The Curious Case of James Fortune and the Rest of Us

The Curious Case of James Fortune and the Rest of Us

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 personal indiscretions.

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!

FYI: We’re Not God

FYI: We’re Not God

There are two things you cannot be in the traditional Black church: a gay male and a pregnant teen. Let me cut straight to the point to avoid off-topic debates — although, according to God’s Word, these two individuals have sinned, our decision to rank their sins as the highest on our list of unforgivables is misinformed and potentially destructive.

Yes, I know this scripture: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable” (Lev. 18:22, NIV).

Or this: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:3-5, NIV).

But I also know this one: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8NIV).

The fundamental error in the way we approach sexual sin in the church is that we often fail to allow God to be the judge and redeemer and instead expect for the guilty parties to grovel before us for forgiveness.  GO AHEAD, READ THAT TWICE.

God forbid that the gay community thinks they can get married and be like us. And for Pete’s sake, don’t these horny teens realize they’re ruining their lives and bringing another life into the world to share in their misery? But how many models of solid marriage and physical self-control do we see from our religious and civic leaders? As Wil LaVeist stated in his article, “Gay Marriage Paranoia,” conformity to the world should be a bigger concern to Christians than attempting to impose our values on it. It’s important to preach righteousness from the pulpit, but it’s just blowing smoke if you cannot present a proper example of holy living.

What’s more, so many churches present paradoxes that confuse the younger generations. They condemn homosexuality from the pulpit but employ obviously gay worship leaders and attend conferences featuring celebrity preachers who have been embroiled in sinful scandals. Two things are happening here. On one hand, a pastor feels a responsibility to condemn the sin, but on the other hand they have a heart to restore the lost. Unfortunately, they often clumsily handle this in the pulpit and are more likely to push away someone that could benefit from their sensitivity to the issue.

Others are less pure in their motives. Many people feel like a person cannot be pardoned until they have fully received the punishment for their sin. They feel they have a responsibility to rebuke the guilty party until that person feels absolutely worthless. When is the last time God verbally assaulted you? Think about it, that last time you did that ugly thing that you’re thankful no one else knows about, God forgave you the same as the time your issues became a public spectacle.

When Jesus confronted the adulterous woman regarding her transgression, he simply said, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:1-11). He knew that true repentance would be determined not by how much sorrow that woman exhibited over her failure, but by how she chose to live her life from then on.

Perhaps we could learn something from Jesus’ response.

The Challenge

Is there caution tape around your church? On Sunday morning, does it feel more like a courthouse where people are tried and sentenced than a hospital where the Great Physician can work His miracles?

Let’s try this in our churches. Let’s create a space where people can be honest and learn from their mistakes. A place where they can confess their sins and heal without fear of condemnation.

If we find ourselves judging someone or feeling self-righteous because we beat up some poor,misguided transgressor with Scripture, let’s remember that it’s God’s job to judge and convict. And let’s also remember the sins that person didn’t see in us, and join them in rejoicing  over the gift of God’s forgiveness.

Embracing Life — Day 5

Embracing Life -- Day 5

Chandra White-Cummings

Day 5: Mercy in the Midst of Judgment

First, an update on yesterday’s post about spiritual armor. God, in His mercy, used that topic and my post to somehow prepare me for what would happen very early this morning. At about 3:30 a.m. my oldest son had a seizure. My family’s post-seizure transition in times past has ranged from moderate trauma to near-panic. When my youngest son alerted me to what was happening, I ran into their room and began praying for his brother. I immediately called on the name of Jesus and asked the Lord to do battle for us in the spiritual realm. The seizure was a relatively short one, and my son is doing better. I know that having just been reminded of spiritual warfare principles helped me fight in prayer and more quickly recover emotionally. Praise God.
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