I sit next to on Sunday, we have our inside jokes. And folks invite you to their church or invite you to their holiday parties and whatnot. Yet, that idea of that groupthink — it’s the thing that kind of divides you. It's not an actual pure hatred of who you are as a person.”

 

Willis, the actor who plays Pickles, was also part of part of the conversation and talked about how division can be internalized,

 

“This show has taught me that for Pickles in particular (it) is not necessarily about the external forces, but the internal self-hatred,” he said, “the quiet, eliminating yourself from the love of God."

 

Everyone in and around this story knows of the prejudices entailing their identities — being Black and being queer, particularly in the church. Yet, despite their issues, they stay close and try to help each other. They know how it feels to be standing in front of everyone asking for love only to get turned away, something so many LGBTQ people know, especially those who also are Black, Indigenous and People of Color. We all know that at the end of the day, we all just want to be loved.


Jo Lowden (he/they), a homeschooled sophomore in Meade County, is currently a youth leader at Louisville Youth Group and their local library. He also is active in the process of creating a local LGBTQ group. He is passionate about all things involving mental health and queerness, especially for teens and young adults. Currently, Jo is on track to complete high school at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College for dual credit over the next two years. With sights set on college, he aims to study psychology and pursue a career as a therapist.

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