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Rituals within Christian practice

You See the Prophet Laid On Top of Me”: TON3X, Bishop Jackson, and Pentecostal Narratives on Body-to Body Prostration

Through the 2009 “Unspoken” recording, the artist formerly known as TON3X stimulated repressed conversation about longstanding peculiar narratives within Christian rituals. On the track “Sneeze,” in particular, TON3X explores the queer, homoerotic, and questionable nature of biblical rituals. The song is loosely based upon two similar Hebrew bible resurrection accounts involving the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24) and the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4). In both narratives, the prophets were approached by a mother to resurrect their son. In 1 Kings 17:17-24, he took the boy to his chamber and stretched himself over the boy three times, while asking God to let the boy live. The boy sneezed three times and was resurrected. According to the 2 Kings account, Elijah’s successor Elisha went into the room with the child already lying on the bed, closed the door, the parents left them alone, Elisha prayed, and laid on the child. Unlike the biblical text, TON3X allows the boy to testify about his peculiar healing. “You see the prophet laid on top of me. He said that I should live and not die that’s why I sneeze.” In the biblical narrative, the boys’ parents do not critique the ostensibly homoerotic manner with which their healing was achieved or the ways in which the boy’s death may have been exchanged for another affliction, such as shame. Essentially, TON3X’s performance provoked Pentecostals to finally talk about concealed homoerotic Christian practices that are difficult to decipher or accept.

Because I was familiar with the aforementioned problematic discourses I was not startled when footage of Bishop Wayne T. Jackson’s controversial consecration went viral in early January 2013. The Detroit Pentecostal organization Impact Ministries International’s ritual revealed a peculiar and –because of the same-gender, intimate nature of it homoerotic tradition of body-on-body prostration when the bishop laid on top of two prostrated adult male candidates. After the footage went viral, Bishop Jackson and other ministers defended the ritual. One woman bishop characterized it as true consecration pageantry with which other believers should become familiar. It is important to note that during her consecration, she did not participate however in the body-on-body prostration.

While a comparative inter- and intra-denominational liturgical analysis of prostration would be fascinating, it is outside the scope of this post. From a musical standpoint, I found it curious that the popular song “I give myself away” by William McDowell was performed as the consecration soundscape. It is a song of self-sacrifice and surrender to God’s will. In many ways, the musical refrain was the call and cue for Bishop Jackson’s ritual response of literally leaping into laying on top of the men. The congregation and music ministry were positioned, by virtue of their musical call, as complicit in setting the atmosphere and framing of the ritual. Through the collective reiteration of the chorus, it was unclear about whom and in what manner the candidates would “give (themselves) away.”

Discourses about TON3X’s music and Bishop Jackson’s consecration ritual evoke the following questions: Can one’s rituals be instructive about righteous interruption in inappropriate practices? In what ways can ministers develop in their congregants a balance between spirit-led submission and agency through consecration rituals for ministers? In what ways can consecration rituals cultivate an ethic of care and critical thought?

I welcome your thoughts about the ways in which we consider peculiar and intimate rituals within Christian practice.