At 3 AM this morning, I found myself unable to sleep due to intense sciatic pain in my back and legs. In an attempt to try and distract myself, I turned on the television. That was a big mistake. In passing CNN, I saw the breaking headline news that formal charges have been filed against Bishop Eddie Long on behalf of two young men who were teenagers in his ministry service. The current filings state comprehensive evidence (including emails, recordings, texts, and phone logs) against Bishop Long, stating he had coerced these young men into a sexual relationship. The reports state Bishop Long allowed the young teenagers in question to drive his Bentley, gave them money from church funds, took them on trips to assist him in ministry, and slept in his hotel room, in his bed.
When I heard this, I felt a total sense of disgrace. As ministers, the whole respectability of our office is being challenged and question in these scandals that continue to arise, year after year, decade after decade. Even if Bishop Long did not sexually molest these boys, the reality exists that his relationship with them had elements of inappropriate and unethical conduct. The mere suggestion that a relationship of sexual abuse could take place proves Bishop Long went beyond the boundaries of ministerial duty and responsibility into a private and unregulated relationship with these boys.
And those of us who sit, and stand, and do what we can to promote a positive image of ministry suffer for the conduct of those who do not do what they should.
I’m so tired of the excuses. “Well, they are human!” This isn’t human behavior, it’s evil behavior. It’s spiritually deviant behavior. No woman who has an abortion and no man or woman who is a homosexual is given the “well, they are human!” excuse. If we are going to be fair and equal, as so many constantly state God’s precepts are, then they need to extend the laws to the fallen and errant leaders within Christianity. I am tired of hearing about forgiveness. I believe in forgiveness; however, in order for forgiveness to come, there must be repentance. Then we cross the issue that forgiveness does not give a leader a right to remain in their office when they’ve proven to be a potential danger to innocents in their congregation. The Bible is clear that falsehoods and wrongdoing must be eradicated, not tolerated under a guise of false, cheapened grace. Leaders who do not do as God permits must be removed from their posts, not supported. God forgives, but He also tells us to go and sin no more. Then there is the claim, “It’s Satan who is behind this!” No, Satan covers up, not exposes! It says God will uncover every hidden thing, and will make every secret known. God is revealing the hidden things that are damaging His Kingdom. Satan would let them continue to spread and destroy God’s work all together.
I feel as if we have progressively slouched in a negative direction within the church over the past several years. We want to blame the world that no one wants to hear the Christian message. We are quick to point fingers at the Catholic Church for allowing pedophiles to have access to children. We point fingers at polygamous Mormons and groups who force underage girls into marriage with old, perverted men. We criticize and use these circumstances at proof that these groups are not living by true standards of God’s righteousness and are leading their followers into error. Well…what about when this hits so close to home? If history is any indicator of how these matters are handled, it tells me exactly how we’ve wound up where we are today.
When I first heard of Bishop Long’s scandal, my first words were, “At least Jim Bakker was with a secretary and Jimmy Swaggart a prostitute – at least they were with adults!” The church has gone from secretaries and sex traders to children in a slow and incidious progression, that is both disturbing and scary. Both Jim bakker and Jimmy Swaggart got nominal slaps on the wrist for their behavior. Both are still on television. Both still receive large sums of money from so-called Christians. People still buy their materials. These men are supported despite the fact that Jimmy Swaggart was forcibly removed from his denomination, Jim Bakker spent time in prison and still owes the Internal Revenue Service over six million dollars, and that neither one of them really seems to have lost a second of momentum given such powerful disciplinary measures. Why is this? The court of public opinion has said it was OK. The court of public opinion keeps sending money. There are still so-called Christians who insist these are men of God even though they were caught swindling and sexing it up on the side. The church has said what they did was all right; it was acceptable, we’ll look the other way. Adultery isn’t a church cause. Stealing from the government isn’t a church cause. We’ll let them continue on, and let them entertain us, and move forward from there.
This brings me to yet another question about ministers today: what exactly is the role of a modern minister? Ministers have become a travelling divine entertainment act, often viewed with the purpose to make people feel good about themselves and keep the money flowing. When entertainers are convicted of things – R. Kelly’s interaction with an underage girl, Kobe Bryant’s rape accusations, etc., the court of public opinion looks the other way and continues to support their careers. We don’t look objectively at entertainers because they appeal to people on an emotional level. We don’t want to think that the people we like are people who would do things repulsive to us. So we keep looking the other way, even though R. Kelly is not the only person on earth who can sing (and not even that well, if you ask me), and Kobe Bryant isn’t the only person in the world who can play sports. We want to hold on to our entertainers – and viewing modern ministers in this light, we all too often look the other way, becoming indignant and defensive, wanting to pretend the parts of their lives brought to the surface do not exist, and will simply go away.
Sometimes I find myself extremely frustrated with the church. I do my best not to feel discouraged, but it seems like people don’t want the truth, unless it’s the truth that God wants to give them everything they want. If Israel was a headache to the prophets of old, the church is a migraine to the five-fold ministry today. We are so self-righteous, self-proclaimed this, that, and something else, and so enamored with our own personal opinions that we don’t even hear God speaking through true leaders. As the last days rage on, it grieves me to see people supporting false ministries to the very end and then insisting upon their veracity even in the face of evidence to the contrary. What will it take for the people of God to be outraged, especially to the point where they will stand up and do something? When will the sacrifice of their children become more relevant than being entertained or being comfortable in church? In 1999, I was faced with the choice to leave Catholicism or stay – and I made the choice to leave. I’ve never regretted that choice, even though it was uncomfortable for a long time. At the same time, especially in light of all the scandals which broke out in Catholicism after I left, I made the same resolve to never serve or remain under a leader who exhibited conduct that could suggest sexual abuse. What will it take for others in the Kingdom to make this same resolve and stop sacrificing their children? Where is our higher moral standard by which we hold ourselves and our leaders by God’s conduct? In my study, “Unveiling A Leadership Conspiracy: Studies In The Book Of Malachi,” I examine the realities about end-time leadership as visible through Malachi’s prophecies. God does not call leaders to remain silent about the sins of other leaders, because He deals with those errors – especially those committed against ministerial office – through His true leaders. The error I address here is complicated. The problem is, indeed, with leaders who simply abuse the name of ministry. The problem, however, is also with the people in the pews, watching on TV, and supporting these ministries instead of giving and assisting those with a true message to advance God’s Kingdom. Malachi was fair and balanced in this point, recognizing God’s people got tired and lazy because they didn’t know who to trust in the face of such wrong conduct.
It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “Truth is beautiful, without a doubt; but so are lies.” Truth is beautiful because it is of God. Lies are beautiful because they appeal to the flesh and they provide a sense of security to the flesh. In the end, people believe what they want to believe about every situation, matter, and issue at hand in our day and age. It’s a conscious choice to follow the beautiful truth of God and live as His people in the light. We can claim to be His, know every praise word in the book, and go to church twelve times per week and still be people who live in darkness if we do not choose to accept, see, and embrace God’s working, revealing of truth, and call in this day and age.
“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:1-6, NIV)
(C) 2010 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.