The Devil Is Sitting On Ready
By: Harold Michael Harvey, Contributing Writer
Let me hasten to say, I am a homo sapiens male engaged in a 29 year heterosexual marriage with a homo sapiens female. We were married in a church ceremony conducted by a male pastor from the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and a female pastor from the Unity Church. I'm not certain the ceremony was necessary as each of us had married the other in our heart perhaps three years before we took that noon day vow in the Fall of 1981.
I thought it best to clear the air before dashing headlong into a soliloquy on the allegations of sexual misconduct recently leveled at Bishop Eddie Long of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia and the universal church''s response to homosexuality in its midst. We start with this confession in part for two reasons.
First, other posts on this online magazine addressing this topic have been written by men, who as young boys have had unwanted homosexual contact from church and school elders.
This, thank God, has not been my experience. I came to the Christian experience on August 28, 1959. I was roughly two months shy of my eighth birthday. My Bishop was Peter Randolph Shy, the presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. He was perhaps the age I am today when we first met. He was ninety-six years of age in 1995 when he summoned me to his hospital bed and requested that I draw up a Last Will and Testament for him. His mind was clear as a bell. He recalled the first time he laid eyes on me at the Mount Zion Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in 1956, just prior to the governing body changing the name of the church. Somehow I remembered that day too. I knew I had shaken hands with an extraordinary man dressed in a black suit and white shirt. In a spiritual sense he never took his hands off me. He watched me grow up into adulthood and fought for me to become the first youth delegate to the Quadruple Conference of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, which was held in Memphis, Tennessee the Spring of 1970. He was a Bishop's Bishop, a preacher's preacher, a model for the laity as well as for others wishing to enter the ministry. He was a man like all other men who have walked the earth, save perhaps, One. Surely he had his faults, but, neither I nor the public were privy to them. We fought with him mostly over pastoral appointments. Always thinking we should have gotten someone other than the person he had assigned. The day before his transition he asked me to come back to see him again. Following work that day I drove over to the hospital, he was alone in his room. I stood over him praying until he open his eyes and greeted me. "Lawyer, where is your preacher," Bishop Shy queried me in a faint voice. I was somewhat taken aback by his query and stood speechless. He repeated himself, and then he met my silence with a beaconing finger. I moved closer. "Lawyer, you are your preacher, keep the faith and put God first in all that you do." His eyes drifted closed and I left the room with a pledge to return the next day. He slipped away before I could return.
Secondly, when I suggested caution in a seemingly uncontrollable rush to prejudge Bishop Long on a Face Book thread several days after news broke that four young men in his mentoring program had alleged sexual misconduct, a young man called me "an old fool." He further stated he "did not know how you lived so long thinking like you do. You can go to Hell with Eddie Long."
His barb harkened me back to the mid 1990s when I represented a Muslim merchant who was denied a city permit to bring Minister Louis Farrakhan to speak in a park in an east Atlanta neighborhood to students attending Freaknic. Talk about getting one's fifteen minutes of fame; for two solid weeks I was awakened each morning to the sound of my voice on WGST radio or the voice of a newscaster detailing what my day's activities would be in my efforts to secure a permit for Minister Farrakhan's visit. One morning my wife woke me up at 6am and asked what would I be doing that day; before I could tell her, a newscaster informed the public that I would be in a hearing appealing the denial of this permit. I was amazed at the number of people who questioned whether I was a Muslim and mocked me for agreeing with the views of Minister Farrakhan. By 1996 I had been on the Christian path for 37 years, perhaps far longer than many of my distracters had been in the earth. Yet had anyone cared to ask, no one would have been swayed by the commitment I made during Summer Revival 1959.
Such strong words to be leveled when only one side of the story is known. Yet this young man's thrust and much of what others posited on social networks throughout the country last week points out the depths of how far we have sunk as a Christian nation. Much, if not all of this rush to judgment came from the African American community. I've watched other ethnic groups the past two summers in political discourse act like anything but the Christians they portend to be. Yet I had thought the African American community was upholding the "Blood Stained Banner" of Christ.
However, other ethnic groups have watched in amazement as members of Bishop Long's community jumped on the side of his accusers, without waiting the five days it took for him to address the matter.
Who, after all, created this 48 hour rule in public relations to address bad publicity? Must matters of the Spirit adhere to mortal constraints? In the Christian Methodist Church on Communion Sunday you can hear the congregation sing: "He never said a mumbling word, He never said a mumbling word." This song depicts Christ's silence at the accusations hurled his way; points out when it comes to matters of the Spirit one should answer to the Spirit and not say one "mumbling" word to the flesh.
The Complaint alleges Bishop Long abused his "Spiritual Authority" in his relationship with these four men. One can only reasonably assume that a grant of Spiritual Authority comes from God. Man, as I understand the Christian Gospel, can not confer Spiritual Authority on the flesh. I would think this principal is true in all Spiritual thought. Thus Bishop Long must discuss this issue with his maker while he is yet in the flesh.
At the same time God has given humankind the authority to manifest rules for the orderly progression of society. This the State of Georgia has done, thus the rule of law requires a certain procedure for deciding what happens once a civil law suit has been filed.
A civil suit does not assign guilt or innocence to the parties. This fact seems to be lost on the horde calling for Bishop Long to abdicate the pulpit. A civil suit determines whether the defendant had a duty not to cause harm to another, whether there was a breach of that duty and whether there were damages as a result of the breach. The standard of proof in a civil suit is the preponderance of the evidence. This is a lesser standard than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard in a criminal case. A preponderance of the evidence is where, given the evidence, it is more likely than not the defendant violated the standard of care owed to the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs first have to prove that the Codal provision they sued under has jurisdiction over Spiritual Authority. Once getting over this bar, the plaintiffs must establish Bishop Long was negligent in the exercise of his Spiritual Authority. Then the plaintiffs must prove they were harmed as a result of some negligence on the part of Bishop Long.
On first blush it would appear the plaintiffs can easily prove damages. However a careful reading of the Complaints show they are silent on any mental health treatment any of the plaintiffs have incurred because of any mental trauma associated with the alleged sexual contact with Bishop Long.
Thus I was not surprised to see Bishop Long pledge to fight the plaintiffs in court, while at the same time making his personal confession to his Spiritual Authority.
While the Church is confused and in disarray over "he said/ he did the unthinkable to me", the Devil is in the vestibule sitting on ready.
What then can be said about the church universal's approach to homosexuality in the body of Christ? From what I have observed, homosexuals are tolerated in most churches, which is a far cry from acceptance. When I was a child most homosexuals were in, as they say the "closet." I was not aware that there were any homosexuals in my church as a teenager. Surely there must have been some who feared ostracism from the church and society if their secret became known.
Although not blessed with a good voice, as a young man I sought to sing in the church choir. When a gay member of the choir attempted to take me aside for special voice lessons, several women who knew what his proclivities were scorned him and told him in no uncertain terms that it was okay for him to engage in his lifestyle outside of the church, but he was not to attempt to recruit the men of the church. They then followed up with me and told me how embarrassed for me they had been and how proud of me that I did not embarrass him in any faction by pretending that his advances were not in fact advances. This is how many churches in the past treated the homosexual congregant. I didn't call him out. I pretended he was only interested in providing voice lessons. The attitude of the church can be summed up thusly: We know what you are. We don't care what you do outside the church. But we do not condone what you are.
Then I had a preacher who went on what we would call today a "homophobic rant". Several Sundays in a row he called not for the homosexual element to repent, but to leave the church. The assault was so strong I felt as uncomfortable for the object of his sermons as I had felt the night the male choir member made his advances. Ironically, the preacher's son, who at the time of the rants was perhaps the age I was when I joined the Church, later took a baseball bat to a man who made homosexual advances towards him. How much of that behavior was a product of the sermons he had heard as a small child, I have often wondered in the years since this happened.
I do not believe homosexuals can expect to find acceptance in the traditional Christian Church and will have to form their own congregations to be able to worship in peace and with the feeling of acceptance each congregant comes to expect to feel in the place they worship.
This all leads us back to Bishop Long's address to his 25,000 strong congregation at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. While others outside of the congregation urged him to step down, his flock said fight. There is more at stake in this issue than the reputation of one man. There is the mental health of four young men who have alleged Bishop Long has engaged in sexual conduct with them, there is the mental health of 25,000 people who have pledged their fidelity to Bishop Long, there are the outreach ministries of the church which are significant and then there is the prime interest: The body of Christ must be exalted. "We war not," the scriptures warn, "against powers and principalities, but against a dark Spirit."
Thus a civil complaint which sounds in the flesh gives new birth to the devil who is sitting on ready waiting for the doors of the church to open.
Harold Michael Harvey is the author of the novel PAPER PUZZLE. You can find out more information about him and his literary works at www.paperpuzzle.net.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed here are the thoughts and feelings of the author of the article and are not necessarily those of Shadow Play Entertainment or Conversations Magazine.