Sunday, October 17, 2010

Christians, Please Don't Drink the Kool-Aid, Reach for the Living Water!!

Over the past few weeks, there has been a tremendous amount of press regarding Atlanta's internationally-renowned pastor and businessman, Bishop Eddie Long. As we already know, five separate lawsuits have been brought against him (four which allege sexual misconduct and the fifth regarding default on a property loan). And to add insult to injury, a sexual harassment suit has been filed by a former employee of the church, holding the church 'culpable for sexual harassment, retaliation, breach of fiduciary duty and infliction of emotional distress'. News reports further assert that New Birth may have to file bankruptcy in order to settle the pending disputes. While none of these cases have made it into a court of law as of yet, they are currently being tried in the court of public opinion, in which people are generally considered guilty until proven innocent.

Before I go any further, I must say that I pray that the allegations against Bishop Long turn out to be false. Over the years, I have followed his ministry on TBN and, for the past year or so, I have been a regular participant in New Birth's Sunday morning services, via the Internet. I partnered with the ministry and had plans to visit the sanctuary on my next trip to the ATL. With that being said, I must admit that I am deeply troubled by the things that have been reported about Bishop Long and New Birth.

For those of you who don't know much about me, I attended seminary and was ordained as an associate minister several years ago. However, in the midst of serving within my church, I came to the realization that I was not called to the pulpit ministry and made the difficult decision to sit myself down. You see, I knew that I had some issues that needed to be worked out with God, and it wasn't right for me to keep wearing a Christian 'mask' in public while I was dealing with my personal demons in private. Because the greatest commandment is for us to love one another, I understood that the most loving thing that I could do was to move on and let God do His work within me before I tried to tell others how to live their lives.

Unfortunately, too many church leaders do not operate with the same level of love (and integrity). Just to be clear, I am not saying that Bishop Long is guilty, but there are other ministry leaders who know that they are not practicing what they preach, yet they refuse to walk away and let God heal their brokenness. Instead, they continue to live a lie until what they are doing in the dark comes to the light, and then they expect the people that they have deceived to rally behind them and help them get out of trouble (all while those outside of the church make a mockery out of everything that we believe in).

One would hope that a spiritual leader would not allow him or herself to be put on a pedestal, but unfortunately, some folks thrive off of the attention and popularity that standing in the pulpit can bring. How many other places can the average person go and stand before a captive audience on a weekly basis? Why do you think so many new ministries are always springing up? Believe me, not all of those folks have heard from God. This is why it is so important for Christians to make sure that their faith is in God and not in His representatives, who are not infallible.

As believers, we are required to withhold judgement and offer forgiveness, but it doesn't mean that we have to blindly follow people who do not uphold the standards that they profess to live by. We cannot continue to deify charismatic ministers and treat them like untouchable beings, while they live like celebrities and roll with huge entourages everywhere that they go. (I thought Jesus Christ was the only Superstar!)  We cannot keep bankrolling custom-made suits, luxury cars, private planes and eternal 'building funds,' while the people within the community are hungry, homeless, out of work, dropping out of school, dealing with substance abuse, killing themselves (and each other) or dying of AIDS. We cannot keep sweeping allegations of pastoral sexual, physical, or emotional abuse under the rug and forcing the victims of such abuse back out into the streets to figure things out for themselves. We cannot keep seeking a 'Word' from the pastor, in lieu of hearing the voice of God.

Lord Acton is noted for stating that, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” which can ring true even within the Body of Christ when the people lose sight of the One who is truly in charge. Let us not become like the followers of the infamous Jim Jones and commit spiritual suicide by drinking the tainted Kool-Aid of power hungry men and women, but let us quench our spiritual thirsts by being filled with the Living Water which comes from Christ and leads to everlasting life.


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