Living in an immoral church

What should the black church do to better protect children in its midst from a growing pack of wolves roaming the pulpits?

Is it doing enough? With so many frequent cases of heterosexual sexual abuse, homosexual sexual abuse, adultery, crime, divorce, and immorality among clergy, it’s no wonder that so many wolves and pimps can operate without the fear of discovery… or retribution.

The situations brought to light in the Catholic church have shown us a darker darkside than any of us previously could have believed. To our shock we discovered men in power, who were willing and capable of manipulating young boys to engage in sexual acts with them. These men were hidden in many key church positions.

Many African Americans realized that shocking incidents of clergy abuse were not just limited to the Catholic religion, but the same things were occurring in their own churches. Hundreds of black boys and their families had been victimized, terrorized and abandoned by bishops, pastors and other leaders who led double lives.

We are living in the last days, in a church so drunk with immorality and pride, that the defenseless are left to fend for themselves. Clearly, this is abuse of power, but how long will God delay his judgment until we take action to purge the wickedness among us?

This alarming frequency of abuse of power should signal to pastors and leaders in African American churches the need for a critical and urgent rethinking of how these situations are dealt with.The need is for them to set public standards detailing boundaries of child/mentor relationships. Each of the abuse cases in the Catholic church and others by certain black pastors have proven that the secrecy at which they were carried out was a significant factor in the depth of the destructive behavior.

As shepherds, we have to understand that ALL of the sheep need protection. Not just the ones who give large tithes and plentiful offerings. Not just the ones who hold important positions and speak swelling words of loyalty. The weak and the defenseless ones are very close to the heart of God. Those who are responsible for their safety but fail to watch for them will pay a heavy price when the judgment of God falls (Ezekiel 34:7-10).

What these terrible incidents seek to teach us is that too many watchmen (women) are asleep at the helm of the ship. How else could so many vicious wolves get in among the flock and destroy the young ones? The lack of awareness of impending danger is a direct result of the dereliction of the shepherd. David, prior to his battle with Goliath, recounted to his brothers, how he killed a lion and a bear. Why? Because they attacked the sheep under his care! Today, the lust for money blinds the shepherds (or more aptly put hirelings), some of whom are sellouts to the highest bidders. While they drool over large salaries, expanded membership, community positions and pastoral perks, wolves drag off boy after boy with little to no fear of discovery.

Major leaders should return to the Biblical injunction of public shame (Proverbs 27:5). Yes, endless litigation is now a part of church life, but that should not stop leaders from letting us know the wolf’s name and where he is. As we saw in the Catholic church, powerful Bishops shuffled those demons to new congregations and new responsibilities. But they kept on killing the souls of the innocent. Their insatiable evil desires crave fresh victims. But had the parents or community known the true nature of why he came, they could have fended for the boys. Why do we continue to ignore such critical messages from God?

I believe the very first thing that should happen is public and official acknowledgement of the crime, alleged or real. Abusive and criminal relationships in the ranks of the leaders should be met swiftly with zero tolerance. However; this can only happen if black church leadership rids itself of it’s obsession with “image control.” Protective measures will never get priority given the selfish self preservative attitude of the men now in control of some church organizations. Scandals could hurt the turnout at their next super-conference. Or it could slow the cash flow into their pockets. Or possibly they themselves may be accused of complicity.

I don’t advocate witch hunts. There’s no need for overzealous accusations because of feuds and the likes. But, don’t the children —these boys— deserve the benefit of protection? Growing up, I heard the old saints say “save a child, you save a life, plus a soul.” But now, in this Laodicean-saturated church age, children are offered up to “molech” with little to no protest. Because reports of sexual immorality of all kinds come with such frequency, we seem to have lost our compass for being truly outraged and intolerant of such behavior. And as it stands, the young are the ones who suffer the brunt of the church’s isolationist attitude.

If black church leaders want to know why there is a need to publicly define boundaries in these defective mentor/mentoree relationships, we should simply point to what has already happened. What other proof is required? Unless they can prove that all the wolves have been identified and apprehended, then they should be held to a moral obligation to safeguard the flock.

The community of faith must understand (1) the seriousness of this matter, (2) the obligation to protect the weak and defenseless among us and (3) the need for a clear plan to deal with those who violate the sanctity of a child’s sexual nature.

Surely no person serving Christ can believe for one moment that any child can enter into a sexual relationship with an adult by his own volition. Or with full consent. Denial of the existence of the abusive relationships perpetrated by clergy will only serve to provide additional cover and concealment for those committing the crimes.

When the signs (secrecy, defensiveness,lack of concern for other’s perceptions, sudden, inexplicable change in behavior of the child,etc) begin to show up in these dysfunctional relationships, it should at the least merit questioning of motives and a “no-fault” clarification of boundaries. This helps to break the confidence of the predator. At all costs we should avoid the appearance of evil, especially if a child’s mental, physical and spiritual well being is at stake.

The local church council (or national governing bodies of denominations) should meet at it’s earliest opportunity to discuss and lay down the law. The rules of engagement should be forthright and in accordance with the law. Molesting wolves should not be given sanctuary behind “touch not mine anointed” and “bring not an accusation against an elder.” Men who cloak themselves in such a defense are only buying time until the next child is victimized. We cannot believe that satan’s representatives —appearing as angels of light— actually intend to live by the right principles of the scripture. All too often such people prey on and manipulate the forgiving attitude of the black church and the lack of dealing with sexual malfeasance directly. Waiting until a terrible situation occurs is like waiting until you die to buy life insurance. Proactive, preventive teaching and exposure work much more effectively than knee-jerk reaction.

What is preventing true righteous anger from pushing leaders to do what is right stems from the kidgloved approach to handling sexual molesters in the preachers ranks. Tightly sealed church cases and even tighter sealed lips present a false picture of all being well.

In 1991, through his lawyer, Bishop J.D. Husband, a charter member of the Church of God in Christ’s General Board, admitted guilt to “all charges” levied against him. But multitudes of people are still baffled about what Husband did. Other than rumors, the evidence against him was kept secretive and not even reported to legal authorities. Documents that have been obtained by some plaintiffs in the church case against him show that he was all but promised the church would take care of his basic needs in addition to any “psychological” help he might need. The victims have yet to even receive an official apology from the nation’s largest black Pentecostal denomination.

What about children who are active in ministry?

Let’s be real. Almost every black parent I know who is involved in church want their child(ren) just as involved. The junior choir, junior usher board, teen shut-ins, children’s church, etc are all potential problem spots and potential breeding grounds for predators. Some people in the church push their children into areas of dealing with adults they may not be ready for. That’s why it is wise to define who is considered a child. It should not be on a sliding scale. A child who is active in ministry can only be as active as their understanding allows them to be. A predator’s greatest desire is for a parent or protective figure in the child’s life to relinquish more and more control of the child.

That’s not to say that parents should keep their boys on a leash, but when the problem —and the solutions— are openly discussed, predators will think twice before attempting to ply their evil craft. Its just the same as a thief in the neighborhood. Will he be more likely to enter into a home where there is least resistance or where there is a very defined security presence?

What about helping the perpetrators?
It’s interesting how a pendulum can swing it’s deadly blade from side to side. Getting spiritual help for the perpetrators of sexual crimes against boys is on the opposite side of the church’s kid glove approach to dealing with the issue. The methods employed by the church seem not to be holistic in terms of restorative correction. Of course, that depends on whether the guilty is truly repentant or simply attempting to slide out of the punishment noose.

The Rev. Troy Brown, the former pastor of Atlanta’s Greater Anointing Tabernacle, was convicted in May 2002 of sexually molesting a 15 year old boy. When the news first broke via Atlanta’s TV news, Brown quickly denounced all efforts to get to the truth. He aggressively claimed he did not know why these “lies” were being concocted against him. Well, leave it up to reporters to trace Brown’s background out and discover that he had fled Buffalo, New York in 1997 after a two charges were brought against him there. He had a history of sexual offenses involving boys.

Some contend that the thirty year old pastor was offered help to overcome his sexual problems, but he refused or was non responsive to the offers. In cases such as Brown’s when a member of clergy refuses help, he places himself at the full judgment of the secular law. Brown was handed a”>70 years without parole, even though the prosecution only asked for 40.

The question must be asked then, what type of “help” is being offered? Is it just to confess the sin and be absolved of it by a superior who is watching out for his own reputation? To what extent does the restorative correction go? Is the church willing to release the criminal to the law or to settle it as a church matter? Again, we point to the majority of the cases in the Catholic church where the victims were treated as the criminals and the real criminals were coddled and incubated by those in authority.

Real help is not kicking someone out of the church and ripping up their credentials. There are too many organizations that will simply issue them new credentials. Real help is not denying them preaching duties for six months. Those are good measures, but fall far short of redemptive correction. Help should be a comprehensive package dealing with the individual’s innermost issues of the heart. It should be long term and mandatory. Officials serious about curtailing the problem should be prepared with a list of competent resources that will support their efforts to restore the truly repentant heart of a wrongdoer (Galatians 6:1).

It has been almost a year since the disgusting stories of priest abuse came to public light. One would think that concerned church leaders would by now have gathered their flocks together and reassured them that specific policies and procedures were in place to deal with such situations. AND that all members could expect full cooperation from leaders in addressing serious sexual allegations.But the chambers of the bishops are still silent. You can just believe that somewhere because of their silence, another young boy is being smiled at a little too long. Another young boy is cautiously being touched by some male predator who is testing the waters.

Dear Bishop, are our children safe under your watch?

Article originally published 12.29.03