O, Lord, Trouble So Hard

If I've seen a motif in the numerous interviews I've done for the Sherman Allen story, it is human wreckage. A trail of broken marriages. Shattered parental bonds. Severe emotional distress; even claims that folks have gone crazy. And, most of all among the people who've tangled with Allen in some way, extreme disillusionment with the church, with church leaders and even with God.

Now let me say this before I turn a corner. I see no biblical justification whatsoever for a believer to remain under the leadership of a sexually immoral pastor. I see instead much evidence that one should never do so. See here, here and here.

I don't care if your grandma's nameplate is on the front pew; if the leaders are involved in sexual mess and you've seen evidence -- "every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses" -- you ought to wait for the shouting music, then grab a corner of your long dress, slap your feathered hat on your head and jerk on out the emergency exit. Leave your frilly hanky behind; do like Joseph, Sister. Remember, sin is contagious: A little leaven will work its way through the whole loaf. You might not end up doing any of those bad things yourself, but your expectations -- your trust in God, his Word and his servants -- will take a severe beating. You may or may not recover.

To all those folks I've talked to, allow me to say this: Don't give up on God. His Word is still true, and, as my spiritual leaders always remind me, there still are people trying to live a godly life, and some of them are actually pastors and preachers.

We get tripped up by our celebrity worship, by the neo-Pentecostal expectation that everything in our lives will always lead to bigger, better, more prosperous, more "anointed," more famous. Oddly enough, it didn't work that way for Paul or any of the apostles, most of whom died as martyrs, according to church tradition.

Paul journeyed on to Rome, knowing full well that his ministry would end in humiliation and chains. Nothing in this world -- no position, no possession -- turned his head anymore, so he died simply with the satisfaction that he'd run his course well.

In Sherman Allen's church, Shiloh Institutional Church of God in Christ in Fort Worth, men and women hung on Allen like he was a rap star, hoping to scoop up a bit of his vaunted "anointing." Now please find me one individual in the church for whom that worked out well. I really would like to talk to that person, and I'm not trying to be funny.

Now I'm gonna sidle around that corner. I wouldn't stay long enough to leave a warm spot on the pew in a crazy church. But I'll be the first to tell you that my long association with one church and one group of leaders has made a tremendous positive difference in my life in the last 17 years, so much so that I can't imagine where I'd be now, or what emotional or marital state I'd be in, if my family hadn't remained there through thick and thin.

And it has not been easy. First, there's the ethnic thing -- being the only white family in a black church. I was brought up in a Midwestern town that, far as I know, had no black people. I guess I've gained a small window of understanding concerning what it's like to be immersed in someone else's culture. Let's just say I learned a lot of things the hard way. I groan inwardly to think of some of the ignorant things I said, some of the situations I misinterpreted, and some of things that were misunderstood about me. Maybe I'll just up and write a post some day titled "Stupid Things White People Say."

Fortunately I had sisters and brothers in the church who looked out for me. "To some people," one brother told me, "you're just a walking dollar sign." He and others would intercept some of the people who came my way hoping to play a game on the naïve white girl, whose husband -- and this is pathetic -- was often mistaken for the pastor simply because he was white.

Oh, America, America, God shed his grace on thee … because you sure as heck needed it.

But beyond the racial thing, and occasionally encountering someone on the streets of South Dallas who looked at me like I'd just stepped out of a glowing cigar-shaped flying object, I can say that my husband and I have had every fiber of our being tested, tried by fire and occasionally found wanting in this little church.

There was the time the First Lady -- the pastor's wife -- basically told me my kid was a brat. Now she was more discreet than that; I think her words went something like this: "Your ministry is affected by how your son behaves." My son was 2, an age when a lot of kids -- especially white kids -- are bratty. Sorry about the broad generalizations here; if your 2-year-old is perfect and poised, don't sweat it, all right? But none of us likes to be corrected concerning our children. Well, it was true. Our son needed to be taken in hand. We swallowed our pride, stopped sputtering about cultural differences concerning child-raising, considered our own fault in the matter, made adjustments of our choosing and moved on. Maybe, just maybe, God intended precisely for our son to be raised in a strict African-American church because his destiny in Jesus Christ depended upon it.

I am proud to say -- please indulge Mama's bragging for just a second -- that my son scored perfect marks both behaviorally and academically in school this last year. Is he perfect? Of course not. But neither are his parents.

Then there was the time a few years ago when my husband and I were having some issues. I say this only with respect and affection: My pastor's wife rode my husband's back until we got things resolved. There were times when I thought she was harsh and even unfair, but she saw what I didn't see: that if the problems weren't exposed and dealt with, our family could be destroyed. My pastor hounded me too, just a little more gently. Hey, this is what true spiritual leaders do: They love you enough to correct you, and they're patient while you get your act together. Then they love you some more.

Oh, let me add another thing. Leaders who are immersed in sin themselves usually will be loath to correct you lest the light be shined on their own activities. Unless their conscience is so seared that…hey, read some of the other columns I've written, like this one and this one.

Need another example? I was tormented by an evil spirit recently. Yeah, go ahead and make fun of me; I know it’s important for some of y’all to feel intellectually superior. Anyone who's in a ministry that confronts sin can relate to what I'm saying. Anyway, I spoke with my husband, who gave me sound advice. Then I spoke to the First Lady, who gave further counsel and sent the thing scurrying away. She never thought ill of me or speculated whether I'd fallen into some grievous sin; see, she's observed me for 17 years and seen me at my best and worst. She knows my character through and through. She knew how to act and what to say.

These days it's hard to get someone to stay in a church. Sticking around in a church for the long haul, even with leaders of integrity, involves getting your toes stepped on so many times you’ll find yourself hobbling around on bloody nubs. How you handle the offenses and slights makes 100 percent of the difference -- the Bible says fools spurn correction, but the wise receive it, and unforgiveness is never an option for a follower of Jesus Christ. We must forgive others if we want to be forgiven ourselves.

Evangelical churches are filled today with spiritual nomads who wander from place to place as they suffer offenses and allow them to fester into bitterness. Since many pastors covet members and the prestige that goes along with a big congregation, they never address the issues that follow these wanderers from pew to pew, leader to leader, and we're left with congregations of spiritual and emotional cripples. Or just plain religious folk, who'd rather wave a hankie and participate in a churchy masquerade than admit they lost touch with the presence and voice of God decades ago.

We've lost touch with the blessing that comes through sucking it up and staying in one place -- and being refined with fire in God's good time.

(Assuming, of course, that you were meant to be there in the first place.)

Pastor Fredrick L. Eddington Sr. and First Lady Diane Eddington, I salute you. Thank you for walking with integrity all these years. Thank you for staying on my back. Thank you for loving my family and me through deeds as well as words.

And thank you for not slapping me that first year when I described one sister's hair as "nappy."

I can hear it already: "Ooooooooooh."

Lord have mercy. I groan inside. --Julie Lyons

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