Today, a bit of non-political talk.
I’ve probably talked this subject to death lately on my Facebook page, but needed one more time to get everything out in a flood as opposed to a few words at a time. In case you missed it, or you don’t live in Atlanta, here is the jist of the situation.
Bishop Eddie Long is pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, one of the largest churches in Atlanta. Months ago, 4 boys came forward and filed a lawsuit, accusing Long of inappropriate behavior that he engaged in with them. Pictures released that Long had sent to the boys didn’t help him much. Long denied the charges, taking to his pulpit and telling everyone listening that he was like “David fighting Goliath” and that he was going to fight the charges. I, along with many others, figured he would let the furor die down and settle, but since he said he would fight, we had no choice but to take him at his word. Meanwhile, members of his church begin to trickle away, as the combination of the leaked pictures and the compelling stories told by the victims paint Long in a very bad light.
Fast forward to recent weeks. Long settles the lawsuit with his accusers and the settlement is sealed. Despite that, the number leaks out: $15 million split among the accusers. Later, the number jumps to $25 million. For people like me, it seems that not only did he talk a lot about defending himself then roll over, but that the sheer amount of settlement money did nothing to assuage the idea in our heads that he is guilty. Personally, I’m aware that people settle out of court all the time to make cases go away. But I’ve never heard of anyone or any company agreeing to pay $25 million in hush money willingly.
Here is where Pastor Creflo Dollar comes in. He is the head of World Changers Ministry, another megachurch in Atlanta. After the settlement was announced, he took to the pulpit and said something I have never heard a minister say outloud: “I don’t want you here.”
When I read that, it sent me reeling. After all, what is the job of a pastor? In my mind, be a shepherd to the sheep in his flock, minister to them, and assist them on the path to be like–and eventually with–Jesus. When things are bad, the church is refuge, and the pastor is always waiting with open arms.
Except when you’ve left his friend’s church.
I won’t go quote for quote on what Dollar said (you can see some of it here ). But to summarize, Dollar directed some chastising remarks at any ex-New Birth members in his congregation that sunday, saying Long had had a “wreck” and that since everyone has wrecks, they were wrong to leave New Birth when their pastor needed support. He described them as being “self-righteous” and “judgemental.” He told them to join where they belong–telling them to go back to New Birth. Then he said those words.
“I don’t want you here.”
No disrespect to my friends and family that are either in the ministry or members of World Changers, but this is absurd for many reasons. First, I want to ask him if he felt this way about members of other churches where pastors were found to be maintaining inappropriate relationships with underaged members. Should the parents and relatives of those kids simply choose to stay and support the pastor and help him through his “wreck?” is there a difference between a “wreck” and, say, a “pileup?” And since he also mentioned in his remarks that there was a difference between a “wreck” and a “lifestyle,” exactly how may incidents of inpropriety constitute a lifestyle?
Second, how is it ever appropriate to turn away people who are looking for a church home, looking for peace and healing from whatever they have had to deal with? I’ve spoken to friends who are in the ministry, related to minsters, or just well connected to the heartbeat of the Atlanta church community. I was surprised to hear that the idea of not wanting certain people in a congregation is not new. I guess I can understand not wanting troublemakers around. But it seems to me that a minister should recognize that having people turn their backs on you for one reason or another is simply a hazzard of the job. And if they can’t take it, maybe the ministry is not for them. Besides, I would be curious to hear how they would explain such actions, comments, and thoughts if they found themselves face-to-face with the Lord Himself. Do you think Jesus would give Creflo and “attaboy” and a pat on the back for that one?
Third, what does it say about us as people that members were clapping and laughing when Dollar made his comments? Have we gotten to a point where we are ok with a lack of compassion coming from the pulpit? Or is it that we are so programmed in the “that’s my pastor!” mentality that the rest of our brains disengage? I personally can’t imagine my own pastor (and friend) saying those words from the pulpit. But, I’m sure I, along with a few others I can think of, would be standing right outside after church waiting to have a word or two with him. Unfortunately, a downside of being part of a megachurch is that getting one-on-one time with the pastor can be challenging, so I doubt anyone confronted him.
This entire situation has been disturbing. Pastor Dollar will probably lose a few members over his remarks (most likely just the folks that had just gotten there from New Birth, unless they will stay and continue to be the target of ridicule). Bishop Long not only remains in the pulpit at New Birth, but has announced that the church will expand. And life goes on. But, as one of my friends said, I guess in the end, the only one they are really accountable to is God.
Here’s hoping they can be “wreck-free” between now and that meeting.