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Predators in the pulpit



Folks have been asking me to write about Anthony and Harriet Jinwright — the pastors of Greater Salem Church who were convicted of tax evasion and recently sentenced to hard time in prison (eight years and nine months for Anthony and six years and eight months for Harriet) — and I really haven't wanted to because I do not understand how good, hardworking people can hand over their money to criminals.

Don't get me wrong; I don't believe that all pastors involved in the church are criminals. I just believe that there is a proliferation of "spiritual" leaders with predatory tendencies — who are in the business of getting rich, not saving souls.

You only need to read the headlines to know the stories to which I'm referring. Bishop Eddie Long, for example, who helms churches in Atlanta and Charlotte, is accused of engaging in homosexual affairs with young men. After being hit with multiple lawsuits, Long — who vowed to be vindicated in the court of Jesus and the court of law — turned to mediation, which is kept completely private. So all of his talk about clearing his name in front of his church and the media was just talk. The level of duplicity with which this man operates is disgusting ... yet, and still, people defend him to the end.

And it's not just the brothers. Jim Bakker anyone? Daystar founder and pastor Marcus Lamb recently copped to an extramarital office affair after being blackmailed. He subsequently has been hit with a lawsuit from an employee who said he created a "perverted" work environment after promising her that it was a Christian-based work environment. Therein lies the problem. People are in the business of worshipping people instead of God.

Religion is one of the only "professions" where you can be "called" to work, meaning that you don't have to have any education or professional preparation to lead a church in some denominations. You may recall an episode of Family Guy when the lead character Peter Griffin created the Church of the Fonz (yes, from Happy Days fame); it was blasphemous and hilarious at the same time. As I watched the episode, I got what the creators were saying: People will follow anyone. When there are no credentials required, the door is wide open for predatory behavior. Just look at the mortgage scandals. Many of the mortgage "brokers" had no real training but were looking for a quick buck, even if it meant lying and manipulating data to get someone in a house he could not afford.

It's similar with the church but worse in my mind because folks like Long and Lamb, with their made-up titles, use the church and God as backdrops for their behavior. And still, people will defend them, just like those who showed up at the courthouse in support of the Jinwrights, who admittedly helped people with the money they stole.

I get it. You don't just toss the baby out with the bath water. But if we don't have higher standards for those who profess to serve the Lord and are really serving themselves at the expense of the congregation, as is the case with Greater Salem, then why wouldn't we continue having predators in the pulpit?

U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney, who sentenced the Jinwrights, said it best after acknowledging what they had done for the community — it's easy to give away other people's money.

A lot of the thievery is transparent and a common sense approach might help to eliminate it. If your pastor is dressed like a pimp, he very well may be a pimp. If your pastor is pushing whips that only true millionaires can afford, while you and/or your church is facing foreclosure or bankruptcy, you might have a problem. If your pastor is sending photos of himself in muscle shirts to 15-year-old boys, you might have a pedophile. If you've been contributing to a building fund for years with no new additions, renovations or — get this — a building, while your pastor is building a home large enough to house the congregation, you may have a problem.

No, I don't think that pastors should live an impoverished life; they deserve to lead a decent lifestyle, just like any employed person who works hard. But until people start holding church leaders responsible, there will continue to be Longs, Lambs and Jinwrights.

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