James Fortune has won three Stellar awards and has been nominated twice for a Grammy award. In 2004, his hit single “You Survived” was the second most played gospel song in the country; even now, 12 years later, it remains in the top seven of most-played gospel songs.
In 2001, three years before Mr. Fortune lit up the gospel music scene with “You Survived” and other popular tracks, he stripped his then-four-year-old stepson naked, beat him with a switch, ran a tub full of scalding hot water, forced the already-battered child into that tub, and held him there. When speaking to the 911 emergency dispatcher about the incident, he lied, saying the child burned himself by running the water at a too-hot temperature and getting into the tub. He pleaded guilty to the charge of felony injury of a child, but in a statement after the trial, stressed that he was never convicted of any felony charge. His trouble with the law didn’t end there.
On October 24, 2014, Mr. Fortune was arrested for aggravated assault of a family member with a deadly weapon. The family member turned out to be his wife, and the weapon was revealed to have been a bar stool. In 2016, through a plea deal, he pleaded guilty to the aggravated assault charge—a third-degree felony—and received five days in jail plus five years of probation. Other than some irate women commenters on websites that have covered the incidents, the response from the Christian community seems to have been a collective “So what?”
The “so what” factor isn’t entirely surprising but is nonetheless disappointing. A four-year-old child was burned on over 40% of his body and permanently disfigured, and a woman suffered broken bones and internal injuries. Certainly that child and that woman deserved more from the Christian community than they received. In fact, James Fortune in interviews has thanked fans for their love and support during those times, but where was the love and support for his stepson and wife? Don’t their lives matter?
This isn’t the first time a high-profile Black Christian has become entangled with the law or transgressed the law of God. Contemporary Christian music mega-star Israel Houghton admitted to committing adultery and causing the breakup of his 20-year marriage; World Changers Ministries leader Creflo Dollar was investigated for allegedly choking his teenage daughter during a verbal conflict at their home; Bishop Eddie Long was outed for allegedly having multiple sexual relationships with young men; Minister Thomas Weeks stomped then-wife and popular evangelist Juanita Bynum in an Atlanta hotel parking lot.
Grammy Award Winner Israel Houghton performs for a sold out audience. Houghton is one of many gospel greats that has publicly admitted to infidelity in his marriage.
Because of sin, potential scandal resides within the bosom of every follower of Christ, so the question becomes, “What say we to these things?” because more definitely needs to be said and done.
First, acknowledge that sin is real, and the struggle to overcome it is real. It causes real damage and suffering. Here language makes a difference and often reveals hesitation to call a thing a thing. Too often the “all” in “all have sinned” only includes others, and the “sinned” gets labeled as episodes of misspeaking, misconduct, mistake, and other non-culpable acts.
If sin is named and claimed by the perpetrators, true healing and restoration can begin. Which leads to the second necessary adjustment: change the objective of accountability. The legitimate reasons to hold James Fortune and others in similar positions accountable are to restore them to right fellowship with God and with their fellow believers and to heal the heart of susceptibility toward that sin.
Humiliation, disgrace, and revenge or vindication are not acceptable motives for calling anyone to account for sin. If violence, non-marital sex, lying, manipulation, and such are treated as sin, the connection between the problem and the remedy becomes much more apparent.
Third, restore biblical church discipline. Talk to almost any Black churchgoer, and you’re liable to hear a story of someone in a leadership position being “sat down” for some wrongdoing. But just sitting a person down doesn’t necessarily produce restoration for the guilty party, nor healing for the victims.
Authentic church discipline scares people because it violates two long-held and sacrosanct views of addressing problems and trouble in the Black community—keep it quiet and don’t judge. Moreover, secular ideas of shame have crept into the thinking of many church leaders and congregants alike, resulting in a laissez-faire approach to dealing with sin and its consequences.
Finally, remember the victims. Seeing James Fortune’s plight play out in the media is an opportunity to re-examine compassion and grace but also to reconsider justice and healing. There are many James Fortunes, Cheryl Fortunes, sons, and daughters living through similar circumstances.
They need justice for the sin committed against them and healing for the devastation wrought within them. Their pain needs to be acknowledged and addressed within the context of meaningful accountability and action, and we must be able to depend on Christian leaders to shepherd people through these processes.
Have you witnessed instances of authentic, effective church discipline in your congregation?
Have you ever been part of an accountability group or reconciliation process?
If the church isn’t addressing these issues effectively, what legitimate role does the state play in getting justice for victims?
Sound off below!
Shai Linne has created waves in the Christian music scene with his recently released single, Fal$e Teacher$. The song names prominent pastors and televangelists that Linne suggests are wolves in sheep’s clothing. (Photo credit: Covenant.edu)
When it dropped, the reaction that I saw across my social media feed consisted of a lot of raised eyebrows, tilted heads, and furrowed brows.
Wow… he really went there.
Shai Linne, the standard-bearer for reformed theology in hip-hop, released a song called “Fal$e Teacher$,” in which he castigates the erroneous, prosperity-based, word-of-faith teachings of many high-profile ministers, and then in the chorus, calls them out by name. Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are just a few of the names that Linne identifies as false teachers.
In this video, he explains his reasoning for the single (part of his recent album Lyrical Theology, Vol. 1), specifically citing widespread deception regarding prosperity doctrine on the continent of Africa. According to Linne, the export of these ideas to unreached communities in Africa is even more dangerous, because many of these African listeners and viewers are mired in even deeper and more extreme levels of poverty. This prosperity thing must work, Linne says they’re probably thinking, since so many Americans have bought in.
I share an extreme distaste for most of these big-name ministries, for most of the same reasons. Because I care greatly about the destruction that such false teaching can unleash in the lives of naïve Christians who lack discernment, I am glad that Shai Linne has renewed his effort to address these heretical doctrines.
(*cue my Stephen A. Smith voice*)
HOWEVAH… I wish he wouldn’t have done it this way. Not the naming-names, thing. In principle, I don’t have a problem with that. I agree with Shai that there is significant Biblical precedent for naming names, most prominently with Paul publicly opposing Peter’s favoritism in Galatians 2.
No, for me, the most problematic part is in the title and the chorus. The single doesn’t just refer to false teaching, but it calls out false teachers. It crosses the line from holding public ministers accountable for the words and actions into publicly name-calling and denouncing their whole ministry. Depending on how you interpret 2 Peter 2:1-3 (which was quoted in the song), it’s possible to conclude that Linne is even questioning their salvation.
I am reminded of the words of hip-hop intellectual Jay Smooth, whose video blog “ill doctrine” blew up in 2008 when he offered people tips on how to tell someone that what they said sounded racist. Even though the issues are different, the concept is similar. When trying to hold someone accountable for something bad, it’s always better to focus on what they did rather than who they are. The former has a much narrow focus, whereas the latter gets into much bigger issues that are easier to derail.
So even if, for example, there is plenty of evidence to convict Paula White of having espoused and transmitted false doctrine, simply labeling her as a false teacher makes it too easy for her allies (in this case, her son who manages the ministry) to defend the totality of her ministry without addressing specific allegations.
In the headline, I used the term “false positive” – this is not an accusation that Shai is being deceptively nice. It’s a medical term, which describes “a test result that wrongly indicates the presence of a disease or other condition the test is designed to reveal.”
False positives are a major problem in medical diagnosis, but not because patients are often diagnosed as sick when they’re perfectly healthy. What happens more often is that patients who truly are sick get misdiagnosed, and then are given treatment that relates to the overall problem, but lacks certain nuances that could more precisely aid their recovery.
Whether intentionally or not, by releasing “Fal$e Teacher$,” Shai Linne gave the impression that all of the ministers named are cancerous toxins in the worldwide church, who should be, if not removed from ministry outright, at least avoided at all costs. These are sweeping accusations that, in my opinion, should not be done without providing or referencing specific evidence and proof – and in the song, he declares them over twelve people (in order: Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Fred “KC” Price, Kenneth Copeland, Robert Tilton, Eddie Long, Juanita Bynum, and Paul Crouch).
Now I’m not a fan of any of these names, but how fair is it to compare the ministries of Joyce Meyer and Robert Tilton? I don’t know, and that’s the point – Shai Linne provides very little contextual differentiation between them to justify his declaration of their heresy, only that they’re all in the same hellbound boat (“if you’re living your best life now, you’re headed for hell”). What then of any potential truth intermingled within the heresy? Or does one errant sermon, video or sentence corrupt the whole thing?
In his YouTube’d explanation (yes, I really just used the word “YouTube” as a verb), Shai mused that it had been ten years since he had really taken on this subject, which caused me to reflect on his original take on the matter, “Issues,” from 2003’s Urban Compositions.
This, to me, is a more well-rounded and more interesting song.
In it, he definitely attacks pastors who propagate the prosperity gospel (check this lyric: “I know this iced-out pastor, the brotha’s large / my man wanted to go to his church, but couldn’t afford the cover charge”). But its chorus also includes the phrase, “only Christ can separate the wheat from the tares,” a reference to Jesus’ parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:36-43.
Shai would be wise to revisit both the song and the parable. In it, Jesus describes a farmer who allow both wheat and the weeds to grow side by side, because trying to pull out the weeds could damage the still-growing wheat. It’s good to hold public ministers accountable to things they do and say that contradict Scripture, but labeling them as “Fal$e Teacher$” has the potential to undercut any of the gospel truth they might have preached alongside the heresy. And the people who get hurt – again –are those who follow those ministers, who haven’t yet developed the ability to eat the meat and spit out the bones, so to speak. After living under these faulty teachings, a believer who is suddenly exposed to the truth in such a harsh manner runs the risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
My advice to Shai Linne: keep doing your best to promote Godly truth, but trust God to pull the weeds in His timing.
Editor’s Note: Bradley Knight, Paula White’s son, released a statement in response to Shai Linne’s song. Linne subsequently released a statement responding to Knight with specific examples of what he considers to be false teaching by Paula White.
Roughly 12,000 people participate of the inauguration ceremony of the Christian Fraternity of Guatemala evangelical church in San Cristobal, municipality of Mixco, south of Guatemala City. (Photo: Orlando Sierra -AFP/Getty Images)
The million dollar question: Should I attend a megachurch? Christians fall on both sides of the debate. Let’s begin with a definition. Most define a megachurch as a congregation with more than 2,000 members. Based on this definition, there are over 1,300 megachurches in America. Megachurch proponents cite the size of the church as a “practice run”, as we are sure to worship with millions of folks in heaven. One cannot overlook the impact of aggregate finances (when used properly) for missions work. On the flip side of the coin, smaller congregations offer intimacy that many believe makes for authentic, real relationships. On top of that, many believe that smaller churches are less political than larger congregations. As a catalyst for reflection, consider the following four reasons that many Christians offer for refusing to step into a megachurch.
Nobody likes a hypocrite. It rubs people the wrong way when someone talks out of both sides of the mouth. Over the past several decades, we’ve seen numerous scandals unfold in the media (including social media). In most instances, the scandals are attributed to pastors of large megachurches. The truth is, media outlets are really not as interested in small-town scandals. When they get wind of a larger, more prominent pastor’s moral failures, they generally prefer these stories (and usually run them into the ground).
Here’s the problem with this approach. We tend to attribute the actions of one person to an entire group. That God entrusted His Church to men and women can be both a blessing and a curse. We are blessed to be vessels of God’s grace, but sometimes those vessels are jacked up, flawed, and fall short of his plan for our lives. Truth be told, for every scandal in a megachurch, there are countless others who operate in integrity and hold themselves accountable. Don’t let the vices of a few cause you to place all others in the same category.
2. Biblically “Un”Sound Teaching
There’s a fine line here. It’s important to affirm revelatory words spoken through God’s Spirit. However, it’s almost always a red flag when passages are out of context. Again, traditional media and social media has (in some instances) caused many to doubt the teachings of many megachurch pastors. I remember clearly a 20/20 story that ran several years back on Fred Price. It purported that one of Price’s sermons bragged about his lavish lifestyle, when in fact it did not. You can see the rebuttal report (which includes the entire sermon) here.
Lamentably, there are pastors who teach wrong doctrine. But it’s unfair to put pastors into a certain category based on a few sermons they preach. If someone preaches on stewardship four weeks a year, does that make him or her a prosperity pastor? Certainly not. One may justly wonder about “Dr.’s” who have not completed required coursework to attain a Doctorate level degree, but it’s a sign of charity to withhold judgment of their preaching/teaching until hearing an entire message or more than one or two sermons.
3. Financial Irresponsibility
Some years ago, the Senate launched an investigation requesting financial information from several prominent televangelists. Last year, the investigation concluded with no definitive findings of wrongdoing and no penalties imposed as a result of the inquiry. It’s not surprising that the results of the investigation didn’t get as much air time as the investigation itself. True enough, financially irresponsibility is reprehensible – especially when it comes to men and women of God. Yet the ultimate question is whether ministers of the Gospel should live lifestyles comparable to Hollywood celebrities? There are at least two sides of the coin here. One side: children have someone other than athletes and musicians to look up to. Other side: Prosperity and ministry are like oil and water. Jesus wasn’t prosperous, so pastors shouldn’t be.
How much is too much in the context of ministry? We reward others based on their talents and abilities. Shouldn’t we compensate men and women of God for faithful work as well? Perhaps we can employ a slightly different approach regarding earning capacity in ministry. Let’s call it the “Paul tentmaker” model. A full discussion of this approach is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that Paul’s occupation (as a tentmaker) sustained him, so he didn’t run into “salary” issues with the various churches he ministered to. Let’s pray that God opens the same door for future leaders in the Church.
4. Sheep herding vs. Shepherding
Numbers matter. Especially when it comes to Church. Some pastors ask each other: “How many you running on Sundays, doc?” The sheep herding mentality. Get ’em in. Get ’em out. This is one of the perceived flaws of the megachurch model. It is not uncommon to hear megachurch members lament about their respective experiences of being “herded in and out to graze”. On the other hand, many megachurches are intentional about shepherding. This might not occur on Sunday mornings, but it does happen in the context of small groups/cell groups. In fact, some of the most enriching relationships in the megachurch context often occur in the small group setting. Every megachurch should remember pastors are called to be shepherds and not sheep herders. There is a difference.
So, to megachurch or not to megachurch? Ultimately the decision is yours. A note of caution: beware of misapplying the aforementioned reasons for refusing to visit a large congregation. Myths and rumors, unfortunately, are pervasive in the body of Christ. Third-party misinformation: “You know _______ has an ATM machine in the lobby for church members.” Sermon titles misapplied: “_______ said you should fall in love with a stripper.” A pastor’s heart misinterpreted: “You know ______ preaches a happy, happy, joy, joy message.” Churches, large and small, are not without flaw. And we are to hold each of them to account for their shortcomings. However, that doesn’t mean we should downright dismiss their effectiveness merely based on size. There’s only one Person who can make that determination. The Chief Cornerstone: Jesus Christ.
Question: Do you attend a megachurch? Why or why not?
THE SUNDAY AFTER: After being arrested for allegedly beating his teen daughter, megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar appeared before his Atlanta congregation to deny the charges. "Raising children in our culture of disrespect is a challenge," he said.
Pastor Creflo Dollar did the expected during his first sermon after being booked on charges of simple battery, family violence, and cruelty to children. He repeated his denial of his daughter’s accusations that he choked, punched, and slammed her down during an argument.
You can view the address here, but in short, Dollar read from a prepared statement that was likely signed off on by his legal defense team. Dollar said:
• He is the true victim, not his 15-year-old daughter.
• He should not have been arrested.
• The police are irresponsible for photographing an eczema mark on his daughter’s neck.
• The news media and other accusers are evil and blowing things out of proportion.
• “The enemy” is trying to discredit him in order to block his message of grace.
Dollar concluded by quoting Psalms 35 to explain his situation and the likely result: “Malicious witnesses testify against me. They accuse me of crimes I know nothing about…Take up my case my God and my Lord…”
The most revealing part of his address was when he seemed to go off script a bit.
“I’m a human being and, you know, I’ve had to do a lot of praying and my family has been very supportive,” he said. “Because when I feel like an injustice has been done, I get angry. And yet I respect the law.
On some levels, I can surely appreciate where Pastor Dollar is coming from. As I’ve written previously, rearing teens can be very difficult. Depending on their personalities, they often have a sense of entitlement, they think they know everything, and with hormones raging they can be outright nasty. My wife and I have been there with our three children, of which the youngest is our 19-year-old daughter. As a dedicated father, I know rearing a daughter can be particularly challenging. You worry about them being harmed even more than you do your sons. You have to be more careful and sensitive when correcting them.
Even when correcting my sons physically, my point was to calm them down and show them that if I really wanted to hurt them I could. Being an athletic 6-foot-1 inches and more than 200 pounds, I often needed to think twice before dispensing any sort of physical punishment. And if one of the kids deserved physical correction, it was often safer for them — and better for the parent-child relationship — for their mother to do it, especially if it was our daughter. Still, regardless of their gender, your teens can make you snap, but as a parent you MUST maintain control, lest you cross the line.
What set most people off in this Pastor Dollar case is the accusation that he choked punched and slammed his daughter. Child abuse is “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”
Only the Dollar family knows if this situation rises to the level of abuse. However, watching his well-meaning congregation give him a standing ovation, and reading the many comments here on UrbanFaith misinterpreting the scripture “spare the rod, spoil the child,” I wonder about a dangerous message being sent to people who are truly victims of domestic abuse: The church isn’t much of a sanctuary for help.
Domestic child abuse is a serious problem in America. According to the Administration for Children and Families, there were 3.3 million child abuse referrals involving 5.9 million children in 2010.
Some published reports estimate 25 percent of churchgoers have experienced domestic abuse. This means that among those clapping vigorously in support of Pastor Dollar, there were sufferers of domestic violence. There are people suffering in my church and your church. YOU may be suffering in silence.
I know personally teen girls who have suffered domestic abuse at the hands of men in their homes. One in particular attended church religiously, but felt no one in the church would believe her because her stepfather was respected in the community. So she suffered in silence. Girls in these types of situations often become women who enter abusive relationships. Even when married to men who are not abusers, these women have wounds that scar their marriages. They need counseling.
As this situation with Pastor Dollar unfolds, what message are true victims of domestic abuse hearing?
Perhaps this unfortunate incident will provide Pastor Dollar and other church leaders around the country the opportunity to offer a word of grace to the silent sufferers in their midst.
Wil LaVeist will discuss this article and the topic of domestic abuse on his radio show tomorrow, Wednesday June 13, from 12 to 1 p.m. Eastern Time. Listen to the live stream on Hampton University’s WHOV here: www.whov.org.
TOUGH LOVE?: Pastor Creflo Dollar's mug shot from his arrest on Friday, June 8.
This is not the type of story I was expecting to read just before Father’s Day.
According to news reports, Atlanta-area megachurch preacher Creflo Dollar was arrested for allegedly assaulting his 15-year-old daughter. The two were arguing over the daughter attending a party. According to the Fayette County police report, the argument turned physical when the preached clutched his daughter’s throat, slammed her down, punched her, and beat her with his shoe. His 19-year-old daughter corroborated the story, police said. Dollar was arrested on charges of simple battery, family violence, and child cruelty. He was released on $5,000 bond.
Being a father of a 19-year-old daughter, I have an idea of how this went down:
Dollar: Look young lady, no God-fearing daughter of mine has any business being out there “droppin’ it like it’s hot” like some video chick on BET, or worse.
Daughter: Oh, so you calling me a ho now, Daddy? You worried about me or your preacher reputation? I’m grown. I can do what I want to do. You don’t own me.
Dollar: Little girl, I brought you in this world and in the name of Jesus, I’ll take you out.
Daughter: To hell you will!
Dollar: No you didn’t! I’ll kick your …
And that’s about where the similarities end for me. Raising my hands to my daughter or to my wife is out of the question. My older sons? Well, they’re different cases. But not my only daughter who (technically) is no longer my “baby girl,” even though she’ll always be just that.
As a father, rearing a daughter is more than a notion. Especially if you know what’s out there awaiting them because of your own pre-Jesus experience running “the game” in the streets. We dedicated fathers worry about dogs … I mean, young men — many of whom do not have their fathers around to train them. We worry they’ll disrespect our daughter or outright abuse her. We have thoughts of willingly doing prison time after tracking down some punk who harmed our precious girl.
We remember the “sweet talk and conquer” mentality we had as teens and twenty-somethings and wonder if our daughter will reap what we sewed. Combine this with that neck-jerking, eye-cutting nasty attitude that often comes with the terrible teen years, as a parent you sometimes don’t know whether to pray or pull your hair because of your daughter. It’s a blessing if teens like Dollar’s daughter truly understand this.
My daughter and I have gotten into it particularly over some of her choices in skirts. I don’t like seeing her legs the way I like looking at her mother’s thighs. We also get into it because we’re stubborn debaters. We enjoy frequent rounds of verbal handball. But to get so out of control that I clutch her throat, slam her down and ball my fist? No. That’s not fatherly strength; it’s the ultimate sign of male weakness.
CELEBRITY REV: As an author, TV personality, and pastor of World Changers Church International in College Park, Georgia, Creflo Dollar gained an international following.
My daughter got spanked on the butt when she was a little girl, but I didn’t hit her when she was a 15-year-old hormone terror. You can bet your bottom dollar that I would never sink so low.
The police report for the Dollar family incident says Pastor Dollar told authorities that he tried to restrain his daughter when she “became very disrespectful” after he told her she couldn’t go to the party. Dollar admitted to spanking his daughter and wrestling her to the floor, but said it was because she hit him.
In these types of domestic cases, it’s always unwise to leap to conclusions. There are always more sides to the initial story. The truth of what happened in the Dollar household will eventually seep to the light, regardless of how the preacher will try to keep things shrouded.
Dollar later released a statement through his lawyer saying, “As a father I love my children and I always have their best interest at heart at all times, and I would never use my hand to ever cause bodily harm to my children. The facts in this case will be handled privately to further protect my children. My family thanks you for your prayers and continued support.”
You certainly have my prayers for your entire family, brother. But my respect for you as a man and a father?
If the police report is true, you’re too weak for that.