by Dr. Boyce Watkins, BlackBlueDog.com
I once recall meeting a nice, pretty woman in Kansas City, a place where bible thumping is practically an Olympic sport. I could tell she was coming onto me, since she seemed like the kind of church-going woman who had a peculiar fetish with men like myself, Michael Eric Dyson and other guys who went to school. I went on a few dates with the woman, only to conclude that her lifestyle was a bit too wild for me, and found myself shocked at how she maintained the good, corporate Christian woman demeanor during the day, and lived an edgy and dangerous lifestyle when she wasn’t at church. The most ironic thing was that she told me that she could never date me seriously anyway, because I don’t go to church. There was no conversation about whether or not I am a decent man, it was all about following the habitual ritual. I found this both confusing and ironic.
There’s no telling what you’re going to find coming out of the black church these days. Literally, every single day, we hear stories like the one about the cheating pastor who is suing Sprint for letting his suspicious wife see his phone records, Creflo Dollar, who was arrested for allegedly assaulting his own daughter, and even stories like the one about the pastor’s wife who was having s*x with her foster son in the backseat of a car. There are hundreds of other stories out there.
Finally, there is Ms. Juanita Bynum. Juanita made news recently after admitting that there was once a time when she would sleep with pretty much anyone, no matter what gender they were. She also admitted during an interview to doing drugs and all kinds of other things to fill the void that existed in her life. Juanita made the revelations during an interview on V-103 in Atlanta, the city that has become known as both “The Black Mecca” and “Sodom and Gomorroh.”
“I’ve done it all. I did the drugs. I’ve been with men. I’ve been with women. It’s not a line. It’s my life,” Bynum said. “I took full responsibility in every area because every choice that I made, nobody put a gun to my head. These were my choices and I made these choices due to a lack of wisdom.”
“I’m not embarrassed about my conversions, and that’s why I’m not insecure about being around people who have issues and struggles,” Bynum said.
Part of me appreciates Pastor Bynum’s candor, admitting that she is as imperfect as anyone else and has made mistakes for which she is willing to take responsibility. But I find that it’s always easier to confess to your indiscretions when you get too old to do them anymore. Old men whose testosterone levels have declined have an easier time condemning young men for sleeping around. Older women like Juanita have also sewn their oats, so the things that she might want to do in her fifties are not the things she would have done in her twenties. Typically, after folks have gone around the world and back, they return to church, which is the only place they know that can give them comfort and forgiveness after their lives have fallen apart or they’ve ruined the lives of others.
With that being said, I quietly wonder exactly what it means to be a person of faith, and I wonder if there is truly any value given to the idea of serving God in a righteous life. Not to say that anyone’s perfect, but I wonder just how much I would have to do before someone deems me to be incapable of being a spiritual leader. From where I’m standing, it appears that I could rape 50 nuns, shoot 10 kids in a daycare, use $200,000 worth of cocaine and slap my mother and still have people waiting in the wings for me to give them any old explanation for my behavior. As long as I tell them that the behavior is in the past and quote a few biblical loopholes, then I’d be good to go. If I slip up again, I keep it to myself, and when I get caught, I cry in front of the church and swear that the devil made me do it. No problemo. As my drug-addicted Christian friend said to me after telling me that Jesus is the reason he doesn’t need to go to rehab, “I stopped using cocaine two days ago and the lord says that I will never use it again.”
No, I don’t want the thousands of pastors, deacons, bishops and congregation members reading this article to email me and tell me that they are praying for my allegedly misguided soul. I’ve talked to God and he says that my soul is just fine. Just because a person questions the foundation of religion, that doesn’t mean that they are somehow unable to see the real truth. It is a strong possibility that none of us knows the truth and that some of us have somehow been convinced that our perception of truth has more merit than everyone else’s; that’s the confidence that a bunch of documentation and millions of like-minded followers gives you in a debate. The first thing I learned when I became a scholar is how little I actually know. There is nothing more irritating than when both ignorance and arrogance are being spewed from the same person.
As the son of a pastor myself, I’ve been part of the black church most of my life. Also, I’ve observed the church as both an outsider and insider, with an intense love for my people. One of the things I really can’t figure out is where morality fits into the picture when it comes to black church participation. We appear every Sunday and are told stories about this amazing figure called Jesus Christ. Jesus gives us instructions on how to live our lives with purpose, mercy and compassion, yet many of us walk outside the church and do the exact opposite of what Jesus told us to do.
Then, after spending the week engaged in the kinds of debauchery that would make a demon blush, we come back to church, ask for forgiveness, cleansing our souls the same way a sweaty fat man takes a shower after a hard day at work. We then get a license to tell other people that we are better off than they are because we go to church and they don’t. At what point is there some degree of accountability that goes beyond simply admitting that we are not perfect and that we are all born in sin? Personally, I refuse to believe that we were put on this planet to hurt other people and to live lives that create volatility in the souls of other human beings. No amount of bible thumping or scripture recitation is going to save you from the consequences of living a wretched and despicable life.
When I refer to those who are living in ways that might be considered sad and shameful, I am not referring to Juanita Bynum. Instead, I visualize someone like Bishop Eddie Long, who spent years convincing young boys that he was a surrogate father figure, all so he could have s*x with them. I am referring to all of Bishop Long’s congregation members, who still see him as their spiritual leader in spite of all the evidence that he’s victimized young children. I think about all those poor souls who praised the “lawud” alongside R. Kelly at Whitney Houston’s funeral, knowing full well that this man may have given lifelong STDs to 12-year old girls. I am also referring to all of us who see Sunday church as a “get out of h**l free card” that alleviates us of the guilt we should rightly feel for the horrible things we’ve done to other people.
Finally, situations like Bynum’s bring attention to the dangers of hyper-religious thinking, where everything is a sin, everyone is a sinner, and anything resembling pleasure is automatically condemned. Because the bible tells us not to have s*x out of wedlock, we don’t talk to our kids about s*x because we are convinced that they would never do it. As a result, we find out that our sweet little baby girl has more men coming through her apartment than Grand Central Station. By condemning everything in her path, we not only increase the temptation of participation in certain activities, we guarantee that our kids are going to do everything wrong and irresponsibly (hence, the high rates s****l promiscuity and subsequent STDs in the black community, with the highly sanctified “Hotlanta” near the top of the pack).
I am reminded of a statement I heard from a highly religious girl who loved to have unprotected s*x with thugs and easily cleared 15 s*x partners a year. Her reason for engaging in this risky behavior that threatened her life? ”Thugs are just soooo forbidden and my daddy used to always tell us that s*x was evil and bad.” Maybe if this girl’s father had shared healthy conversations with her about her sexuality, she wouldn’t be auditioning to be the next Kim Kardashian.
The point is that discussions within the black church about HIV, homosexuality, sexuality in general and truly following the principles of Jesus in everyday life (helping the poor, standing up for what is right, etc) would help all of us and our kids. Some of us still believe that church is a place to scream, holler and pray and then go out and live a life of blatant hypocrisy. The honest reality is that most of us go to church primarily because we were raised in the church. Our grandmothers threatened to beat us if we didn’t show up. We became addicted to our faith before we ever learned what it truly means to connect to a higher power, and we believe certain things because they were told to us by someone else. Most of us didn’t get a chance to choose our faith, the people in our faith chose us.
Juanita Bynum is not the only woman in the black church who has a crazy story to tell. There are millions of other women who feel oppressed to the point of living one life behind closed doors and pretending to be something else in public. Keeping ourselves in a psychological prison is never healthy, and I doubt that God would want any of us to reject the person he designed us to be.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Financial Lovemaking 101: Merging Assets with Your Partner in Ways that Feel Good.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.