A week ago Bishop Eddie Long splashed through the media again after having been “crowned king” by a guest speaker at one of his worship services. One of my friends forwarded the video to me. I ached watching it. I mentioned it to my wife. I considered telling my friend that he wasn’t really a friend for sending me such foolishness. I told Dawn in person and my friends over email that I didn’t know what to say. That was my initial reaction. I really didn’t know what to say. I knew other people would soon be commenting on the fiasco. But after watching 14 minutes of drama, 14 minutes of what I hoped would be entertainment, I was stunned. The video was an example, on many levels, of leadership gone wrong.
From the way a guest speaker came in, while Bishop Long continues to deal with a list of problems, to the inconsistencies between the presentation (i.e, the spectacle) and the Jewish (and Christian) community out of which the speaker suggested himself. It left me shaking my head for days when I learned of it. So many bad things to be said about this. None of which have to do with whether and how Bishop Long and/or New Birth impacts or contributes to its community. All of which are theological and ethical and psychological for me, though I won’t deal with the psychological issues.
This kind of service has no place in the church, be it the black church (however one defines it) or in any Christian local church. If you watch the original video, which, if you haven’t seen it, I refuse to link to it, there is a confused mixture of music and language that, at least, borders on blasphemy. Perhaps my paper pieces don’t qualify me to suggest that the whole show actually is blasphemy. At least we see the line being approached.
The scene is one of the reasons why I write and teach and preach–to speak out against messes like this. I think there is a role for theologically careful communication to correct the sad spectacles like the one we saw at New Birth the other week. Now, I’ve felt something like this in the past, when I served and worshipped in a black church. But those feelings were nowhere near the fright I feel after thinking about the Ralph Messner/Eddie Long show.
I’ve always been a good critic, sitting a bit off to the side and able to point to inconsistencies between the message and the practice of Christianity. And in some ways, my days and nights serving at my previous church has aided me in becoming a student and practicioner of faith. But with all my questions and concerns about how we did church at Sweet Holy Spirit, I never actually raised the idolatry question. I never conceived of my pastor, who continues to be one of my mentors, as a person who truly sees himself in such magisterial light. I couldn’t believe Bishop Long went through, sat through, participated in the little ritual where he was draped in a the most sacred document in Judaism, which is also 3/4 of the Christian Scriptures.
The idea that Bishop Long, and the leaders of New Birth, would invite a guest to speak a message that they don’t know ahead of time is concerning. Despite the pastor’s apology in which his says what he intent wasn’t, I’m a little ticked that he did what the guest asked. I’m concerned that he, for all the authority he still possesses as a pastor, didn’t lean in next to the guest and whisper that he needed to chill or change direction or check himself or sit his backside down.
The ethical posture of the pastor is to take authority and use it well. We steward the trust of our congregants, and in our respect for the people we serve, we tell people when they are wrong. We don’t wait for the service to end. We don’t write letters when someone else has informed us of our mistakes. Well, technically we do and that’s good too. But more importantly, pastors and church leaders attend to our souls and to the intellectual roots of our faith in a way that makes us sensitive to these public displays of dishonor. We see things going wrong and we stop them. We don’t watch the train crash without attempting to stop it.
Perhaps a quote from Peter Manseau at RD communicates the spirit of my post.
The coronation of a controversial megachurch minister as a Davidic king by a man who claims “dual citizenship with Israel” as sufficient authority to speak “on behalf of the Jewish people” is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable displays of pluralism gone awry in recent memory.
I’m praying these days that the terrible theater we see going viral on the internet with Bishop Long being hoisted on a chair while a thousand people go wild will turn into a dialogue that is purposeful and meaningful. I’m hoping that it will cause Bible teachers, clergy, and students of faith to talk and listen and do differently. I’m hoping that horrific shows like that service won’t hamper my efforts as a congregational leader to win the trust of some soul whose faith is fledgling. And I’m hoping that for other pastors too.