As Fix My Life OWN Reality TV Star & Life Coach Iyanla Vanzant likes to say, "You must call a thing a thing" in order to get healed from that thing.
For years we have rightly dissected, discussed, and demanded change within the Catholic Church relative to the cover-up of sex scandals involving priests, homosexuality, and the molestation of boys. It is time that the black community, and America's larger faith community start doing the same with respect to the black church. It is time we held senior clergy, church ministry leaders, and the gospel artists who make millions annually from their faithful following to a standard: God's standard. The black church can no longer continue to be the sacred cow of religion, that we are not allowed to scrutinize, question, and challenge when the behavior of its leaders does not mesh with the doctrine it is founded upon.
The last few weeks have not been the best for black preachers, and gospel recording artists. Yet another "sex scandal" has emerged on the Internet, featuring a young black male gospel star (Kevin Terry) engaged in well, let's just say a very graphic sexual act. Worse, just last week Preacher's of LA star Pastor/Singer Deitrick Haddon was "exposed" on the Internet when photos of his genitals emerged via an ex-girlfriend who decided to share the star's private texted images sent to her while they were dating.
"Sex Scandals" are nothing new, especially not in the black church. Atlanta Mega Church Super Star Bishop Eddie Long faced a myriad of lawsuits and allegations in the past few years that he had coerced and "groomed" young teen boys and young men under his stewardship to have sex with him. Using his powerful position as their "shepherd" to keep them silent, and subject to his advances for years. Of course, Long denied the allegations, but he settled the lawsuits out of court reportedly for millions of the churches money (churches have to carry liability insurance like most corporations do). And despite the public uproar, and disturbing nature of the allegations his "flock" stayed pretty much in place, supported him, lauded him, and some claimed he was the victim of a "smear" campaign.
Senior pastors like the late Zachary Tims of Orlando Florida, who was a young charismatic mega church preacher, TV evangelist, and reported womanizer, divorced his wife (now senior pastor & author Riva Tims) and within a year, allegedly died alone from a reported drug overdose at the "W" Hotel in New York in 2011, to Baltimore Senior Pastor Jamal H. Bryant's regretful admissions of how marital infidelity cost him his marriage have had to face their parishioners time and time again with mea culpas and pleas for grace. They are almost always granted a pardon, and anyone who dares to come against them is seen as the enemy.
The list goes on and on, with well documented news stories of prominent bishops, pastors, clergy, even first ladies (the wives of pastors) around the nation having to fend off rumors about drug use, explain illicit sex acts, deal with domestic violence charges, illegitimate children, and even legal consequences from lawsuits filed by parishioners, former employees and others alleging sexual harassment, and anything else you can imagine.
This is not your grandmother's church folks. It certainly is not the church I grew up in.
Although, I did not grow up in the black church, nor do I attend a MEGA church now, as a women's motivational speaker and author, I have been invited to several MEGA churches throughout the nation, and as a journalist I did a groundbreaking piece for Essence magazine this past February on the lives of "first ladies" of the black church. I spent six months investigating, reporting, interviewing and speaking with some of the most prominent people inside of the black church, connected to the church, and those who have intentionally left the church due to a deep sense that the black church has lost its way.
"For me, church has always been and is a regular, weekly part of my life. Yet, my faith is the hallmark of my life. I do not just practice my faith on Sunday. We as Christians are called to be 'living epistles.' Our faith has to be demonstrated in how we live. How we treat people. How we get up when we fall. How we forgive. How we share grace. How we share the Gospel. And mostly, how we love one another. But, what we cannot be is double minded, abounding in sin, unholy people who tell others to do what we say, but not as we do. That is called hypocrisy."
"That is what the modern day black church has become. It's time to call a 'thing' a 'thing' so that we can face it, and fix it. The Preacher's of LA (just like TLC's failed series The Sisterhood) show us a side of church that we know exists, but we as black people want to be in denial that it exists. We black folk, take our faith seriously. Very. But, we are blind when it comes to holding our leaders to account. We have this thing all twisted. Man was NOT made to be worshipped. Man was made to worship his creator. Period. This new MEGA model of worship focuses on money, tithing, prosperity, entourages, body guards, dark tinted SUVs, hipper gospel music performances, building bigger edifices, community centers and the like. It is about personalities, celebrity, status, image and things. And it is doing great damage to a black community that is in desperate need of good examples, ethical examples, stable family examples, and mostly in need of honorable men and women of faith to lead us to a better way spiritually."
I accept that all of us are human, frail, and can fall prey to sin when weak. I have and I do. That is why we need a savior, a helper, someone to "redeem" us from ourselves. But, I have to tell you I am appalled and tired of the sex tapes, hypocrisy, vulgar images, lavish lifestyles, back biting, peacocking, cover-ups, power plays, and the outlandish sense of ego/entitlement of many black church leaders both in public and in private. Trust me, I know first hand of what I speak. I had my own distasteful run in with a group of church women that I now openly refer to as "the Coven" because their behavior as "women of God" in church leadership was beyond that of mean girls, bullies, and gossips, it was downright treacherous and damaging. And they make no apologies. They revel in it. They feel entitled to use, discard, malign, mistreat, condemn, and cut-off others because of their high position and so-called "anointing".
Clergy often misuse scripture to back people off of them when they sin and are called to account, or apologize, often quoting, Psalm 105:15, "Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm." These people are unaccountable, untouchable, and out of control. They tell people not to put their "mouths" on the man or woman of God (meaning you are not to speak up, or against him/her), and they use sayings like, "I allowed myself to get common with you." Which means, I let you get too close, too familiar, and you are beneath me. WOW!
"In the final analysis, these TV preacher reality stars, blinged out pastors, immoral and on the down low gospel recording artists make a public mockery of what it means to be "men" of GOD. And it is unfair to the many good examples in ministry (that we don't hear about) like Bishop Ron Gibson (Preachers of LA) and his wife of over 30 years, or Pastor John Jenkins & Lady Trina Jenkins of First Baptist GlenArden in Maryland, who exemplify what godly couples should act like in public and in private. Being a Christian is a called life. It is not a perfect life. But it is one that is obedient to God's commands. Black people need to wake up. It's time to start holding our leaders to the standard by which they say they are called. The Bible clearly calls us all to a standard of moral conduct, but even more so for men (and women) in positions of authority and leaderships in the church. See 1 Timothy 3:1-12: Titus 1:5-9; Hebrews 13:7; 1 Timothy 4:12."
It is time we asked ourselves: What legacy are we leaving to this present and future generations about the once revered and once honorable "black church" as an institution? What we have right now, is not the legacy of greatness of the black church that helped to free slaves, feed them, educate them, build communities around them, stand for social change, defeat segregation and lead a divided nation to reconciliation around race. What we have now is a public side show on display for all to see. It has to change for the sake of our children and for our community.
As Iyanla would say, "It's time to call a thing a thing." I am calling it, right here, and right now.