I have heard Bishop Eddie Long preach. I don't remember the message. But the message he lives is loud and clear. I have never heard Reverend Henry Lyons preach but I know his message from the life he lived. Lyons was the President of the National Baptist Convention in 1996, when the facts of his womanizing and taking of the money from his congregation for personal wealth came out. The lifestyle of promoting personal prosperity at all costs symbolized his message more than the message of the biblical love, service, and justice. In the case of Bishop Long it was the wealth and the hypocrisy of his attitude toward homosexuality and his own sexual proclivities that serve as his message.
Whether you are looking at ministers with national or local notoriety and you see money and greed or sex as their primary message, you are looking at an explosion waiting to happen. As my old law school Dean used to say, "When the contest is between love and greed, greed usually wins." He's now gone but the message lives on.
If you ask people about a pastor, and in describing him they mention money before they mention their love for the people or their pastor's heart, you have a problem. Preachers should be teaching about love but their message of personal prosperity often takes the center stage in the message they live. That is the one to watch out for.
I got a call from a friend this week and the message was about Eddie Long. The message of his life will serve as another reason young Black men don't go to church and who the church is not going after. Jawanza Kunjufu writes in his book. Adam Where Are You whose subtitle is Why most Black Men Don't Go to Church, is a story about a preacher raising the question about where are the Black men? As the preacher drove toward the church the following day and he saw young Black men standing on the corner, at the liquor stores, the tire shop, or sitting around. He wondered if God was answering his question.
Once you discover where the men are, Kunjufu looks at the churches to determine why they aren't in church and says there are three categories of churches. The three are entertainment, containment and liberation. The entertainment churches there is a lot of singing and whooping but little teaching and working. He says, "It is a church that makes you feel good for the moment but does not address societal issues." Kunjufu defines containment churches as those that are open only from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm on Sunday and closed the remainder of the week. Liberation Churches are defined as churches who follow the scripture of Luke 4:18 which says. "Preach the Gospel to the poor and heal the brokenhearted." This is based on the scripture in Isaiah 58 that tells us to feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. The liberation church was the church of Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Gabriel Prosser, Richard Allen, Ida B. Wells and Marchs Garvey.
When I was young the church was the center of our lives. We learned how to live according to the Ten Commandments, to respect our elders and how to speak from The Christmas and Easter plays and speeches we had to give. We learned that we could be leaders by the examples of the lives of the elders in the church. Today the church is no longer the center of our lives, our youth are lost, and nobody is attacking it. We have paid preachers and leaders for the choir but not for the youth department. Where the money goes tells us where the priority is... the preacher and entertainment.
Liberation Churches are problem solving churches. If there was a drug house near the church the men of the church could and would find a way to attack it and destroy it.
Kunjufu says that where there is a liberation church men are more likely to be there. If it is more entertainment, it's likely to have more women.
It grieves me to see the Eddie Long story because it will be played up more than the stories of a million small churches trying to do God's work with few assets. At the same time there are thousands of ministers who would be pastors of mega churches at all costs. They would flunk the love versus greed test. Their failure to concentrate on liberation is the reason the Black church has lost its way in carrying out the mission of liberation of Black folks everywhere. The old African saying is that it takes a village, but what do you do when there is a "Crisis In The Village"?