Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Learning Through Bishop Eddie Long

The other day a good friend of mine told me I was attacking Bishop Eddie Long.

I countered that my previous blog post and even Facebook status updates about the situation were not an attack, but a wake up call for the rest of us, the black church.

For far too long, black gays and lesbians, have suffered in our community.  They have had to hide under a shroud of piety while struggling with their natural, born sexual inclinations in a society that trumpets masculinity.  All while loving Christ and having a strong desire to serve HIM.

The church is supposed to be a refuge, a safe place to come and worship, receive grace and mercy, and figure out this thing called life and our walk.

Too often, the church, particularly the black church, becomes a judgment seat.

I have personally experienced the one-sided, heavy handedness of pastors and churches who abuse their position.  Not to the extent of the pain these four young men are dealing with, but to the extent of trust destroyed, confidences broken, and theology questioned.

One former pastor called me, almost a decade after I left the ministry, and apologized.  "I was wrong."  He was exercising power and control over the lives of the congregation, even to the point of choosing who could and could not marry and who they could marry.  He had elevated himself to the position of being infallible.

In another church, while seeking counsel for a situation in my marriage, one of the co-pastors heard the conversation and went back and told my husband.  Trust and confidence broken.

In another church, women were told to wait for their husbands, but not to date, and then if they meet someone to marry quickly so as not to inflame the fleshly desires.  Only to find out the husband was abusive, sexually confused, or otherwise not ideal. Then she was told to pray more, fast more, give more, and if all else fails, she could not divorce, no matter what he did.

It was examples of spiritual abuse of power that bothered me the most about what Bishop Long did.  Then for him to stand before his congregation and not emphatically deny he abused those four young men, sealed it for me.  My attack is not against him, but against all shepherds who hold themselves up as being above reproach and the sin nature we all fight against.

I posted a link from Bishop Carlton Pearson proclaiming the Gospel of Inclusion.  He spoke about his embrace of gay and lesbian believers and how the black church railed against him on this.  He also spoke about the situation with New Birth as a church leader struggling against his nature in a close minded environment.  Eddie Long had to put on the show, even parading his wife out before the congregation as if to say, "see, I'm normal, happily married, she is standing with me."

Black women have been made to suffer through sexless marriages and false marriages all disguising homosexuality in the church.  All because black believers can not accept the fact that that handsome, strong, muscular man is really gay.

It is a wake up call, a time for believers to examine their belief.  Is it the mega church and the gospel of prosperity that has enticed so many to seek a man and not seek God?

I left the church a few years ago.  Part of it was a move to a new city and part of it was to find my faith.  I still attend a church, but am no longer involved in the four walls as the only place to minister the love of Christ as HE put in me.  I have done more and ministered more and affected more lives outside the four walls.  I am free from the oppressive nature of some church inner circles that hold out the carrot stick of "waiting on your time" and "elevation will come" if I just give more, pray more, sacrifice more...to the church.

No man is above God.  That is also the lesson of what is going on with Bishop Eddie Long.

No man needs $10,000 worth of black diamonds, equipment, and treasures in his church office.

Did he really need the private jet and custom made suits to serve the people of Atlanta?

It is the question that has plagued me as I see and hear pastors covet the "new church building" while hosting worship services consisting primarily of their family.  As if the "if we build it, they will come" mentality will work, marketing glitz.  What about actually loving the people and doing what is necessary?  Is a building and a Christian version of the FOI really necessary?  Is it really needed for the congregation to wait for the Pastor and First Lady to be escorted like royalty down the center aisle while their adoring followers clap loudly for their entrance?  Is that serving the body of Christ and shepherding them to a deeper relationship with Christ?

I have been attending a large church in St. Louis that has allowed me to breathe.  I say that because I can worship (everything from gospel to country and western), hear the word, and leave without feeling like a weight of guilt has been placed on my chest because I didn't give, or didn't buy the pastor's tape, or didn't clean the church toilet (they hire people to do that).  I haven't even met the pastor, after being here for 3years. No pressure.  Everyone of every walk of life comes and goes, receives the word, and become active in small groups as they see fit.  Grace, both the name and the feeling.  And a simple man, with a simple wife, who drives a simple old van, and ministers a simple word.  And changes lives.

These are the lessons.

Bishop Carlton Pearson on CNN addressing Gays in the Black Church

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Spirit Cries Out

My spirit is on high alert and I am deeply disturbed.

The events of this past week have been enough to rock many Christians, particularly those of New Birth, to the core.  What are they to believe if their very own Bishop Eddie Long has been accused of sexual indiscretion to the extent that has been reported in the news all week?

I say, is their faith in God or in this man whom my brother called an ostentatious fool for his parade of jewelry, private jets, bentleys, and a lavish lifestyle earned on the backs of his 25,000 member congregation who faithfully tithed their goods?  Is this the image of a man of God?  Is this truly a shepherd after God's own heart?

My sons are 16, 22, and 23 !/2.  There was a time in my life, as a divorced mother, that I wanted them to have a positive male role model.  Would I have enrolled them in the LongFellows Academy had I lived in Atlanta 15 years ago, before I met my now husband?  Would I have been persuaded by the teachings of sexual abstinence, integrity, and financial savvy?  Would I have wanted my sons to be among positive role models who spoke an uncompromising word and courted the world's stage?

This morning, my spirit is deeply disturbed and I have a mother's angst to protect the four young men who dared to endure public scrutiny to take back their lives.  I can't imagine the amount of strength it took for these babies, they are only 20 and 21, to decide that enough is enough.  They spoke out.  And I suspect there are many more.

The issue for me is not if Long engaged in homosexual acts with these young men, who at 17 and 18 were not able to withstand his charisma and sexual advances coded as spiritual bonding.  The issue is that he abused his position and trust as Pastor, leader, shepherd.  In that position, he was entrusted with the spiritual development of many in guiding them to a real and deep relationship with Jesus Christ.  It was not for self aggrandizement, which is what Long accomplished in his twenty years.

Greed knows no end. He sought political power with his vehement rhetoric against homosexuality and siding with the right-wing evangelical movement that ties religion and politics together in the Bible Belt.

Long could not get enough.

He is the face of a sin that has permeated the church, the black church, the community for ages.  The sin is not in fornication - heterosexual or homosexual - but the sin is in hypocrisy.

He stood in that pulpit and spoke forcefully against these men-to-men and women-to-women acts to the point of calling for their death.  To the point of alienating an entire community in Atlanta and the world.  To the point of doing a march against this.  And all the while, engaging in these acts himself with impressionable young men.

There are LGBT people in the black community. Always have been.  From the flamboyant choir director on the piano that my youth group used to giggle about back when I was a teen to the ones suffering silently in the church that condemns them.  Whether it is a sin or not, I can say that God does love them, that our community should not scorn them.  If it is wrong, like ANY.OTHER.SIN, then we should love them to wholeness.

Otherwise, we are not preaching and teaching the wholeness of the Gospel.

The Gospel, remember that?  The one that Jesus left the Scribes and Pharisees to go among the people.  Jesus walked with nothing and told his disciples to do the same.  Jesus, the one buried in a borrowed tomb because he did not amass wealthy like these so-called-preachers do today.

My spirit is disturbed.

Me, the one who left the church because of all the abuse of power I saw and witnessed in my 20 years of calling Christ my savior.  Me, the one who was told over and how how I was called to minister the word but was just not "ready yet" because I was waiting on the power of some pastor to give me the okay that I was "anointed" enough and "elevated" enough (in other words, that I had given my last dime and time and enough money to his ministry that he would now ordain me to do the work but only if I gave more time and money and loyalty to him, not to Jesus).  Me, the one who knows the power of the charisma of these preachers - black and white - who prey on people's desire to be right with God, to know Christ, and to do his will.

My spirit is disturbed.

And I pray.  And I prayed.  And I went into my spirit and felt this ball of air in my gut, my soul, that cries out to protect these four Davids, these four sons who dared to speak out against that Goliath.

In my heart, I cover them, and I see the Holy Spirit spreading his Wings over these four men.

Yes, the members of New Birth Baptist Church in Lithonia Georgia are in collective shock, disbelief, and confusion.  How could they follow someone who would do such things?  Their faith has been rocked to the core. Their hearts want to believe he is innocent and therefore they engaged in every cheer and chant imaginable this morning when Bishop Long stood before them this morning and proclaimed himself David.  But when the shock goes away, when the reality will descend upon them, their faith will be rocked, their belief will be questioned, and I hope they will find true faith and salvation in Jesus Christ, and not in this man.

I pray that this is a wake up call.

I pray we rally around the truth, no matter who hurtful or disturbing it is.  Then, I pray, we, the body of Christ, seek THE TRUTH and stop being enticed by this prosperity gospel that has ruined the lives of many, black and white, who only wanted to know Christ.

Like sheep, led astray.  The Good Shepherd is standing there, ready to comfort and heal.  And HE does not need a Bentley to do it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Permission To Change The Narrative

I hereby give you and me permission to change the story.  Tear up the first draft.  Rewrite.  Start over.  Live your story.  You are the keeper of your script.

This morning while I was driving my youngest two children to school, something struck me...I have many more years of parenting ahead.  I love them dearly.  The baby girl makes me laugh until my side hurts and the older girl is like looking in a mirror.  Yet, I wonder, at the prime age of 46, what my life would be like had I not changed course 20 years ago that completely altered every decision from then on out.

I realized that if I had given myself permission to read the lines of my own story instead of the book of obligations, that I would be traveling the world, would have published those books, certainly wouldn't have degrees in business - I would be a Ph.D. in English, history, or sociology.  I would be in a different space, certainly not this divided city in the heart of the midwest.

Then I wondered what part fate, the universe, and my Creator made in me being where I am.  Perhaps it was not the script I would have written, but were they scenes that needed to be performed?  Is this part of a larger performance?  This thing called life with all the intersecting vignettes.

I also discovered that reflection upon the essence of one's life story can only happen in the safe space of someone who is secure with their own essay.  Some people are constrained to the rules of convention and the stifling storyline of remaining in uphappy situations because that is what is expected.  Or choosing a career because that is what is expected.  Or buying a certain house in a certain neighborhood driving a certain car belonging to certain clubs and wearing certain uniforms that are all part of the costuming of characters in someone else's novella.

Permission is given to put down the script, pick up a new set of parchments and begin anew with a blank page.

Being over 40 is not the end, it is when permission is given, air can be breathed, and life can be lived.  Time is the beauty that someone over 45 can appreciate.

Rewriting the script may irritate the producers and directors who believe they have control of your story, so what?  Take the creative license that was given to you when you drew your first breath and then develop your story all the way until you breathe your last breath.

I am holding the pen and will write the lines of my own dash.  No woulda, coulda, shoulda left.  There are no "people" who are owed answers because they are not the ink in my quill, they are not the stitching of my tome.

Today I was driving around and I gave myself a moment to reflect on the heroine of the previous story, to share in her losses and triumph in her gains.  Then I smiled and gave myself permission to climb the mountains, sail across the ocean, feel the breeze, and change the narrative for the rest of the epic.