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The Rev. James Ellis III The Rev. James Ellis, III

The Rev. James Ellis III is Chaplain of Discipleship at Hope College in Holland, MI.

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Hope College, Holland, MI

Just Say “No”: When Preachers and Pimps Have Too Much In Common

October 04, 2010

The innovative social gospel architect Walter Rauschenbusch explained in his seminal work, A Theology of the Social Gospel: "It is possible to hold the orthodox doctrine on the devil and not recognize him when we meet him in a real estate office or at the stock exchange."[1] Still, it must be noted that false prophets and devilish opportunists can also be located where they should least reside-in church behind the pulpit leading congregants astray.

The saga that has developed recently involving allegations[2] that Bishop Eddie Long, who leads the 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, GA, engaged in fiduciary, ethical, and sexual malfeasance is upsetting, but not surprising.

Many preachers before him and many more after him, too, will become purveyors of what noted Princeton philosopher Cornel West described as "Constantinian Christianity."[3] Preachers like "Father" (M.J.) Divine[4], Charles "Sweet Daddy" Grace[5], T.D. Jakes, Jamal Harrison Bryant, Creflo Dollar, Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Frederick K.C. Price, Jimmy Swaggert, Joel Osteen, Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter ("Rev. Ike"), Earl Paulk fit the bill, but the list goes on and on.

This prosperity gospel presents God as a celestial lottery machine. When prayers and seeds sown by supposed faith go up, providential manna from heaven in the form of material riches and success must come down; thus, diabolically altering the gospel message of Jesus Christ from liberation to exploitation, selflessness to selfishness.[6]

As much as Long's troubles seem to point to sexual deviance and hypocrisy, at the very least, it is even more about power and manipulation. We know from Lord Acton (1887) that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Preachers who claim that Jesus was rich[7] and, in so many words, they are divinely ordained to be made rich by your sacrificial contributions to their so-called ministry, are predators. Thus, it seems to me that when preachers and pimps have too much in common those earnestly seeking to know the Lord suffer.

Whether through fictional, cinematic depictions like The Mack (1973) and Hustle & Flow (2005), or real-life representatives that destroy our communities, when clerical (pastoral) theology aligns more with that of Iceberg Slim-whose autobiographical how-to manual Pimp: The Story of My Life became a cult classic-than the Bible, the skin of believers everywhere should crawl.

In short, pimps are known to be loud-mouthed, slick-talking, controlling shysters who never answer questions directly, are incessantly "on their hustle," and hell-bent on seeing and being seen with the best that money can buy. They earn their living off of the backs of others with little thought to the pain that they cause. Expensive, tight-fitting suits, and otherwise opulent living combined with statements like, "I feel like David against Goliath. But, I got five rocks and I haven't thrown one yet." make preachers look like pimps, albeit of the religious variety, buffoons on the warpath for recognition in a fallen world.

Whether Long's reputation proves incorrigible or not will be revealed in due time (in spite of his guilt or innocence), but I don't think that it was that great to begin with. Preachers who walk, talk, and live like pimps have merely become "sounding brass or a clanging cymbal."[8]

Too long we, Christians, have promoted a celebrity culture in church. Mega-churches, storefront churches, downtown churches with Gothic architecture and huge endowments-the addiction to "methadone for the soul"[9] can be found everywhere. There must be a coup d'état, of sorts, against this popular phenomenon wherein followers of Christ lovingly yet boldly reject contentions that charismatic leadership devoid of godly character and scriptural integrity can somehow still please God.[10]

Preachers are to represent that which is absolutely antithetical to a pimp's exploitative, power-hungry ways. By all means, say "No" to drugs, but do likewise to false prophets.[11]

[1] Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology of the Social Gospel (New York: Macmillan, 1917), 35.
[3] Paula L. McGee, "Pastor of CEO?: The New Black Church Leaders," The National Baptist Voice (Summer 2006), 64. See also Stephanie Y. Mitchem, Name It and Claim It?: Prosperity Preaching in the Black Church (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim, 2007).
[4] See Jill Watts, God, Harlem U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story (Berkley, CA: University of California, 1995).
[5] See Marie Dallam, Daddy Grace: A Celebrity Preacher and His House of Prayer (New York: New York University, 2009).
[7] John Blake, "Was Jesus Rich?", Atlanta Journal Constitution (October 22, 2006).
[8] 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.
[9] Deena Weinstein, Michael Weinstein, "Celebrity Worship as Weak Religion," Word & Word 23, No. 3 (Summer 2003): 301.
[10] 1 John 2:16.
[11] 2 Peter 2.

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