First, they line up all the sexual favors a new candidate can stand. They have men’s fellowship at the strip club. Alcohol and drug abuse are no strangers. The best lines for exploiting people and separating them from their money are proffered freely. Once they indoctrinate one into the game, the ministers cannot be held accountable by them. You see, there is no honor among thieves. An irony of all ironies is that keeping your nose clean becomes a liability because they have nothing to hold over your head.
One of my greatest frustrations in the church is that we have conspired to lower the moral bar to the point where anything goes. Yes, all sin and fall short of the glory of God. However, that is not cause to cast off all restraint. We must all face judgment in the flesh and the afterlife.
Saints have been endowed with the authority to assess the quality of those within the boundaries of the church. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you (I Corinthians 5:12-13).
What vexes me is that this requirement never gets enforced. I’m not talking about disciplining every misstep by neophytes in the faith. The Holy Spirit is perfecting us all day by day. What bothers me is the tacit acceptance of egregious acts by so-called leaders of the church.
An old saying states there are two things that one does not want to see made: laws and sausage. Well my friends, I submit a third: preachers. When I first began my journey toward ordained ministry, I began to wonder what does one have to do to get kicked out of the fold? Adultery was more commonplace than marital fidelity. Spiritual integrity didn’t seem to matter. And don’t get me started about embezzlement from the collection plate. Seasoned ministers made it their business to ensure that the end product was not too clean.
This brings me to one of the most misquoted verses of scripture. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1-5), Jesus instructs disciples (d)o not judge so that you will not be judged, but he doesn’t end there. This message is a warning against hypocrisy and holding others to standards to which one does not adhere. Jesus goes further to instruct believers to first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Then, and only then, will they be in a position to correct another. The church wants you morally corrupt to prevent you from being in a position to discern and call things for what they are.
The modern church absolves itself of moral responsibility while chastising others. What has resulted is a limbo dance in which spiritual leaders take turns committing acts that defame the Kingdom. The more base the act, the lower the moral bar is subsequently stationed. They laugh mockingly as they get away with scandal after scandal with their chain of fools intact.
During my first year of seminary, Henry Lyons, then President of the National Baptist Convention, was charged and indicted on grand theft, racketeering, fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion, among other things. He initially played the race card, but copped a plea while his supporters continued to proclaim his innocence. The denomination had the gall to have his wife take the fall for setting fire to the house he purchased with his mistress (who wouldn’t?) by citing her alcoholism as the source of his problems. In more irony, they did not rebuke his affair or financial misappropriation that the resulting investigation uncovered. Although he was not successful in reclaiming the helm of the denomination after being released from prison, Lyons returned to the pulpit and cultivated a significant following.
Eugene Marriott, Minister to Men at mega-church Ebenezer A.M.E. in Fort Washington, MD was caught in the act of beating and raping a woman outside a hotel by a police officer, no less. His defense was that they were role-playing a violent act as part of their regular sexual routine, despite the fact he was married to another woman. The church immediately relieved him of his duties but would not comment on whether he remained on the payroll during his legal proceedings.
More scandalous than that, his church did not acknowledge how they aided in his defense and legal bills. Marriott eventually pled guilty to lesser charges, was sentenced to 16 months in jail. The state changed the charges because Marriott “did not want to register as a sex offender.” News accounts describe the prosecutor saying “I wish Mr. Marriott well. I hope that his wife takes him back. I am very glad to see his church and his community are still supporting him”. That’s pretty remarkable for a hard-nosed state like Virginia where the incident occurred. Her boss, the Commonwealth’s Attorney, responded after the fact (t)he function of a criminal prosecutor is to point out how bad the crime is; it’s not a social partnership with the defense.” If you’re gonna go that low, get in with the right church.
Insult is added to injury is the case of Jamal Bryant, the pastor of Empowerment Temple A.M.E. Church in Baltimore. Where do you begin with him? Word on the street is that the state of Maryland is adding an office just to deal with the series of paternity suits against him. One of the earliest of record resulted from him impregnating a woman while engaged to be married to another. He never claimed that child in spite of indisputable DNA evidence and a monkey face just like his. The most recent involves a young woman who was a teenaged member of his congregation at the time of conception. His membership roll and collection plate have not suffered. The victim has been shunned consistent with the long and shameful tradition of not addressing clergy sexual exploitation.
What did the denomination do? Bryant was silenced and ordered out of his pulpit for 30 days by his Presiding Bishop. What did he do? Go on a speaking tour to spread the love. What a tour it was. In the wake of the disciplinary action, he has headlined worship services for the national meetings of the National Urban League, Congressional Black Caucus, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Shame on all three and any others promoting this brand of prophecy without accountability. Bryant also appears as the spiritual advisor on two reality television shows. Talk about the blind leading the blind. Need more speaking engagements? Go lower.
Another irony is that the man who uses “empowerment” in the name of his church claims to no power over sin. I will be the first to admit that Bryant is a gifted speaker, but gifts come without redemption. He speaks more about his haters than the redemptive work of God in changing his behavior which God hates.
I wonder how many copies of his book World War Me: How to Win the Battle I Lost he has sold. That’s like taking financial advice from a broke man. You can’t teach what you don’t know, you can’t lead where you won’t go. But P.T. Barnum said there’s a sucker born every minute. The Apostle Paul said Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified (I Corinthians 9:26-27).
There will be a lot of well-meaning servants of the Lord in hell because they failed to work out their salvation with fear and trembling before God. Look at all of the biblical accounts of people in the afterlife. The scandalous are surprised when they arrive in heaven and the wicked are always shocked to find themselves condemned.
How did we get to this low? They have become lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. The bible tells us have nothing to do with them (2 Timothy 3:4b-5). Listeners enjoy the feel-good motivational speeches with a little Jesus thrown in for good measure. When leaders fall, the church embraces them and calls for collective prayer. Innocent souls must be preserved by removing counterfeit believers God from the fold. Those who have been barred for backsliding will similarly recognize the need for repentance. We have no responsibility to follow anyone in their flesh. The systematic enabling of immoral behavior is corrosive to the church. Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character (I Corinthians 15:33).
 The Washington Post, 3/17/07
 Ibid, 3/22/07.