Ebony magazine just released its March “The Real Life Scandal” Issue, which highlights real life scandals from the black community and features actress Kerry Washington on the cover, sharing her perspective as an A-list actress, political advocate, and health-conscious feminist. Truth be told: We know little of Washington’s personal life and that’s exactly how she plans to keep it. She would much rather prefer that we talk about the nature and accomplishments of her body of artistic work, and since its origin last April, everyone is talking about her hit television show Scandal.
Concerning that show, I got caught up. I love seeing intelligent, articulate, attractive, powerful, relevant, and well-dressed Black women on movie and television screens as much as the next sista. Trust me. The scenes are all the more interesting and impactful when played by such a well-versed and talented actress as Washington. But when all of that window dressing simply becomes trapping for yet another powerful woman who succumbs to the desires of her lustful heart (especially with a married man), all of the respect stored up for the character burns up in smoke. It’s hard to keep cheering for Washington’s character, Olivia Pope, when you know her affair will ultimately result in a loss for all parties involved. Olivia, her lover, and his pregnant wife all lose and that’s the real sad story for many in today’s society.
Actress Kerry Washington accepts the Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series award for “Scandal” during the 44th NAACP Image Awards. (Photo Credit: Jim Ruymen/Newscom)
I want more for Olivia and I want more for us. Behind the camera lens of Scandal is the show’s creator and writer, Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes’ writing is outstanding and the story lines are compelling. She constantly keeps us on the edge of our seats. That’s what makes the show great and so easy to watch. All of her characters are power players, fast talking, and quick on their feet as they engage in a game of chess with each other’s lives. The actors are all phenomenal, but at the end of the day, it’s Rhimes who is in the ultimate position of power.
Through this political drama, Rhimes uses her power to celebrate the stories of those thirsty for greed and power, those with murderous hearts, those who are unapologetic about living lives of lies and deceit, and those involved in unhealthy, adulterous and unnatural relationships. Although Olivia’s entourage refers to themselves as “gladiators in suits,” there are little redemptive qualities in any of the show’s primary characters. It doesn’t take long to figure out that there are no good guys or gals, and that’s the gist of Rhimes’ creation.
Yet my primary issue is neither with Washington nor Rhimes; my concern is with the Christian women and men like me who watch this show weekly with no discernment. I have seen professing Christians defend the show to the nth degree. “Why criticize a work of fiction?” they ask. My first conviction concerning this question came on the day of the Newtown school shootings. The night prior to that horrific event, I watched an episode of Scandal where an assassin killed an innocent family including two small children and their dog. The next day, a Facebook acquaintance and fellow Christian found it hard to reconcile approving of the murder of innocent children on a television, while at the same time being appalled when a similar, yet worst, event happens in real life.
The sad truth of our culture—and Ebony’s publishers play on this reality—is: The lines between fact and fiction, what’s real and what’s fantasy, have become quite blurry. This is the result of a booming market for “reality” shows, over exposure to strangers through virtual lives and social media, the sensationalism of our news reporting (How often do you witness a positive news story?), and the senseless pandering of our politicians. I won’t forget how angry I was when Sarah Palin used careless “lock and load” language all over a news broadcast, and the young man who locked and loaded just days after Palin’s rant. Was this a coincidence? His response resulted in the deaths and injuries of several human beings, including U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords. Because this is the culture we live in, we must all be more responsible concerning the use of our power and how we choose to engage our mediums of communication.
We should not use our power to only serve our own self-interests. Many thoughtful African-Americans thought this was the case with BET’s founder, Bob Johnson, and hence they tuned him and the station out. We should not neglect the opportunities to use our power for good in this world, and I believe the messages and images of Scandal present a missed opportunity. Ebony reports that Washington “is the first Black woman to star in a major network American TV drama since 1974.” Therefore, Washington’s accomplishment is worthy of celebration. In addition to Scandal, Rhimes is also the creator, head writer, and executive producer of the dramas, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, both of which at the core tell the stories of flawed humans who are helping and healing other people. Am I looking for all perfect characters on every show? No. Am I advocating for an all Christian line-up with shows full of Christianese language? Not at all.
However, I do believe in a culture where the line between fiction and nonfiction, truth and lies, and fantasy and reality is becoming more unclear, we have to question what is means to have power, and consider the consequences of how we use our power to engage the world. I agree with Kerry Washington that, “Power is always about choices.” Washington chooses which roles she plays. Rhimes decides how she uses her power to tell stories and send messages into the world. As a consumer, I no longer choose to watch Scandal. As a writer, I challenge you to consider: What kind of empowerment do we, as a community of Black people, really want? What will you do, and what should we all do with power once it is obtained?
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 END OF HYPOCRISY: Conservative activist Dinesh D’Souza built a career as a person of color who was willing to champion traditionally white conservative views. But a scandal lost him his job as a Christian college president. (Photo: Mark Taylor/Wikipedia)
Here is yet another example of how GOP conservatives pimp evangelical Christians.
Outspoken conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who is highly sought after on the Christian speaking circuit, recently resigned from his post as president of The King’s College, a private Christian institution in Manhattan. Why? Because while delivering the keynote address on “defending the faith and applying a Christian worldview” at First Baptist North in Spartanburg, S.C., D’Souza, who is married (though allegedly separated from his spouse), was outed for sharing a hotel room with a female who is not his wife. He referred to his “traveling companion” as his fiancé.
So let’s get this straight: A Christian leader, who promotes conservative Christian values in his books and speeches, who heads a Christian college, is speaking at a Christian event on defending the faith, but is sharing his hotel room — and likely its bed — with a woman, Denise Joseph, who is not his wife.
Christian publication World Magazine broke the story which led to D’Souza’s eventual resignation from King’s College claiming he didn’t want to be a “distraction.” Of course prior to that D’Souza ran to the conservative Fox News and passionately denied wrongdoing because he and his wife of 20 years have been separated for two. He claimed World Magazine misreported the story and even wrote that “This is pure libel.”
“I had no idea that it is considered wrong in Christian circles to be engaged prior to being divorced, even though in a state of separation and in divorce proceedings,” D’Souza wrote. “Obviously I would not have introduced Denise as my fiancé at a Christian apologetics conference if I had thought or known I was doing something wrong. But as a result of all this, and to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, Denise and I have decided to suspend our engagement.”
C’mon playa. Are all of us Christians that naïve, or just stupid? Certainly the world is not buying your pure lie.
Look, men (and women) behaving badly is not foreign to us Christians. I know it’s not foreign to me. Many of us were doing it out in the world before we came to know Jesus. Many of us have found ourselves falling into sexual sins while in the church, whether the sin be homosexuality, fornication, or adultery. In the Bible, David fell into adultery and brought Bathsheba down with him (2 Samuel 11 ). There are other examples. Sin is sin. There’s no hierarchy. We’ve ALL fallen short of God’s glory, which is why we need Jesus Christ to cover and redeem us daily. The deeper sickness is how too many so-called conservatives promote themselves as the keepers of the nation’s moral conscience, proclaiming how others must behave, yet masking their own sins. Unlike what Jesus warned us in Matthew 7, these hypocrites look pass their “beams” and point out other people’s “twigs” on their way to personal fame, fortune and political power.
But as certain Christians attach themselves to these conservative hypocrites, what does it say about OUR collective witness to the world when the truth comes to light? For example, how can we in good conscience fight against state and federal laws that would allow other taxpaying Americans their right to same-sex marriages, when we don’t honor the church’s marriage covenant? Meanwhile, we allow divorce, which is equally sinful, as if it’s no big deal.
Another big deal problem with D’Souza is that he not only pimps Christianity but also the sin of racism. D’Souza is behind 2016: Obama’s America, a scathing documentary about President Obama based on D’Souza’s best-selling book The Roots of Obama’s Rage. At $26 million so far, it’s the second-highest grossing political documentary. D’Souza is an Indian American who was born in Bombay, Maharashtra, India. Yet, he makes his fortune and fame by attacking not just a member of another minority group, but the nation’s first black president — the symbol of the dreams that helped black Americans endure the deep pain, blood, sweat and tears since the first child of African descent was born in North America in Virginia in January 1624.
Many Asian Indians began immigrating in large numbers to the United States soon after the passage of the 1946 Luce-Celler Act, which allowed 100 of them to enter per year and become naturalized citizens. Dalip Singh Saund, who would in 1957 become the first Indian American congressman as a Democrat from California, was instrumental in the act’s passage. He also supported the civil rights movement. Unlike black Americans whose ancestors were brought unwillingly crammed in hulls by the hundreds per ship as slaves whose backs would build America’s economy, many Asian Indians came by airplane on education and work visas from Canada, South African and of course India. Many of them today, in the spirit of Saund and Mahatma Gandhi, whose nonviolent leading of India’s independence from Great Britain inspired the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., understand and appreciate the plight of being marginalized and oppressed in your own country. But then there are those like D’Souza, and governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who discovered they could slither along the back of the civil right movement, and move on up in the Republican “Dixicrat” Party. With their darkened skin tones, they prostitute themselves as some newer more acceptable minority that won’t rock the boat. Theirs is a new shuck and jive at the expense of blacks, whites and others who fought and died trying to equalize opportunities for all Americans.
Meanwhile, America grows more and more divided by race as recent polls show this election may be the most polarized since 1988 and that anti-black racial attitudes have increased during Obama’s presidency.
In light of this national crisis, how would our Prince of Peace, unity and justice have us defend the faith and apply a Christian worldview?
All of us, including D’Souza, ought to read Matthew 7.
ROYAL INTRIGUE: On January 31, the beleaguered Bishop Eddie Long was crowned king in a bizarre "Jewish" ceremony that critics immediately denounced. He later apologized. (Image: YouTube video)
Last week, the scandal-ridden Baptist bishop Eddie Long received a brief moment of good news when a visiting “rabbi” declared Long a Jewish king before the congregation at his Atlanta-area megachurch. A YouTube video of the proceedings quickly went viral, and critics registered disbelief as yet another bizarre chapter was added to the Bishop Long saga.
Long has since apologized for the fiasco, but the sad strangeness of the event lingers.
In the video from the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church service, a previously unidentified Rabbi Ralph Messer outlines the history of what he claims is a Holocaust-era scroll said to be rescued from the Auschwitz and Birkenau extermination camps. “These are only given to cities that need to be released into a new anointing.”
Citing dual citizenship in Israel and presumably the United States, the man “on behalf of the Jewish people, the land of Israel, and the God of Israel” presents Long with the scroll, declaring, “He is a king, God’s blessed him. He’s a humble man but in him is kingship, in him is royalty, in him was the land of Israel.”
A moment later, Bishop Long is raised up in a chair and carried around the pulpit, as Rabbi Messer proclaims:
He now is raised up from a commoner to a kingship. … He ‘s no longer a commoner. He’s not under Earth; he’s raised from Earth into a heavenly realm. He’s raised in a prophetic position. He’s released by God. He’s breaking pagan tradition, breaking areas of God. He’s releasing Atlanta, Georgia. It’s not him, it’s the king in him.
Jewish religious leaders immediately called the display offensive. It “in no way represents any Jewish ritual that I’m familiar with,” Bill Nigut of the Anti-Defamation League told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We do not proclaim individuals to be kings.”
In his apology, Long said it was not “my intent, to participate in any ritual that is offensive in any manner to the Jewish community, or any group.” But he left unanswered questions of how the dubious rabbi wound up at his church in the first place.
While Bishop Long’s situation is extreme, one could argue that grandiose presentations of religious ritual take place every week in many black churches, as all-powerful preachers are afforded the star treatment from their parishioners. However, it is this type of ceremonious display of adoration of pastors and other spiritual leaders that makes it difficult for some to remember that they too are human and subject to the same weaknesses that, without proper accountability and support, can ultimately lead to scandal.
A Long Story
For more than a year, with his wife most recently filing divorce papers, Long found himself at the center of such a scandal where he faced accusations of sexual coercion by four young men. Long settled out of court in May 2011 with a reported $15 million payment to his accusers. Trouble from the case continued throughout the year with lost income to the church, the closing of the church’s private school New Birth Academy, and a lawsuit alleging financial misdealing in investments for a handful of church members.
Known for an extravagant display of wealth, Long was said to have been a purveyor of the oft-criticized “prosperity gospel,” which not only pushed the idea that God’s blessings appeared in the form of expensive cars, clothing, and accessories but also showcased a leader similarly clad and almost worshiped by his or her congregants. National Public Radio reported in 2010 that Long drove a $350,000 Bentley and had purchased a $1.1 million home.
It’s hard to say whether the glitz and the religious superstardom led to Long’s woes. But for one Church of God in Christ pastor, Bishop Roger Jones Sr., that along with unresolved personal issues is exactly what led to his downfall.
Bishop Roger Jones
Jones, now pastor of Greater Holy Temple Ministries in Flint, Michigan, wrote about his experiences with adultery, drug use, isolation, and deceit in his book, When Life Hurts, Dreams Fade, Hope Again. In it, he notes that the clearly immoral behavior he engaged in started with the isolation and built up pride he gained for being highly regarded by those around him.
“The fall I experienced has to do with much of the pomp and splendor and promotions that go along with the politics of power — the franchise, the perks, the accommodations, the limousines, the suites at hotels, the seats you sit in,” he said.
Called to preach at age 18, Jones was a high achiever in ministry and quickly took on the invincibility perpetuated through increasing popularity, continual success, and constant praise. Jones wrote that ministerial success brought financial perks as well.
“I’m wondering how much that affected me, given my humble background as a person who didn’t have much, who then came into a lot of money and power and position and prestige — maybe I allowed all that to push me over the edge. Maybe I was trying to fulfill a sense of insecurity with other things.”
The Pastor’s Split Persona
Dr. Patrick Moon, a psychologist at Cornerstone Counseling Center in Chicago, says that insecurity is likely evident in everyone and that pastors and spiritual leaders are not exempt. According to Moon, who specializes in pastoral counseling and spiritual support, pastors aren’t immune from emulating the group patterns from their families of origin and are often drawn to church organizations that complement those learned behaviors of interaction.
Dysfunctional familial patterns that may have started in a minister’s childhood that haven’t been addressed play a major role in coping with the general isolation and ongoing demands of pastoring.
“A pastor comes from a family system and learns from that family system how to behave,” Moon says. “Sometimes the dysfunction of that family system bleeds over to the church. Unresolved emotions of those family systems transfer to the church.”
It’s for that reason that “pastors and clergy in seminary are recommended to seek their own psychotherapists at times when they’re having trouble.”
When a scandal happens, it’s more than the oft-assumed thought that he or she lacks a moral compass or simply doesn’t believe in the God he or she preaches. There’s definitely more to the story, Moon says.
“A pastor has to create a persona that has to be integrated into the church’s expectations,” and it’s in that integration that the person who emerges publicly may not be who the pastor is. That dichotomy doesn’t necessarily equate to holy vs. spiritual. It could be a matter of mood, Moon says.
“Maybe he wants to have a nice vacation, to go and have a good time, but there’s this wedding on that Saturday, and ‘I have to put up the appearance that I have the energy to do this.’” And unfortunately, “Meeting expectations of the congregation is very difficult, and that leads to isolation.”
It’s in isolation that most people — not just pastors — seek out destructive behaviors. The difference is that the destructive behavior of spiritual leaders can perpetuate the dysfunction and can become detrimental to whole churches and their individual members.
The Pastoral Pedestal
Perhaps what might have started with the biblical standards listed in I Timothy 3 of how a pastor or elder should live — “well thought of, committed to his wife, cool and collected, accessible and hospitable … must handle his own affairs well” (The Message translation) — has become an additional burden of exhibiting perfection. Not only do members expect it, the pastor often believes it, despite the contradiction within his or her own humanity.
Regardless of its origins, being a pastor in most people’s minds means being the holiest person in the room at all times. Already set apart upon installation as pastor, he or she inevitably maintains that social distance throughout his or her pastorate.
And it doesn’t help that, historically, spiritual leaders were advised to avoid close friendships with parishioners to avoid the appearance of favoring some and marginalizing others. A major motivating factor for self-inflicted isolation may be an unwillingness to trust congregants — particularly those who make a point of getting too close too quickly.
This continues the persona of the pastor as king or queen, the person everyone wants to be or be around.
“We grew up in an era with the understanding that the pastor is infallible,” Moon says. “The perception of the pastor is elevated in such a way, he adds, that “a fall may be inevitable.”
Yet despite the responsibility that the congregation may bear in turning their leader into a celebrity, the onus is on the pastor not to believe the hype. Jones said it this way: “If we’re not careful, we become our own little gods — without a capital G — and we expect people to treat us this way.”
But if you’re being hoisted up on a throne Eddie Long-style and literally praised as royalty, how can you not buy in to the idea of being worshiped? How do you go from a sincere desire to serve God and His people to living to serve yourself?
“I think we by and large know what the Christian responsibility is, but it’s the lack of intentionality” that leads to disgrace at the highest level of a church, says the Rev. Kenneth Cole, a minister, theology instructor, and administrator at Washington Bible College in Lanham, Maryland.
Like Moon, Cole acknowledges that pastoring is a difficult job that never stops. And as much as it can build a congregation, it can weaken the minister. “Ministry takes on this burden,” Cole says, “and when you’re a weak man, you’re vulnerable more than ever to temptation.”
But that susceptibility might mask itself in a minister’s successes. Cole calls it flawed thinking to assume invincibility to sin based on ministerial authority. As proof, he cites the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness following God’s approval of His baptism. “After a spiritual high, Christ gives us an example that even when you preach and teach and God uses you in a special way, you are that much more vulnerable.”
Cole observes: “Some of the areas of the temptation lie in the individual areas of vulnerability.”
For example, an individual prone to overeating as a coping mechanism for stress might binge on every food available as a spiritual leader under the weight of several hundred people in a congregation. Of course, it’s usually much more serious than food.
“Demands and stresses would pile up,” Moon says, “and who knows if he uses his spiritual grounding at that moment?”
This time, it could be an extra dessert. Next time, maybe it’s infidelity.
For Jones, it was an affair with a married woman that led to his experimentation with powder cocaine and eventually crack. He writes in his book, “When I began experimenting with drugs in 1987, it was a time in my life when everything seemed to plunge into a downward spiral — an abyss of sin and shame. … I believe I had so many unresolved issues within my personal life that I grew tired of masking them behind a clergyman’s collar and title.”
Alison Gise Johnson
In recognizing the multiple factors at play at the origin of spiritual scandal, we must also weigh what’s considered “good” even among people striving to live holy but subject to the sin of humanity, says Alison Gise Johnson, a Christian ethicist who formerly served at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University.
“All of creation has been designed with potential and promise,” says Gise Johnson, “and that potential is only fulfilled in the context of healthy interdependent relationships. That, therefore, is our plumb line for ‘good.’”
Gise Johnson suggests that the isolation experienced by pastors whose parishioners view them as either “super holy” or “superstars” can work against the good intentions they initially bring to their ministries. Jones, Cole and Moon all acknowledge isolation as a key factor in what leads to a religious leader’s downfall.
“Ministers, like everyone of us,” Gise Johnson says, “will suffer emotional scars that when not addressed pervert one’s potential, causes wounds in others, and compromises the power and peace of being on one accord, whole and holy.”
Lusts of the Flesh
And we’ve seen the perverted potential of religious leaders manifest itself in multiple ways: child molestation, financial fraud, theft, and even tax evasion.
It seems, though, that more often than not, scandals among pastors tend to involve sex. Moon ties this to pastoral isolation, not only with church members but often within the families of pastors and other religious leaders. “First, everyone is a sexual being,” he says. “[Sexual misconduct] is an outward expression of a need and desire to connect.”
Moon says that if a spiritual leader is still working out sexual identity in his or her own mind, those issues are likely to creep up somewhere in that person’s life. Unfortunately, it often comes out in a very public way.
Cole, however, says sexual indiscretion among ministers is sometimes less of a backslide and more of a backflip. “There is a whole lot of immorality in certain circles,” Cole says. “They live a life like it’s okay.”
He says it’s common for younger ministers to see their pastoral idols participate in blatantly sinful activity without consequence. That leads to an idea that similar activities are acceptable. “What’s happened is that they know better, but they’re imitating what they see.”
No one wants to admit that they’re struggling to do right because it feeds the idea of spiritual weakness that contradicts the super-holy image.
According to Bishop Jones, the tragedy is that “there seems to be no place, group, or board that one can go to and be completely honest or transparent; not for leaders in a church.”
Instead, said Jones, the church “often adds to or reiterates the guilt of the problem rather than taking on enough compassion to understand how to provide the comfort and support that is desperately needed.”
Beyond the Super-Pastor
As a society, we’re quick to cast blame, but ultimately who is responsible for pastoring the pastor?
Cole says that despite the culture of some churches, where the pastor is treated as king, spiritual leaders have to be committed to holy living. “We need to be intentional about being pure. We need to get back to church discipline, cleansing, restoration, and repentance.
“I just think by and large that pastors should recognize the roles they play; they’re not superheroes,” Cole says. “All that kind of attention draws people to us and not to Christ.” That realization lies in one’s intention and accountability, he says.
But Gise Johnson says that being accountable on a spiritual leader’s part requires something from the congregation, too. “Often, it is the loss of compassion that makes honesty about one’s struggles difficult,” she says. “Faith communities have to fight unrelentingly to maintain a spirit of compassion and be committed to ‘good.’”
For Moon, it goes beyond simply being good and lies more in being authentic in who they are, in their struggles and in coping with the stress of spiritual leadership. Fortunately, that is already beginning to take place, he says. “From the idea of a ‘super-pastor,’ I think the shift has occurred, particularly with younger clergy, that pastors are trying to be more real.”
Moon says there is hope in pastoral authenticity but that the greater redemption lies in the fabric of all churches. “The church itself has always had the resources within itself to restore people,” he says, noting that handling actual scandal would be best done through a denominational process rather than from within an individual congregation.
What a congregation can do, Gise Johnson says, is forgive. “Without apology and without hesitation, forgiveness has to be offered.”
But Gise Johnson is quick to add that this kind of forgiveness does have conditions.
“It’s the kind of forgiveness that demands that congregations then reorganize themselves to give the offender space away from the responsibilities of leading, so that everyone can begin healing.”
Road to Restoration
With news of his wife’s divorce filing in December, Eddie Long announced that he would take a break from his church to focus on his family, which includes three children. He returned to New Birth a few weeks later and preached the New Year’s Eve service. Now, in the tumultuous wake of his short-lived coronation, it’s unclear whether he’s at the end of troubles or the start of new ones.
Like Gise Johnson, Cole lauds a congregation’s ability to forgive in these kinds of situations. However, he says it can also serve as an Achilles’ heel, allowing spiritual leaders to return with the same structure and attitude that led to immorality in the first place.
While Cole advises a sabbatical from leadership responsibilities to help a pastor and his or her church heal, he’s reluctant to say that’s all that’s necessary. “It may it look like [scandalous behavior] is cool as long as you take a break.”
“We need to see more restoration,” he says, “but I don’t see it happening the way God intended.”
HOTLANTA MESS: "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" is one of the Bravo networks top reality shows. The cast (from left) Kim Zolciak, NeNe Leakes, Phaedra Parks, Sheree Whitfield, Cynthia Bailey, Kandi Burruss. (Photo: Bravo)
Sex, scandal, soap operas, and reality TV …
Those were my thoughts while reading through the book of Samuel over the past few weeks. Samuel is a book filled with murder, rape, and incest. In it, we observe power plays, betrayal, and unceasing war.
The injustices against women are evident. Throughout the book, women are tossed around like property to be used and abused in whatever manner the men of power see fit. Consider King Saul’s daughter, Michal, for example. Saul gave her away to David, which was a good selection for her since the Bible reveals that she was in love with David. Saul, on the other hand, simply used her as a pawn in his endless pursuit to capture and kill David. (She was actually the second daughter Saul tried to pass off to David. Read 1 Samuel 18.)
Nevertheless, Michal married David and proved herself faithful to him. David was forced to flee from the hands of a jealous Saul. Saul takes David’s absence as an opportunity to marry Michal off to someone else (1 Sam 25:44). By this time, David had married two other women. Are the reality show themes setting in yet?
After Saul’s death on the battlefield, David demands that his wife, Michal, be returned to him. Therefore, his wife is taken and returned to David, as her second husband goes weeping behind her. Finally, her second husband is forced to return home to grieve his lost (2 Sam. 3:13-16). Don’t believe me? It’s in the book, and this is just one of many scandals recorded. The poor guy was probably Young and Restless; David was suffering through the Days of Our Lives, and Michal was probably no longer Bold and Beautiful.
Which made me think … King Solomon, David’s son, was right when he wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). Look how far we have fallen.
Then I wondered, “What is the difference between the life stories recorded in Samuel and those shown in our current reality series, say The Kardashians franchise shows, The Real Housewives of … wherever (though most of them aren’t even wives), or The Basketball Wives shows?”
Seriously, people watch these shows for their entertainment value, and Christians read the Bible for a much deeper purpose. But is that all there is to say? We could tie a nice theological bow on this, but that would not promote dialogue, would it?
This question is an important one concerning culture and the church, and maybe how we can reconcile the two. It may also lead to questions as to why it’s important to read the Old Testament. Why did God choose to include this historical book in the sacred text that is the Bible? What does he want us to learn? There are history lessons of course, worthy of the notable phrase “Those who do not know their history are destined to repeat it.” But what are the other purposes to consider? Finally, we must ask the “So what?” question.
Is our reading of the Bible too restrictive? Do we consign the Old Testament to the static role of exotic history book without considering its instructive aspects for today? Are there insights in the text to be found about responding to the hot messes in our own families and communities? What do these messes reveal about God? What do they teach us about ourselves?
Here’s to seeing God’s Word in a new light, and taking it at least as seriously as we do NeNe’s latest outburst or Kim K.’s 72-day nuptials.