In Which We Must Not Be Silent

I know it’s contrary to popular theme, but this post is not about Martin Luther King Jr.  This is not to say that I don’t celebrate Dr. King (because I do. I’m not here for this Robert E. Lee Day ordeal that Mississippi is trying to pull, but I’m trying to be on good behavior so we’ll forgo speaking about it). But as you all may or may not know Bishop Eddie Long has passed away.  If you are unfamiliar with the bishop then who are you? Patrick Star? I’m just going to advise you to google. His name pops up pretty quick once you key in a few letters so it’s pretty easy. Anyway, as I scroll through my social media there are mixed reactions to the death. There is pity for the family/church, mourning due to the loss of a shepherd of God’s flock, and outright joy that the man is dead.  Of course, people are clashing because they feel differently and one of the things I have noticed is that many non-Christians (some Christians as well) are upset that the church is completely glossing over the fact that Long was accused of sexual assault by multiple young men/boys.  To be honest, I’m leaning towards the side of the non-Christians. I too believe that the church has some answering to do for their lack of response and action when sexual abuse is pretty rampant. Bishop Long is not the first sex offender in the church. He also will not be the last.  We’ve seen cases in the Catholic Church about rape/sexual assault as well.  So this is nothing new nor is it something unusual, unfortunately.  I have attended a church in which the Pastor was accused of making sexual advances towards a woman (whether she attended the church or not, I’m not sure. We had not been attending the church long since we had just moved).It was also discovered that he was embezzling money so it was a complex issue. Once the head bishop found out he replaced the pastor along with his staff and severed church ties with the pastor. While many people were angry others stood with the ex-pastor and followed him to his new church that he later opened. I have nothing to say about either of those decisions as that was their choice to make.  I just wanted to show how common immoral/dangerous behavior is in the church.

The issue the church has is that they choose to use their faith as an excuse to not speak out against this behavior.  We have been conditioned to fear voicing any opposition to our spiritual leaders, even if they may say/do something wrong.  I grew up in a Baptist church and all of the older people at the church would make sure that they stressed to us kiddos to not speak poorly of the pastor.  They termed it “putting your mouth on a man of God.”  We’d be told the story of the Elisha and the bears (2 Kings 2:23-25) to emphasize the need of holding our tongues.  If you put your mouth on a pastor, in the hypothetical sense, you were inviting death and destruction into your life.  It not only made us afraid that we were going to get mauled by bears if we spoke ill of the reverend. And I’m not even sure if Mississippi has bears. We were even scared to point out that the pastor was bald. This ideology also placed Pastors/ministers on a pedestal.  We grow to fear/respect man as much as we fear/respect God. Now there is a thin line between fear and respect.  While we acknowledge the power of God and fear that power we also note that God has established a new covenant with us through Christ which leads us from a fearful relationship into one of reverence and love. God is the same God in the new covenant as he is from the old covenant. But our relationship with him and what we must do to have that relationship is different. That’s just a side diddy.  While our pastors and leaders are put over us to lead/teach us, they are NOT on the same level as God.

The bible blatantly states that God expects more from our leaders than he does from the congregation. Why? Because we look to them for guidance so if they are not doing whats right they jeopardize the spiritual health/growth of the flock.  So they’re not supposed to be let off the hook because of their anointing. They are to be more responsible because of it.  Paul tells us that it is the job of the brothers to let one another know when they aren’t doing right and to help them get on the right path. The church isn’t supposed to turn a blind eye to the inner workings of the church, regardless of status, title, or position.  We get it, respect your leader and forgive. We know. But this does not translate into silence and acceptance.

We also have a duty to protect our children.  Remember what Jesus said about it being better for a man to throw himself into the sea with a stone around his neck than causing a child to fall into sin/to stumble? God does not play about kids.  There are a number of kids being abused/assaulted not just by a pastor, but in general in the church, whatever denomination. And this is not acceptable. And its funny that this is a subject hardly touched upon even though its important.  The first time I heard a pastor actually speak on sexual abuse in the church was when I was in my late teens, probably 18 or 19. Pastor Johnson. He was also the first I had heard speak on domestic violence.He was the replacement pastor following the scandal at the church mentioned earlier.  He spoke on it frequently and angrily because it upset him that it was all too common in the church. Other than that I had never heard it being addressed.  Why? Why isn’t this discussed more? People pick and choose what they want to focus in on. If it makes them squirm and uncomfortable they want to leave it unaddressed. Sexual abuse is like taboo because it has been sort of adopted into our culture.  Many people were abused as children, but were shunned when they spoke out about it. It tainted their reputations. It made them look attention hungry or as though they were “hot in the pants.” They were blamed and lashed out against. It was and is rare for the actual abuser to face the consequences of their offenses. Those sitting in pews don’t want to think about predatory behavior that many of them have witnessed, if not committed. It’s hush hush. They can tell you to put on some more clothes when grown men come in the house, but they can’t discuss the fact that the adults shouldn’t look children sexually in the first place. When you read or hear of accounts of kids being sexualized, spoken to sexually, touched, groped, etc you know that it’s common so speaking about it should be even MORE common.

People think that because you speak about it you’re trying to tarnish the church or the pastors. If there is sexual abuse happening in the church or a pastor is engaging in sexual abuse they are tarnishing themselves. They don’t need any help looking bad.  The church does not get a pass because we believe in God. God extends forgiveness, but he also addresses our sins. And you hate to say it (well I do, Lord forgive me), but according to the bible and the mercy  of God if Bishop Long asked for forgiveness he is forgiven by God. I know I’m not alone in thinking that’s unfair. He violated the innocence of helpless kids. They carry the scars and the burdens. They carry the shame that isn’t theirs. So excuse me for being upset about it. But don’t be mistaken, the forgiveness of God does not exempt you from answering to Earthly repercussions. The fact that forgiveness is readily available also shouldn’t be used to plead silence either. When the situation arose it was still the duty of the Church to let the victims know they empathized with them and would do what they needed to do to help them on their path to healing.  Instead what you got was people running around yelling that only God could judge him and that it’s all up to God. Telling you not to say anything because he’s God’s anointed. Basically they’re just really throwing God in there to excuse their negligence. And it ends up looking like you’re giving him a pass.  When it appears that you’re patting the abuser on the back, especially if they are in a position of power, the victim feels like they are to blame.  “If that person is not responsible for my abuse, then I must be.”  That’s the culture that is built and solidified. If someone of no religion or of another religion came and abused one of their children the reaction would have been more severe. Why? Because that person does not have the protection of a pulpit, a robe, a bible, etc.  God’s grace is not a ticket to do whatever you want because you know that God is forgiving/merciful.  God’s grace will call you to be Holy and give you strength to not behave in a way contradictory to that holiness.  What will the church do to protect the flock from harm from within? Will they do anything? Or will they continue to sweep these things under the rug? And the church can’t be mad that it’s looked at with contempt because people feel as though it provides no safety and no accountability.

Do I feel for Bishop Long’s family? Yes. Because they are not guilty of his sins and they still have the right to mourn.  Do I wish hell and fire on Bishop Long? No. As much as I sometimes want to wish damnation on people I know that I can’t and shouldn’t. And he’s dead now. There’s nothing more that can be done about him. But the issue still exists. The church must step up to the plate and quit excusing hateful/sinful/immoral behavior. We live in a society that is rampant with rape culture. It’s obvious that those who internalize this culture will carry it will them into church thus it cannot go unaddressed. Instead of policing people in order to protect themselves, address the perpetrators instead.  It’s not a child’s job to dress and act a certain way so that they won’t be victimized.  It’s not a woman’s job to wear a floor length dress to keep men from sinning. It’s not a little boy’s job to be strong and “manly” in order to protect himself. That’s shifting responsibility. Call a spade a spade. If you touch that man/woman or act inappropriately with that child you are in the wrong. And it’s time for the church to let the guilty know that they won’t accept it.

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