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Man vs. Message: What We Can Learn from the Eddie Long Story

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Many people have heard the story of Moses in the Bible. He was the elderly gentleman who was chosen by God to lead the Exodus of the Hebrew people out of bondage from the Egyptians to freedom. He set up base at Mount Sinai and at that time received the Ten Commandments, which would become our spiritual values that have continued to form the core of a belief system for centuries to come. Many people know this part of the story but fail to realize the irony of God choosing Moses to do such a tremendous task in freeing the Israelites and disseminating such an important message. Most people don't know that Moses himself was a murderer who killed an Egyptian slave-master and then fled across the Red Sea to Midian, where he tended the flocks of a prominent priest. So yes, God chose a murderous man to preach the important message of "thou shall not kill" amongst other messages. How ironic!

Let's take a step back and look at this Moses scenario as if it were to take place during times of today. Perhaps the Israelites had found out through the 24-hour media news cycle that this prominent gentleman whom they thought God had sent to free them had committed unspeakable deeds in his past, including murder. Then this message became headline news, which caused the Israelites to call Moses a bad person, a hypocrite, and a slew of other things because there is no way (according to the local media) that this old, stuttering, murderous man could lead them to freedom. So that means no parting of the Red Sea story because the people would have been too discouraged to follow this "hypocrite." Of course, that also means that the message from God would have been ignored, with the people still remaining in bondage, but hey, at least they had the pleasure of remaining steadfast to their belief that those who commit sins can never again do good! (I hope you know I am being facetious.)

So now Moses, the man who claims to have come to "let my people go," is labeled as a hypocrite because of his previous actions. What do you think the media would have done with the story of an elderly, stuttering, murderous gentleman who claims to have spoken with a burning bush that told him to tell the world a message of "thou shall not kill"? Yes, a constant barrage of stories of this hypocrite who is trying to tell people not to do something of which he was guilty of doing himself. So that means the Ten Commandments, which have been the beacon of light to millions, would not exist today had we listened to popular opinion.

The story of Moses demonstrates the necessity of our ability to separate the man from the message. I don't know Bishop Eddie Long and have no idea of whether or not the charges against him are accurate. I have seen the pictures, and they certainly do look incriminating, but I choose to not judge this man. I am not excusing his actions if there were any wrongdoings, and he certainly should be penalized if any laws were violated. I actually agree with many that as a pastor and leader of a large congregation, he should be extra careful to mind his actions and be responsible. However, the largest crime in this ordeal is the response of the people who act as if they are so crushed by his actions. If you are one of those individuals, shame on you! Here is why.

The Bible very clearly states, "This is what the LORD says: 'Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD'" (Jeremiah 17:5).

Bishop Eddie Long is a mere human! He, just like everyone else, is full of flaws. Too many people go to church and take the word of what the pastor says as law because they give more power to the pastor than to the message of the pastor. This is why this scriptural passage is so important. If you follow the man rather than the message, you are setting yourself up for many disappointments. There are many imperfections in man, as clearly discussed in Romans 3:23, which states, "[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God[.]" This includes pastors, so when you go to church, it is important that you understand that it is the message that you are giving weight to; the pastor is merely a vessel, the same as a college professor. The pastor teaches you how to learn from and follow the Word of God. If you follow the pastor, you are following an imperfect man who has flaws and could lead you down the wrong path. However, if you follow the message, you are following a perfect Word that can give you a life full of empowerment.

I go to a few churches and get spiritual enrichment from many places. On Saturdays you may find me attending Pastor Creflo Dollar's church World Changers, or you may find me visiting the church of Pastor Marvin Winans, Perfecting Church, when I visit Detroit, Michigan. They both speak very eloquently and are very inspiring, but they are just men themselves! What they say during service does not ever take the place of the learning that I get when I go home and study the Biblical verses discussed during the sermon. Just the same as the message of Moses, I choose to listen to the message being delivered by Crefo Dollar and Marvin Winans regardless of the shortcomings they possess. I don't know what flaws or sins these men have committed, but I am certain they exist, because it bears repeating that we all have sinned and fall short from the glory of God. There is no such thing as a perfect pastor who is free from sin. However, by the ignorant and restrictive rules that our society has placed on leaders, it is impossible for a pastor to preach about the destructive nature of sin unless he is free from sin, or esle he will be called hypocritical.

Let me again make this clear: I don't know Bishop Eddie Long, have never heard him speak, and don't know if the allegations being made against him are true or not. However, I do know that there are thousands of people who have been inspired by his messages. Thousands of people who have turned their lives around because of what he has taught them with his imperfect self (just like every other preacher) from the pulpit. His actions, as wrong as they could be or are, should not detract from his empowering messages. (Again, I do not excuse Bishop Eddie Long from being responsible for his actions as the leader of the church.)

Separating the message from the man is imperative for us in many other venues, as well. I am known as a financial expert, but do you think that I have not made financial mistakes in the past and will not have financial mishaps in the future? Of course I will! Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey, and any other financial expert that you may know are not perfect either, but that does not detract from their message! My favorite of the aforementioned is Suze Orman. I have read almost all of her books and feel that she has a powerful grasp of the information. However, if I found out today that she was going through foreclosure in one of her homes, I wouldn't flinch about purchasing her next book. I am not following Suze Orman; I am following her message. I treat Suze Orman the same as I treat the pastors that I respect: after I read her books I do my own research to ensure that the information that I read was correct. Her flaws, which she most certainly has (all of us financial experts would like people to believe that we are perfect, but we are far from it) do not mean that she is less intelligent. We are more knowledgeable than most but far from perfect.

The same applies for Tiger Woods. I know Tiger as a good golf player, which is his message, but I don't know him as a person. I don't watch him because he is a good person; I watch him because I can see some good golfing skills. When he was uncovered as someone who was less holy than many, it didn't faze me one bit because I never judged him to be a good person before, so why would I judge him now to be bad? As long as he can continue to hit that golf ball, well, I will still tune in. As long as Pastor Winans and Creflo Dollar teach principles of the Bible well and the Spirit moves me, I will still attend their services.

As a society, we so desperately want to create deities of men only because of the excitement of tearing them down through the 24-hour media cycle when we find out that they, just like the rest of us, are men as well. So no, the Bishop Eddie Long story is not a story to me at all. I read in the Bible that he, just like every other man, is full of sin and far from perfect. If you are one of those who choose to wait for that perfect person to listen to, you will be waiting a lifetime because you will never meet such a person. I, for one, am glad that the Israelites chose to listen to Moses despite all of his imperfections. I am glad that we have had leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. (who had many imperfections) and others who were inspired by many imperfect people. I am glad that we have a forgiving God who has allowed me, despite all my mistakes, to continue to teach financial literacy to as many as I have. I am glad that we have a God who can deliver a message through any person regardless of what he or she has done in the past, or what sort of transgressions he or she has made. It may not be true in the eyes of man, but I know that in God's eyes, a crook can teach others why one shouldn't steal, a liar can teach why it is important to tell the truth, and yes, a murderer can teach people why it is important not to kill. This is precisely why I bring formerly incarcerated individuals with me when I teach in prisons, because many times those who have been through it and can speak from experience can be the best teachers! I hope that moving forward we as a country learn to separate the man from the message. Research and follow the message, not the man, and you will avoid much heartache, pain, and grief.