Oprah’s Mega Church Series “Greenleaf” Explores Sexual Abuse and Homosexuality in the African American Church – But Ignores This Very Large Elephant in the Sanctuary

Oprah’s Mega Church Series “Greenleaf” Explores Sexual Abuse and Homosexuality in the African American Church – But Ignores This Very Large Elephant in the Sanctuary


by Kevin Burke, LSW

Oprah Winfrey’s African American mega-church drama Greenleaf premiered in 2017.  [Please note: though the series is rated as appropriate for viewers age 14 on up, it is not appropriate viewing for children and teens, and for adult viewers be aware some scenes are morally offensive.]

The Greenleaf Church is run by a large household of relatives.  Bishop James Greenfield and his wife Lady Mae act as King and Queen of family and flock as they hold court in opulence from their lake front mansion.

But behind the scenes chaos and darkness lurk in the deep waters of this ecclesial dynasty. Sexual abuse of family members and minors by Lady Mae’s brother Mac, and homosexual conflicts and divorce in one of the children’s marriages, threaten to plunge the family into scandal.

Oprah uses the framework of family and church to bring out themes related to secrecy, denial, cover-ups and loyalty issues that often accompany sexual abuse in families.

Another strong narrative is the challenges faced by Churches that remain faithful to scripture and tradition when confronting same-sex relationships and “marriage.”

Not surprisingly, the tired cultural stereotypes of the liberal media determine the “good guys” and “bad guys” as the themes related to same-sex attraction/marriage, and the response of the Church to active homosexual relationships unfold in the series.

The Elephant in the Greenleaf Sanctuary?

One controversial area that Greenleaf ignores; the higher rates of abortion among African Americans and how this impacts their families and faith communities.

David Williams is an African American pastor and evangelistic speaker to youth, young adults and men. David contributed an important chapter in my book Tears of the Fisherman, entitled The Legacy of Racism and Abortion in the African American Community.”

David offers  his insight and provides  historical context, from a sound biblical and faith perspective, to some of the church related issues in the series Greenleaf. On a more personal level, David, as the father of an aborted child, intimately understands the impact of abortion on African American women and men.

David invites the Christian Churches to confront not only sexual secrets and abuse featured in Greenleaf, but also to recognize the role of abortion in perpetuating the historical oppression and trauma suffered by the African American family.

Here are some excerpts from David’s chapter:

The Legacy of Slavery: Intergenerational Trauma – Intergenerational Sin                

By David Williams

The institutionalized abuse of slavery had a profound impact on the family structure of the African American community that I believe makes it more susceptible to abortion.

Families were systematically and cruelly dismantled for generations according to the business needs of the slavers. Men would be torn from their wives and children. They were bred like animals to create the optimal labor value for the slave businesses.

Women were routinely sexually abused, raped and separated from their children. Many mothers would abort their unborn children rather than have them born into slavery.

African Americans were not seen as persons created in the image of God but something less than fully human. Because of this they were treated as nothing more than property to be done with however their ‘masters’ saw fit…

However it also left a legacy that ingrained in us certain unhealthy mind sets about marriage, family, sex and abortion.

Now babies in the womb, who are created in the image of God, are viewed by our nation as less than human… the majority of abortion providers are in urban centers and… over 30% of abortions are by black women. [1]

The abortion industry and their allies think the solution for the high rate of out-of- wedlock pregnancies and other social problems in poor minority communities is abortion and more birth control.

What they fail to see, or ignore, is that this attacks us in those areas of historical traumatic vulnerability…this feeds the very problems the pro-abortion forces say they are rescuing us from. But the truth is, we are being exploited and targeted in a very direct way by the abortion industry…


After preaching at a predominantly white congregation on the topic of living holy lives and avoiding sexual sins[3], I was approached by a middle age white woman with an interesting question. She asked me why sexual sin is tolerated in the African-American church.

I must admit that I was taken aback by the question for hadn’t I, an African American man, just preached ‘that there should not even be a hint of sexual immorality among God’s holy people’?

She went on to share with me that she had in recent years been involved in relationships with African-American men. Both of them said they were Christians and one of them was a Pastor. She told me that she had to break off both of the relationships because these Christian men were pressuring her to have sex. This was a sad commentary and I was actually a little embarrassed by it…

The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17:

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Sadly, some of us are deeply religious but unchanged by the transforming power of the resurrected Christ. We must acknowledge and forgive those who have hurt us, confess our sins and renounce the sinful lifestyles of previous generations, and most importantly…grieve our losses. This is especially true for men that have been wounded by abortion and perhaps other abuse and loss in their lives.

Learning to grieve these losses and the sin that flows from these wounds can be the most challenging part of the recovery journey. Men, taught to be strong and never vulnerable, can struggle with the feelings of weakness, shame and fear that are part of allowing our grief to surface, and the feelings and memories that accompany that grief.

Healing abortion and other sexual sins and wounds such as abuse, allows the light of Christ to enter the most intimate places in our hearts and souls.

This open and honest accountability of our lives lowers the dynamics that can feed acting out behaviors; such as sexual immorality, extra-marital affairs, addictions and pornography.   We are strengthened as men, husbands, and fathers and as church leaders.

In my speaking ministry, as I share about my abortion loss and healing, Pastors and ministry lay leaders have opened up to me about their own shame, pain and guilt from being involved in an abortion decision. Yet many are reluctant to enter into a healing program or be public in any way about this secret in their past. They may love the Lord, and truly desire to do His will; yet their failure to humbly bring this loss to the Lord for repentance and healing, weakens them personally and in their vocation.

When those who are in leadership in African-American churches (and this is not just an issue in African-American Churches) fail to address these wounds, it not only affects their own life and family but the lives and families of those that God has called them to minister to. If I am living in secrecy and shame regarding the sins of my past, in particular sexual immorality and abortion, then there naturally is a tendency not to go there with others, and tragically, to act-out those unresolved conflicts in my ministry relationships.

I believe that as long as we live with these secrets, acting as if all is well, then we miss out in experiencing the healing grace and forgiveness of Christ. I think that this circumvents our ability to freely and fully minister God’s word to others. The unspoken and at times, unconscious thought becomes “who am I to speak up about abortion when I also am guilty and wounded by it.”

This keeps too many silent.

Thus abortion continues to ravage lives in the African American community [4]and leave in its wake multitudes of broken women and men who sit in church feeling guilty, condemned and afraid to confess what they’ve done and seek healing…

We need to approach this wound with great sensitivity, personal humility, and love. We condemn the sin, but never the wounded and repentant sinner.  We offer the merciful love and healing power of Christ.  Not talking about it or failing to address it won’t change this truth.  This is a false compassion because this silence hurts us all.

I can attest from my own personal experience that when you open up this area to the grace and healing of Christ, you will be freed to preach the Gospel of Life and the Gospel of the healing power of Jesus over abortion wounds.

You will have the privilege of being used by God to lead others to forgiveness, healing and hope. Your ministry will be empowered and blessed in ways that you could never imagine prior to taking that step.

Don’t be afraid, take that next step and reach out for the forgiveness and healing you hunger for.  God is waiting with open arms and a heart filled with love and mercy for his wounded sheep.

[David is an evangelistic speaker to youth, young adults and men as he partners with various ministries, locally and nationally. In his ministry to men, David speaks, writes and connects men affected by abortion to ministries and resources for help and healing. David is a member of MAN (The Men and Abortion Network). To contact David please email him at davidwilliamsspeaks@gmail.com  or visit his ministry website www.davidwilliamsspeaks.com]

[You can learn more about the book Tears of the Fisherman and order a copy here.

[1] Black Genocide.  http://www.blackgenocide.org/black.html

[2] Ibid

[3] Listen to message at David Williams Speaks: http://www.davidwilliamsspeaks.com/#!purityholiness/ccy5

[4] Human Life Alliance.  Did you Know?

[1] According to 2010 census data, African Americans make up 12.6% of the U.S. population but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that black women accounted for 35.4% of all abortions in 2009. Abortion is the leading cause of death among African-Americans alone accounting for more loss of life than HIV-AIDS, violent crime, accidents, cancer, and heart disease combined. [1] Since 1973, 13 millions African American babies have died in their mother’s womb. [2]



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