For the past few weeks, I have observed, from a front seat position, the dangerous and relentless attempt by a Bible-quoting Christian leader to control the minds of church members. I watched curiously as this leader employed the use of guilt and degradation as the main weapons to control human life in that church. It was interesting to note that he openly defined himself as a true believer, and as such, in my opinion, he is fully convinced that when he makes any decision within the church, he is acting in the defense of or on the instructions of God. However, this kind of authoritarian, religious operation never last forever, because once a dictator begins to lose legitimacy, it is like Humpty Dumpty: “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
As I listen to the account of some who have ended up on the receiving end of his overly righteous, Pharisaic and autocratic behavior, I have come to the conclusion that education has done an injustice to him and he requires a perpetual victim. From his actions, it is obvious that he spends his time, trying, through whatever means available, to win the upper hand against fellow humans. The aim, therefore, is to defeat his foes and to prove himself, superior to the rest of us. This kind of attitude may serve the need for him to survive, but it will never serve the need for him to be whole or to be fully human. If he can not escape these troubling aspects of his frightened humanity and move beyond the limits of fear that cause him to build himself up by tearing someone else down, he can never be fully human. That, I believe is the message of our Lord and Saviour Jesus the Christ.
As a Christian, it is my conviction that the essence of the Christian gospel can be summed up in the words of Jesus to his disciples in John: 10:10 “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” If abundant life is the ultimate value to which Christianity is dedicated, as I believe it is, then we must judge all expressions of Christianity by this leader according to the standard of their ability to enhance life, in line with spreading the “good news” of the gospel and the love of God.
I often wonder what is there about the Christian religion itself that both encourages and produces anger and prejudice inside those who claim to be disciples of Jesus the Christ? Unfortunately, it is not just the perceived sinners like me(whose greatest sin is not attending the same church with my wife)who have felt the sting of his religious anger. The fact is that this anger has also been turned inward on believers especially those who disagreed with some of his positions. Can anger that has been turned inward ever be a source of life? Are human beings ever helped by being told how hopeless, wretched and evil they are? Does that ever make us whole? Does it ever make us more loving?
The questions that confront me when trying to analyze this person are: Why this bible-quoting man demands such tightly ramified control over the life of everyone in the church? Why does he have to be the chief matchmaker, chief wedding Planner, and chief attendance keeper of the church attendance record? Who actually appointed him as an assistant God with the power to judge the authenticity of everyone else’s Christianity?
Even more remarkable is the control and influence he maintains over the rest of the eldership. From my understanding, these men are supposed to be intelligent, but for some reason, not quite known to me, they behave more like they belong to the same community as Dostoevsky’s village idiot. They seem to be unable to think for themselves and always demonstrate their blind loyalty of being on the same page with the leader whether he is right or wrong. There can never be any dissenting voice within this group because of the inherent fear of his wrath. The opposite, though, is true because it is clear that this leader’s actions are not consistent with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and this is why these elders should be rebelling. They need to become more knowledgeable on who Jesus the Christ was and follow him. Clearly, this person has no morality to teach anyone of us so he can scarcely guide our conscience. He is a poor example of a Christian leader and he should not be followed.
I recalled hearing this Christian leader, who is a man of African descent just as I am, boasting, “we follow the Southern Baptist Tradition.” As I sat and listened to that particular statement coming from his sermon that day, apart from being in a sudden state of shock, I concluded very quickly, that history was not his strongest subject.
The Christianity of the Southern Baptist tradition that this leader embraces comes straight out of the region of the United States known as the Bible Belt. More people go to church in that region than in any other part of the country. The Bible is read and taught more thoroughly there, than in anywhere else in the USA. However, the same Bible-reading, church-attending Southern Baptist Christians defended the evil institution of slavery with all their might, and even quoted scripture to support its presence and practice.
They facilitated the suppression of African Americans in the South in the form of a legal system of segregation for almost one hundred years after the end of slavery. I remember seeing pictures of Police dogs and fire hoses turned on demonstrators throughout the South. It is well known that children in churches were bombed. Civil rights workers were kidnapped and executed. The states accounting for the most churchgoing Christians closed their public schools to prevent admitting African American children. Such was the anger that held this section of the USA as segregation was forced to die. My heart aches to know that in the year 2014 an Antiguan church leader is embracing the same Christianity of the Bible Belt region of the USA that justified and encouraged religious anger and prejudice against fellow human beings for years.
I remember the trial of Edgar Ray Killen, who was convicted in 2005 for murdering three civil rights workers in 1964 in Mississippi. It was interesting to note that he was identified not simply as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, but even more significantly, as a Christian preacher in the Baptist Church. Our Christian leader needs to ponder the above as he boasts about forming alliances with his Southern Baptist racist friends.
I close with a direct appeal to members of his congregation. It is a fact that change does not come easily in the realm of religious beliefs. Before one can move out of one’s religious comfort zone, more is required than simply stating that the old place of worship is no longer a viable position to occupy.
People do not move out of their religious security zones until something powerful forces them to do so. In fact, it must first be demonstrated that actual harm, physical or emotional, will occur if a move is not made. This has been the experience of my wife and daughter who no longer attend his church. When a church leader spends his time denigrating church members, when church elders spend their time defending the indefensible, and when a church spends its time abdicating its responsibility to seek new ways in which to proclaim its essential truth, then it is clearly time for either the death of that church or a bold new direction.
Finally, to the unassuming members of the congregation, who are accustomed to be fed a diet full of deceits, masterfully used by the leader to cover his indefensible actions, I would like you to remember there are more than one sides to a story and unlike the bible, this leader is not infallible. Beware, your time will come.