“The only way I’m able to remain a Christian is to imagine that Jesus is Black and queer,” said Rev. Naomi Washington Leapheart. “Jesus’s life story, the fact that his way of being put to shame the imperialist ways of the status quo, and that he was so resented that he was ultimately murdered — this life mirrors the liminality [that] is Blackness.”
As the Director for Faith Based and Interfaith Affairs for the Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement in Philadelphia, Pa., and an Adjunct Professor at Villanova University, Rev. Naomi spends most of her time with her community.
Recently, Philadelphia lost another Black Trans woman, Dominique Rem’mie Fells, to violence. Rev. Naomi co-organized a virtual community grief session.
“This June, pride was tinged with sorrow and heartbreak. I wanted to hold that space, especially with ties to local government.”
This is a moment where joy is resistance. Rev. Naomi quoted her grandmother and said, “Even when the world is on fire, through my ancestors I’ve inherited something on the inside that helps me still experience joy.”
Originally from Detroit, she moved to the Philly area 20 years ago to study at the University of Pennsylvania. She had intended to become an attorney, however it was when she started teaching LSAT prep courses that made her rethink her future.
It wasn’t long before she fell out of love with becoming a lawyer and fell in love with being a teacher.
The pastor worked at after school programs in college and fell in love with education. Though, it was during her time at Lancaster Seminary where she came out to herself and her community.
“It was a completely formative time, not only theologically and vocationally, but also personally. I was surrounded by Black people who were unapologetically Black, Queer, and Christian,” Washington Leapheart said, “I just remember feeling, ‘Wow, these are my people, and this is my work.’”
In 2017, Rev. Naomi designed and taught her first college course, Do Black Lives Matter to God? A Theological Exploration of Race, Suffering, and Resistance. Since then, she has added other classes to her roster: the Villanova’s core theology course, Faith, Reason, and Culture, So Long Been Dreaming: Science Fiction(s), Theologies, and Social Revolution, and Agitating Theology, a faith-based community organizing course that builds on her experience as a faith organizer.
And prior to working for the Mayor’s Office, Rev. Naomi worked as an organizer with POWER – People Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild, and as the Faith Work Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, where she was in charge of “setting tables for faith leaders to work for justice for LGBTQ people.”
“I really enjoy teaching. Doing faith in public life and still being an actively-engaged learner in the classroom are not exclusive identities for me. It’s an honor to do the work that I do,” Washington Leapheart said.