Thursday, November 4, 2010

How Low Can You Go?

One of my greatest frustrations in the church is that we have conspired to lower the moral bar to the point where anything goes. Yes, all sin and fall short of the glory of God. However, that is not cause to cast off all restraint. We must all face judgment in the flesh and the afterlife.

Saints have been endowed with the authority to assess the quality of those within the boundaries of the church. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you (I Corinthians 5:12-13).

What vexes me is that this requirement never gets enforced. I’m not talking about disciplining every misstep by neophytes in the faith. The Holy Spirit is perfecting us all day by day. What bothers me is the tacit acceptance of egregious acts by so-called leaders of the church.

An old saying states there are two things that one does not want to see made: laws and sausage. Well my friends, I submit a third: preachers. When I first began my journey toward ordained ministry, I began to wonder what does one have to do to get kicked out of the fold? Adultery was more commonplace than marital fidelity. Spiritual integrity didn't seem to matter. And don’t get me started about embezzlement from the collection plate. Seasoned ministers made it their business to ensure that the end product was not too clean.

First, they line up all the sexual favors a new candidate can stand. They have men’s fellowship at the strip club. Alcohol and drug abuse are no strangers. The best lines for exploiting people and separating them from their money are proffered freely. Once they indoctrinate one into the game, the ministers cannot be held accountable by them. You see, there is no honor among thieves. An irony of all ironies is that keeping your nose clean becomes a liability because they have nothing to hold over your head.

This brings me to one of the most misquoted verses of scripture. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1-5), Jesus instructs disciples (d)o not judge so that you will not be judged, but he doesn’t end there. This message is a warning against hypocrisy and holding others to standards to which one does not adhere. Jesus goes further to instruct believers to first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. Then, and only then, will they be in a position to correct another. The church wants you morally corrupt to prevent you from being in a position to discern and call things for what they are.

The modern church absolves itself of moral responsibility while chastising others. What has resulted is a limbo dance in which spiritual leaders take turns committing acts that defame the Kingdom. The more base the act, the lower the moral bar is subsequently stationed. They laugh mockingly as they get away with scandal after scandal with their chain of fools intact.

During my first year of seminary, Henry Lyons, then President of the National Baptist Convention, was charged and indicted on grand theft, racketeering, fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion, among other things. He initially played the race card, but copped a plea while his supporters continued to proclaim his innocence. The denomination had the gall to have his wife take the fall for setting fire to the house he purchased with his mistress (who wouldn’t?) by citing her alcoholism as the source of his problems. In more irony, they did not rebuke his affair or financial misappropriation that the resulting investigation uncovered. Although he was not successful in reclaiming the helm of the denomination after being released from prison, Lyons returned to the pulpit and cultivated a significant following.

Eugene Marriott, Minister to Men at mega-church Ebenezer A.M.E. in Fort Washington, MD was caught in the act of beating and raping a woman outside a hotel by a police officer, no less. His defense was that they were role-playing a violent act as part of their regular sexual routine, despite the fact he was married to another woman. The church immediately relieved him of his duties but would not comment on whether he remained on the payroll during his legal proceedings.

More scandalous than that, his church did not acknowledge how they aided in his defense and legal bills. Marriott eventually pled guilty to lesser charges, was sentenced to 16 months in jail. The state changed the charges because Marriott “did not want to register as a sex offender.” News accounts describe the prosecutor saying “I wish Mr. Marriott well. I hope that his wife takes him back. I am very glad to see his church and his community are still supporting him”[1]. That’s pretty remarkable for a hard-nosed state like Virginia where the incident occurred. Her boss, the Commonwealth’s Attorney, responded after the fact (t)he function of a criminal prosecutor is to point out how bad the crime is; it's not a social partnership with the defense.”[2] If you’re gonna go that low, get in with the right church.

Insult is added to injury is the case of Jamal Bryant, the pastor of Empowerment Temple A.M.E. Church in Baltimore. Where do you begin with him? Word on the street is that the state of Maryland is adding an office just to deal with the series of paternity suits against him. One of the earliest of record resulted from him impregnating a woman while engaged to be married to another. He never claimed that child in spite of indisputable DNA evidence and a monkey face just like his. The most recent involves a young woman who was a teenaged member of his congregation at the time of conception. His membership roll and collection plate have not suffered. The victim has been shunned consistent with the long and shameful tradition of not addressing clergy sexual exploitation.

What did the denomination do? Bryant was silenced and ordered out of his pulpit for 30 days by his Presiding Bishop. What did he do? Go on a speaking tour to spread the love. What a tour it was. In the wake of the disciplinary action, he has headlined worship services for the national meetings of the National Urban League, Congressional Black Caucus, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Shame on all three and any others promoting this brand of prophecy without accountability.  Bryant also appears as the spiritual advisor on two reality television shows. Talk about the blind leading the blind. Need more speaking engagements? Go lower.

Another irony is that the man who uses “empowerment” in the name of his church claims to no power over sin. I will be the first to admit that Bryant is a gifted speaker, but gifts come without redemption. He speaks more about his haters than the redemptive work of God in changing his behavior which God hates. 

I wonder how many copies of his book World War Me: How to Win the Battle I Lost he has sold. That’s like taking financial advice from a broke man. You can’t teach what you don’t know, you can’t lead where you won’t go. But P.T. Barnum said there’s a sucker born every minute.  The Apostle Paul said Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified (I Corinthians 9:26-27).

There will be a lot of well-meaning servants of the Lord in hell because they failed to work out their salvation with fear and trembling before God. Look at all of the biblical accounts of people in the afterlife. The scandalous are surprised when they arrive in heaven and the wicked are always shocked to find themselves condemned.

How did we get to this low? They have become lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. The bible tells us have nothing to do with them (2 Timothy 3:4b-5). Listeners enjoy the feel-good motivational speeches with a little Jesus thrown in for good measure. When leaders fall, the church embraces them and calls for collective prayer. Innocent souls must be preserved by removing counterfeit believers God from the fold. Those who have been barred for backsliding will similarly recognize the need for repentance. We have no responsibility to follow anyone in their flesh. The systematic enabling of immoral behavior is corrosive to the church. Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character (I Corinthians 15:33).


[1] The Washington Post, 3/17/07
[2] Ibid, 3/22/07.


6 comments:

  1. Dionne, I am so glad you “went there”. I know these things happen in the church, but to hear these actual accounts is astonishing. God is not pleased, and God is not mocked. He said from Old Testament days that there would be those who claim to represent Him, claim to shepherd His people, and claim to speak His words, but He doesn’t know them. We need true shepherds who, rather than thinking of themselves and their flesh, are committed to a true and holy God. We need people committed to teaching the Word of God and living it out. And we need to learn the Word for ourselves.

    Thank you for your willingness to speak the things that most avoid. Bless you, my sister!

    ReplyDelete
  2. In the process of identifying the transgressor and transgression, you identify by name a couple of preachers to make your point, while failing to point out the numbers of those preachers who work hard and live right. I would imagine that those numbers are far greater than the selective examples you point out here. Using your proportional insights, we would have to claim that the disciples were clearly a bunch of thieves because of the one Judas, or spiritual wimps because of Thomas's doubt, or perpetrators because of Peter's denial.

    In addition to pointing out (rightly so) the dysfunction that exists within the Church and its leadership, you should point out the redemption that God intends for all (including the preacher). You may want to read the instructions for sin offering in Leviticus, as it has some interesting instructions that may be of value in your discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  3. @Anonymous. This blog is about my personal experience with the institutional church. It by no means claims to paint the entire kingdom with a broad swath. The cited examples are not isolated incidents, but part of a broad pattern of moral decline, lack of accountability, and passivity. My faith in God has been undeterred because it does not rest on the behavior of men; it is built on the solid rock. Every commentary is countered with The Word to illuminate the path we should seek.

    These writings are leading somewhere. As I quoted Jesus above saying "what I reveal in the dark, shout in the light." Don't hate the messenger. The world already knows about the church's failings. We have to give voice to the problems to correct them and not remain on the defensive. Stay tuned...

    ReplyDelete
  4. I appreciate your sharing of your personal experience. Sadly, it sounds like your frame of reference lacks the benefit of a healthy church experience to lift up as a positive example. Please understand that there is no hate for the messenger, just the hope that your message goes beyond the shallow sensationalism that is often associated with tabloid journalism. Of course we know that stories of healthy experiences never draw the interest nor response of otherwise viable audiences. Certainly, I celebrate that you still have the Word of God as your anchor to prevent the development of any counterfeit representations. Will stay tuned...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Interesting that I found your site today. I was thinking about this same subject this morning. Having been a member of one of the churches you speak about, I was questioning myself this morning because I've never spoken out about the sexual predators that I've seen in the church. While the church skate around Sodom and Gomorrah and the consequences faced there because of the immoral behavior of that city, I've seen the homosexuality in the music department at this mega church who's headed by a man who came from the Bishop in Georgia who's in the headlines for his homosexual behavior with young men in the church. Well the man he was rumored to have had the same type of relationship with has now brought the same behavior to this church and preyed on the young boys. He brought in other ministers that were into the same perverted sexual activities. That minister has since been fired but he's in the headlines for his #1 gospel records and he's on the radio and traveling all over the US performing in spite of all the children who's lives he has destroyed back in MD. Both were married but wives left them because of their homosexuality. And before anyone says I'm judging anyone, these are facts. The Pastors know but prayer is what they do and what we were taught. Not speaking to unGodly acts. But sexual pedophiles are criminals. Some of them start on the kids when they're around 16 an wait to commit the act when they get 18 before the penetration or oral sex actually takes place. Does that make it less wrong. I say no. I left that church, I couldn't continue to watch it. They've since hired a couple more gay man to work in the music department with the same gay man at the helm. I do know that all homosexuals are not pedophiles but some are and that's the sad part in all of this and that is why I'm typing this post. To get it off my chest and tell someone else before their child is taken advantage of. They have been reported before to the Pastors but prayer is what the resolution has been. I knew Eugene Marriott and I knew the circumstance and was baffled at how he only got 16 months. I assumed the church was the reason and not it has been confirm. How do we, the church, stand up and protect sexual predators? Yes God forgives, thank you Jesus, but we should also face consequences so we will not do the same thing again. I pray this unGodly perverted behavior stops. And if it doesn't God help us. Bishop Long has been exposed. Who's next. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. can someone please contact me about this article. eotyouth @gmail

      Delete