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Is the ‘Church’ obsolete? Scandals fuel questions

  • Written by Tony Jones

bishoplong-200Reports of a fight this past Sunday at New Salem Baptist Church between the wife and alleged mistress of New Salem’s pastor, Frank E. Ray, are circulating widely, landing in at least one Bible study session on Wednesday night.

The incident at New Salem unfolded the day after news surfaced that Atlanta-based mega church pastor Bishop Eddie Long would be taking an immediate sabbatical from the pulpit. Long’s sabbatical and his now estranged wife’s move for a divorce stem from highly publicized lawsuits accusing Long of sexually abusing young men under his guidance. After vociferously denying the charges, Long has settled out of court.

For some, the two church-related incidents, along with several other recent church-associated happenings, apparently is enough to wonder whether something is amiss with the so-called modern-day church.

At Bloomfield Full Gospel Baptist Church on Wednesday night, the scandals seeped into Bible class, where the pastor, the Rev. Ralph White, was leading a discussion about how such incidents affect those who desire – and need – to maintain a faith in their church, and in the idea of church as a whole.

“We’ve heard about it all, but I’m telling you it’s about more than just what this man has done. The man may have a problem, but it hurts us all as a church body because it hurts our brothers and sisters in that church. It is not our job and we cannot justify what people do, but we have to pray for them to overcome their problems,” said White in his lecture.

“It is not our job to wrestle against flesh and blood. Pray for Eddie Long. Pray for Frank Ray. New Salem is on the same street we are on and they are our family in Christ and they are in pain. Pray that they overcome it. The enemy is after them and men like them because of what they manifest in the body of the church.”

The New Tri-State Defender’s effort to contact Ray for comment had not borne fruit by press time Wednesday night. Among his most persistent critics is talk show host Thaddeus Matthews, apparently the first to give the incident at New Salem a media airing. It was another in Matthews’ highly reactive “Pimps In The Pulpit” series.

The New Salem story was just breaking on Channel 5 when the TSD caught up with Matthews on Wednesday evening.

Tri-State Defender: Why are you persecuting Rev. Ray?

Thaddeus Matthews: I’m not persecuting him. He had a fight in his church involving his wife and several other women. And it all comes from the facts in the police report. You have a physical fight in a church involving the pastor’s wife, that is a news story. It’s an indication of what goes on in that church….

Look, now Channel 5 is reporting it, and Channel 3 has done a piece on it. The mainstream news does this all the time, but they never credit me. I’m the one who broke the story and I should get the credit, but it doesn’t bother me. The people know it’s my story.

TSD: “The Pimp in the Pulpit” series has been highly popular, but is it fair to judge other men’s motives?

T. Matthews: My thing is why is there such a contrast in how some of these church pastors are living, the way their congregations are living, and the resources they are taking out of black our communities, with pennies out of black folks pockets....We have a million dollars being collected in these churches every Sunday morning, why isn’t it being applied in the black community on Monday mornings? And it’s getting worse. The only loans you can get from a bank are to build a church, and that money goes to white contractors.

TSD: You’ve often spoken on the air about yourself being a minister, but how do you justify your own contrast?  Especially with some of the raunchy sex shows?

T. Matthews: I have been preaching since I was 15, and have been a pastor, but I don’t do it anymore. But the difference is that I’m not hypocritical. I’m not trying to hide behind a façade. I say that I’m unrighteous. I say that I am an unfinished work, a building that God is still working on….

Maybe if you talked more about sex in your church, we wouldn’t be having so many kids being born out of wedlock. I’m just real and a lot of people don’t like it. And I’m going to keep on exposing these shyster preachers. What they’re doing is wrong….

TSD:  But are you giving enough credit to ministers who are actually trying to do a good job of leading their churches?

T. Matthews: (Laughs) If I’m not roasting you on the show, you must be doing something right! But I’m watching. And remember, I get my information straight from the people. Is the church obsolete? That’s the question. Can you get more from God at home than you are getting from these greedy pastors on Sunday morning? Wake up people, that’s all I’m saying….

Meanwhile, at Bloomfield Baptist’s Bible study, the Rev. White stressed that, “Our belief is based on the Christian principle that God sent his only son to save sinners, so we have to love the sinner. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but we must. And we have to pray for ourselves. None of us are perfect….Think about what you had to overcome with the help of the church.

“When these things happen, the church is where you find the strength to change,” said White. “That is what is damaged when people concentrate on the shortcomings of men, but God never fails. We may fail him, but he loves us!”

Then White made a discussion-broadening turn.

“We know about Frank Ray, we know about Eddie Long, but what about the sin we see on Wall Street? And in corporate America? We all know backstabbers who will use whatever cutthroat means they can to advance on a job. Wanting possessions and positions at all costs is just as bad as any of the things we hear about today, except when it involves our children,” he said.

“When we see the struggles of the world today, it is very easy to understand that Satan is in control of the world economic system. As Christians we must remember that it is OK with being rich, it is Ok to want a nice car, fine clothes and a big house. As long as you don’t let them have you.”


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