For more than two weeks, the circumstances surrounding the Oct. 19 death of Quinnzhahn Barnes, a beloved father, singer and pastor of the Selah Fellowship Temple in Houston, Texas, remained under wraps by those closest to him.
“It is with profound sadness that we share that our beloved Quinnzhahn Barnes has passed away,” Barnes’ young son, Quinstin James Barnes, announced on Facebook on Oct. 20. “We know that Quinnzhahn, known to many as ‘Rodney Barnes,’ … impacted the lives of many and was loved locally, statewide and nationally because of his gift of singing and preaching and also his humor and love for people.”
Hours later, as news of Barnes’ passing spread through the community of people who knew him, the shock over how he died became apparent, but no one dared say how.
“Lord have mercy! This has floored me! Rest well Quinnzhahn Barnes,” the Rev. Carl Frederick Hill of Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church in Alabama shared on Facebook.
Walter Solomon, who leads The Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Anniston, said he was “in total disbelief." Sylvester Truss, the senior pastor of Westside Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, declared, “Man, this one is shocking.”
None of the pastors responded to requests for an interview from The Christian Post.
However, when asked specifically whether her son's death was a suicide, Barnes' mother, Diane Barnes Motley, said Tuesday that she was still trying to come to terms with her son's passing. She told CP that his official cause of death was not yet final. He had died from a gunshot wound to the head, she said, refusing to mention the word suicide.
On Thursday, the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences confirmed with CP that Motley's son had indeed died by suicide. The 45-year-old pastor fatally shot himself in the head.
In an obituary Motley shared with CP about her son, she said "he was inspired and consumed with dreams and special visions about God" very early in life.
"At the age of 5 years, without the knowledge of a close relative’s death which occurred during the early morning hour, he had a dream about the Lord," it said.
"After getting up later that morning, he told immediate family members about his dream from the previous night. Before his mother, Dr. Motley could tell him about the relative who had just passed, he insisted upon telling his story first. He then said, 'I dreamed that the Lord came to somebody’s house last night.' Dr. Motley inquired as to how he knew it was the Lord. He replied, 'Moma, I was sitting in the Lord’s lap,'" the obituary added.
At his nearly three-hour-long memorial service held at the Evangelistic Temple COGIC in Houston, led by Bishop Kirk Thompson, Barnes' life was celebrated with fond memories as his body was viewed in an open casket.
“I’m really going to miss my dad. I really love him. I’m sorry I don’t really talk much but,” his son said with a deep sigh. “I know he’s in a better place.”
His daughter, Ayana, sang for him.
Colette Joubert of the Evangelistic Temple COGIC said he was an outsized figure in the Houston Church community.
“He was associated with many churches here in the Houston area,” she said. “He was very talented as a musician as well as a minister."
While no one close to Barnes spoke publicly with CP about his suicide, silence by close friends and family has always been a typical response when pastors take their life, as the teachings of many conservative churches frown up such acts.
In the fall of 2013, for example, though he often admonished his parishioners against it, the Rev. Teddy Parker Jr., who at the time led Bibb Mount Zion Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia, was found in the driveway of his home with a "self-inflicted gunshot wound” by his wife.
His entire church and family were stunned, and they never spoke about it publicly.
Lakesia Toomer, a Bibb Mount Zion Baptist Church official, told CP in 2013, "We consider this a private matter between the family and the BMZ church family. We kindly ask that the public respects our privacy at this time."
When asked if he was willing to share anything from the experience of losing a pastor to suicide in 2018, Paul Little, the church's new senior pastor, said the time wasn't yet right.
"I'd be willing to do something. Just trying to make sure the family is comfortable. I think it's necessary for us to tell the story, but we also have to be sensitive to the timing as well," Little said.
Dr. Jared Pingleton, vice-president of professional development at the American Association of Christian Counselors, a licensed clinical psychologist and credentialed minister, explained to CP in a previous interview that the reluctance of churches to openly discuss suicide and other mental health issues is one of the reasons the problem endures among clergy.
"I attribute what you experienced to what I called the unholy trifecta — silence, shame and stigma — about mental health issues and especially suicide being the chief of those, there is a deafening silence," he said.
"There is pervasive shame which causes us to hide from Genesis 3 on, and then there is this consistent stigma for mental and relational health problems, because suicide is a relational thing. It's not just a mental thing. It is often referred to as the ultimate act of self-centeredness, for example, or the ultimate act of last revenge, to play the quintessential or penultimate guilt trip on one's loved ones," he said.
"We need to end the silence, eradicate the shame and erase the stigma because there's still so much [to deal with]. It's against the rules to struggle in a church. 'You just don't have enough faith, you don't read the Bible enough, you need to pray more.' We would never say that to somebody with diabetes or cancer or that you shouldn't take medication.”