Pimpin’ in the Name of the Lawd

Posted by Melvin Bray on February 19th, 2006 filed in Useful Perhaps

I just found out today about Earl Paulk’s betrayal of all I hold dear. I was literally sick to my stomach when I heard. Paulk’s history of alleged molestation, sexual harassment and abuse at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit (Chapel Hill Harvester Church) dates back to the 1960’s. He has been bizarrely successful in minimizing the media exposure of his predatorial exploits. In 2004, in a profound act of courage, after 14 years of victimization Mona Brewer finally came forward to bring her abuser to justice.

I stand in solidarity with Mona Brewer, Cindy Hall and all the women, girls, their families and fellow congregants victimized by Paulk, his brother and all that conspired with them. I was glad when I heard Mona’s husband, Bobby, confronted Paulk and broke his nose. I wish I had such restraint.

What touches me deepest though, in this moment of reflection, is the realization that Paulk’s betrayal was almost inevitable. The pursuit of power corrupts. Institutionalized religion fans the flames of desire for power in a way that few other experiences can, particularly in a modern Christendom that patterns its organization after large global corporations. In a day and age when the bishop of a prominent Atlanta mega-church can say something to the effect, “I’m the head of a multi-million dollar global corporation, I refuse to die poor!” How long would a pastor caught up in the transactional pursuit of that kind of power accept the possibility (let alone reality) of going to bed without getting some?

So how do we mediate the corruptive influences of the absurd pursuit for power that tempts so many church leaders? I believe guilds of faith (churches) must require that their leadership put in place self-imposed mechanisms that undermine the accumulation of power. Not just a balance on power, I’m talking about an intentional divesture of it.

From what I understand, the founders of Ben & Jerry’s instituted a policy at the onset of their endeavors that said something like the top paid employee would never make more than seven times (?) what the least paid makes. Thus, if execs wanted to make more, everyone would have to come up as well. Whether my recollection is accurate or not, it gives an idea of what can be.

What if pastors were to refuse to move outside of their church’s immediate community? What if pastors refused to accept salary in excess of twice the median annual income of their congregation or community? What if pastors chose to commission the formation of new fellowships under new leadership once their congregation’s numbers topped a predetermined tipping point? What if pastors… did any- and everything they could to stay in full, intimate, accountable relationship with their congregants instead of seeking the authority and distance sought by their corporate executive counterparts?

Professional distance is a crock in a post-modern, post-colonial world of ministry. The desire for money, sex and influence will only surrender to immersion in and accountability to the very fellowship one has been called to lead. Otherwise a pastor’s corruption is only a matter of time and opportunity. I’m almost certain of it.

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