“We Worship God--Not Preachers”
In recent days our country has been rocked with the news of alleged sexual misconduct by a giant in the Christian faith and his subsequent civil settlement with his accusers. Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia Georgia, was accused and sued for allegedly using his power and influence to coerce four young men into performing sexual acts. Since the story first breached the air waves, many people across the nation have taken the liberty of expressing their opinions about the situation. People have either supported or vilified Bishop Long, as well as the four young men who brought the lawsuits. I know that you have an opinion, but I want to share a few of my thoughts on the subject. I want to caution the reader that I’m beginning a series of articles on this evolving story and I encourage you to follow my perspective to the end, in order that you might gain a complete picture of my thought process.
My first piece of evidential information begins with a past headline. On September 28, 2010 Byron Pitts of CBS national news did a story on Religion in America and the results were fascinating. Some of his source material came from “The Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life”, which is a project of The Pew Research Center. The statistics revealed on their website www.pewforum.org that atheists and agnostics scored higher on a religious knowledge survey. They posed a series of 32 questions to people with various religious backgrounds and atheist/agnostics answered 20.9 of the questions correctly and Black Protestants scored next to last, answering only 13.4 of the questions right. The breakdown of their survey also showed that White Evangelicals, Mormons, atheists, and agnostics know more about Christianity than Black Protestants and Catholics. It appears that we live in a country with a Christian base that is largely illiterate to world religions and Christianity.
If Christians are largely illiterate to the faith in which they committed themselves, then what do they really know about who God is and what He expects from believers? The assessment of the average Christian about God, according to the survey results, would appear to be that Christians are uneducated. It is difficult to live your life by Christian principles when you don’t know what they are. Can you imagine trying to be a lawyer without knowing the law? Would you want a doctor to treat you who didn’t really study medicine in medical school? Everyday Christians are attempting to represent God without a decent knowledge of the Bible and what they should believe.
I’m afraid I see this same type of religious illiteracy daily in Christianity even more recently with Bishop Long and his four accusers. First let me go on record as saying everyone in this situation needs prayer. Whether Bishop Long or the young men are guilty or innocent, mercy, prayer, counseling, and other things are needed. Despite their respective perceptions and positions they hold in this situation, all of them are redeemable. My primary concern, in addition to those involved, is the skewed perception that exists from Christians and non-Christians. My disdain with some Christians is that someone within Christianity is happy about the scandal and will use it as a reason to defame Bishop Long, New Birth, and Christianity. Secondly, someone will use this situation as an excuse to stop attending church. I believe that God has given us a set of codes to live by, which begins with God’s (Jehovah’s) dealings with man as recorded in the Old Testament and revealed clearly in the New Testament. God clearly reveals Himself throughout the whole of scripture as both a God of love, holiness, justice and judgment. It is only correct that justice be served with love to all involved in this situation and that we remember people are still redeemable, no matter what their issues are.
The proper way for Christians to deal with this issue is stated in Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” We should restore--not justify, quibble, complain, and crucify. A person can be guilty, punished, and restored. The word “restore” in this verse means to repair or mend. Restoration should be offered through reprimands, accountability, counseling, and most of all in meekness and love. The actions of the perpetrator may be hideous, but God’s love forgives, no matter how many times it is offended (Matthew 18:21-22/Hebrews 7:25). If a person doesn’t want to be restored, I believe he/she should be removed. If a Pastor isn’t willing to comply with the restoration process then members have no other choice but to consider leaving or leave. Restoration is only for the humble who realize they have sinned and need help. Galatians 6:1 issues one last warning for the insensitive, punitive, indifferent witch hunters, “considering thyself lest thou also be tempted.” If you can dish it out, you better be prepared to take it because your time is coming. You will fail at something and when you do, you’re going to need the mercy you refused to give.
I’m utterly disturbed by the blanketed, pervasive ignorance of Christians, who have nothing but negativity falling from their perverted lips. A basic Christian education teaches that God is love (1 John 4:16), all have sinned (Romans 3:23), our hearts must be transformed to be like God (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23), we are progressively being delivered (2 Corinthians 1:10), there is only one who is good (Matthew 19:17), we follow leadership that follows Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:6-9), we worship God--not people places or things, as stated in Matthew 4:10, “Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” I’ll say it again. WE WORSHIP GOD, BUT WE FOLLOW LEADERSHIP. And to all the people, who feel they don’t need to follow leadership, you’re sadly mistaken. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” Truthfully, human beings have always struggled, even with God’s help, to live according to His expectations. That’s why He provides grace (Romans 2:8-9; 8:3-4)! Everyone is susceptible to sin, temptation, and human weakness. We shouldn’t be surprised when Christians falter because they aren’t perfect and whoever said he/she was, didn’t tell the truth. The only perfection related to Christians is the spirit of God, Who abides within them. It is because of the stubbornness of humanity that we resist the voice of God and constantly fall headlong into sin.
We must stop deifying our leaders. We must stop worshipping our pastors and just respect them for who they are. They are called, gifted, and anointed; but still flawed. Noah was called, but flawed. Abraham was called, but flawed. Moses was called, but flawed. Paul was called, but flawed. I can go on and on. Do our imperfections justify unbridled, unlicensed, carte blanche sinful activity? Absolutely not! Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” There are consequences for our sins, but we must not act shocked when we see our leaders stumble. We must dispense the imperialistic, pseudo-naïve attitude and embrace the truth. Leaders should be an example, but the Bible doesn’t provide a different standard of holiness and righteousness for them to live by (2 Corinthians 7:1). If Bishop Long is guilty, his membership and a body of leaders should hold him accountable. Nobody is exempt from correction. The Bible has proven this. When David sinned and slept with Bathsheba, God sent Nathan the prophet to correct him (1 Samuel 12). I repeat: Nobody is above correction; but just like David, repentance and restoration are possible.
Preachers shouldn’t present themselves like they should be worshipped and followers shouldn’t worship them. Again I know what the scripture says about leadership, along with the respect that is due unto them and I fully comply; but worshipping preachers and pastors is unacceptable. Peter visited Cornelius, an Italian who was seeking God (Jehovah). God profoundly communicates with both men and coordinates a plan that would bring them together. As Peter approaches Cornelius, he bowed on his knees to honor him in Acts 10:25-26, “But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.”
Yes, Peter declared what all leaders and pastors should, “I’m just a man.” I may be anointed, but I’m just a man. I may prophecy, but I’m just a man. I may release miracles by God’s power, but I’m just a man. I may be called to lead a church, but I’m just a man. When our leaders start correcting people like Peter did, some of this hero-worshipping will stop. I implore every Christian and unbeliever to keep worshipping God and following good leadership. The inconvenient truth is that Bishop Long and everyone else should be held accountable for any sinful actions, but they shouldn’t be castigated, castrated, or abandoned. All of our leaders and people in general are flawed. There is only one that is perfect who can save, heal, deliver, and set you free and only He is worthy of glory, honor and praise no matter what!!! WORSHIP God (Jehovah) and FOLLOW leadership!