Religion of Monday, 4 October 2010
Source: Tawiah-Benjamin, Kwesi
God is good all the time. All the time God is good. State of the art microphones transmit the much-awaited voice of a charismatic Bishop to a usually expectant congregation. There is cacophonous instrumentation which sets the tempo for praise and worship. There isn’t much room for That Saith The Lord proclamations, because the man of God has a theological warrant that, indeed, warrants him to speak from his spirit. He is a personification of God in his church, and his church treats him as one. This is modern day evangelical Christianity. The churches have to grow and increase. Big Cathedrals must make that statement. This is what some people have termed Church corporations.
Bishop Eddie Long’s New Birth Baptist Church runs such a corporation. It has some 25,000 members. The Bishop owns a Bentley and lives in a million dollar mansion, and commands a healthy monthly salary. Some of them own personal jets. As heads of the corporations, they take business decisions and also engage in social responsibility, building hospitals and orphanages for the poor and opening schools for public education.
Is it wrong for a man of God to own a Bentley and live large? No. Is it wrong for him to flaunt his wealth before a hungry congregation, as boxers and music moguls do? You judge. On primetime TV, Archbishop Duncan Williams justified why it makes business sense to build a five star mansion for himself, which could also serve as a guest facility for his international visitors, instead of paying a five-star hotel for their accommodation. In keeping with the times, churches these days do not run like mice-infested synagogues.
Well, big corporations are often embroiled in scandals, aren’t they? So, churches, even church corporations, would also have their own scandals. Perhaps, the question shouldn’t be why these Men of God have double lives or three faces; we should examine the exigencies of the times, and ask whether it is about time we dealt with recurring issues of sexual abuses and financial corruption in a holistic, non ‘religious’ sense. This is because Eddie’s case will not be the last. Ted Haggard had his moment. Maybe, we should see how we can divorce the persons of the leaders from their corporations when such scandals happen, and explore avenues of their restitution and reintegration, as humans.
If Eddie Long is proven guilty by the courts for having coerced these young men into sexual liaisons, we have only succeeded in punishing his sinful person, deservingly. What about the Tartuffe in him? As betrayed as his congregants, and indeed, the greater body of Christ would be, let’s understand that we are endorsing the same religious hypocrisy that Moliere wrote about in Tartuffe: “It is the public scandal that constitutes offence, and to sin in secret is not to sin at all.” Who would have known a thing about Bishop Eddie Long if the boys had not gone forth with their accusations? Like all of us, whether as Christians, Muslims, and Hindus, or even as Agnostics and Atheists, we live the Ralph Waldo Emerson truism: “That which we call sin in others, is experiment for us.”
Surprisingly, Bishop Long was not categorical in denying the accusations. In his pulpit, he waxed religio-philosophical, that he is not a perfect man. That was only as good as saying that “it’s not out of bad mice or fleas you make demons, but out of bad archangels.”
Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin, Ottawa, Canada