I have been in church all my life and have not heard the account of the Bad Shepherd preached from a pulpit a single time. That includes numerous Sunday services, conferences, ordination rites, pastoral installations, and yes, even seminary. We know lots about the Good Shepherd and that “The Lord is my Shepherd.” However, we would be hard-pressed to find cautionary examples of who not to follow. Some scripture is bad for business. What is a bad shepherd? Thus says the Lord:
Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. (Ezekiel 34:2b-3).
If a pastor is fleecing his flock, there should be no expectation that he has the character to perform the loving works that good shepherding requires. I don’t care how many turkeys they donate at Thanksgiving, their standard of living should not be far beyond the average member of the congregation if doing so comes at the congregation’s expense. People with no more than a bus pass should not be buying Bentleys for others. Jesus rode a donkey.
The problem with Eddie Long did not begin with the recent allegations of sexual misconduct. The problem is that he fits God’s description of a bad shepherd perfectly. If your spiritual leader will not allow you to avail yourself of the benefits of charity, discipleship, and fellowship, without first seeing your W-2, he doesn’t love you any more than a pimp loves a whore. A pastor should not use the contributions to the church as his means to moving up the socio-economic ladder beyond what the free-market would bear. To make matters worse, they take it personally when members do not give enough to sustain shameless spending.
Eddie Long’s other big problem is his perversion of the gospel. Any student of scripture can see the otherworldliness of Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus said it himself in John 18:36: my kingdom is not of this world. That proclamation is consistent with everything else in the bible that points away from our carnal desires for God’s fulfillment of His promises in our lives. Jesus did not come to create an investment club whereby tithes and offerings provide returns to elevate one’s economic standing. The abundant life Jesus promised is about transcendent power beyond the things of this world.
The character failing that allows one to perverse the gospel makes room for all manner of malfeasance. The nature of them is just details. A minister might be into misappropriating funds, womanizing, mind-control, or you name it. We are warned in 2 Timothy 3:1-7:
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.
Look around you. We all have access to the truth through God’s word, spiritual discernment, and our natural senses. Never have I encountered a scandal like this without threadbare red flags all over the wreckage. Well-known secrets abound in communities of faith everywhere. The price we pay for acknowledging them is the path to the cross. What is done in the dark will always come to light. The church will alienate you and scandalize your name, but the truth shall make you free to be led by one who will lead you to the path of righteousness for His namesake.
“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
If the allegations are true, the quality of Eddie Long’s ministry becomes even more devalued. Jesus issued seven woes to religious leaders at the end of his earthly ministry in the 23rd chapter of Matthew. Reading them in light of the allegations and things Eddie Long has said on record is chilling. Basically, Jesus condemns those having good religious form, but not practicing what they preach. Eddie Long went to great lengths to promote an anti-gay agenda during the 2004 and 2006 election cycles. His credibility is on the line. No amount of legal wrangling can reconcile his alleged homosexuality with his Pharisaic rhetoric. If he meets the moral standard that he has established for everyone else, then he should be proclaiming such from the rooftops. His ambiguous non-statements are sounding suspect.
Again, particular situations are just details. Believers must seek God’s truth for themselves. Ignoring scripture not brought to one’s attention by one’s spiritual leader is inexcusable. Institutions are in the business of preserving themselves—for better and for worse. When businesses face challenges, they enlist consultants, publicists, and lawyers to overcome them. The institutional church—as a business no less—follows the same pattern in cases such as the current scandal surrounding Eddie Long. However, we are called to be more than that. Now is the time for the church not only to demand the truth, but also ridding itself of every well-known secret. God will not be mocked.
I agree with you completely that the "Church" and individual worship communities should be outraged over the perversion of the gospel and of the ministry evinced in the Eddie Long scandal and other such situations. It is not unreasonable for people to hold religious leaders to a high standard and to expect consistency between their behavior and their proclamation. And it's time to dispense with polite tolerance of exploitative and abusive behavior and call leaders and ourselves to account for our actions.
I also agree with your comments regarding the disparity between the leader's material wellbeing and that of his or her parishioners. What I want to add is that the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God is not about money, position and power. It represents God's vision and hope for the world – a just and life-affirming reality for all persons. God requires us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). In fact, these exploitative leaders sound a lot like those in the book of Micah. It is not, therefore, unreasonable for people to expect signs of the Kingdom in the concreteness of our day to day existence, when the Kingdom is conceived as a just existence for all persons. While I agree that the Kingdom has not fully come, I also hear Jesus' words: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:15). I do believe that the time is now for persons and communities to evince signs of the kingdom in our day to day lives–the things that we do and say. What I mean is that it is time to turn away from sinful, oppressive, exploitative, abusive practices (repent) or tolerance of such and live in loving relationship with God, self and others: Love God with our heart, mind and soul and love our neighbors as ourselves. That's really not too much to ask of the Church as an institution or of Christian persons. It's who we are called to be and what we are called to do!
Preach on Mad Theologian!!
Thank you for such a powerful post! At the end of the day there are a few issues that continue to go unaddress in many churches (particularly in black communities). (1) Your relationsip with God is not transactional. God does not owe you anything and God does not say he will give you want you want. You are going to be given what you need and that often occurs at times when you aren't even aware of what is best for you or what you TRUE needs are. These "Prosperity" teachings are so enticing because they promote the notion that one does not need to change and that one is ENTITLED to gaining all of the world's riches just by setting foot in a building or by tithing generously. As if God needs our money? (2) There is an EXTREME lack of attention paid to the responsibilities of the individuals sitting in the pews. As church members it is our responsibility to hold leadership accountable. If we are truly adhering to God's word we have to KNOW God's word! I don't know Latin and I haven't taken a Divinity course, but through reading, prayer, and meditation I have come to my own understanding of the world. Too many of us want to gain entrance into heaven vicariously through the Pastor. This is a PERSONAL relationship with Jesus Christ and each of us are responsible for developing it and nurturing it. Too many of us are so busy seeking the Bentley that we have no time left to seek God first. (3)The thing that bothers me the most is this necessity for Christians to identify some "opposing" group in order to rile up the masses. If you can't get excited about salvation then I don't know what you can get excited about. Disagreeing with someone else's lifestyle is one thing, but none of us should need to create law in order to shore up our beliefs. The constant attacks against homosexuality are not about informing Christians about God's expectation. They ARE about serving up easy targets to those folks sitting in the pews because leadership knows that if they spoke about the failings of straight black men and women they would probably see their tithes go down. We need to have a desire to heal and grow. Spiritual growth is seldom easily accomplished. You actually have to experience some things to grow or else why stretch yourself at all.
If any of these things are to change Christians are going to have to get back to basis and stop thinking that Jesus is Santa Claus. There is no sleigh in Bethlehem.
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