Since this seems to be a week for tearing down Christian icons, I have another fall from grace to report: Bishop Thomas Weeks, founder of the international Christian ministry Global Destiny, was released on bond last week after turning himself in to face charges of brutally beating his estranged wife Juanita Bynum – herself a nationally renowned Christian evangelist and best-selling gospel singer, and co-founder of that same ministry.
The police report of the incident states that, during a hostile confrontation in a hotel parking lot following a failed reconciliation, Weeks choked Bynum, pushed her to the ground, then started to kick her and stomp on her until he was physically pulled away from her by a hotel employee. The police report also states that he threatened her life. Though Bynum is recovering, her bruises were sufficiently serious for the police to bring charges of felony aggravated assault.
All this would be bad enough. But then, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Weeks took the pulpit at his own church to blame the Devil for the charges against him. Unfortunately, the article does not say clearly whether Weeks meant that Satan tempted him to commit assault, or whether Satan had false charges brought against him to discredit him. In either case, Weeks’ congregation has apparently rallied behind him:
Member Maurice Adams, 26, of Atlanta said he was disappointed to hear the news but still considers Weeks his bishop.
“We all make mistakes. He deserves another opportunity,” Adams said.
Note to this parishioner: Shouting at someone you love in a moment of anger, or saying something rude or hurtful, might be classed as a mistake. Choking someone, pushing them to the ground, and then kicking and stomping on them until physically dragged away – that is not a mistake. It is an act of viciousness and brutality that necessarily reveals the vicious and brutal nature of the person who does it. There are times when forgiveness and second chances are appropriate, but something like this is not one of them. An act of such violence deserves harsh punishment, especially since the evidence shows that, absent radical behavioral intervention, most abusers will go on to abuse again.
This story is an ignominious ending to a match that must have once seemed made in heaven. Bynum and Weeks were married in 2002 in a televised ceremony that reportedly featured 1,000 guests, an orchestra and a 7.76-carat diamond ring, no doubt made possible by the trusting contributions of parishioners. Despite this incident, the two have never divorced, although it was plain that they were experiencing marital strife after a sermon earlier this month in which Weeks stated that Bynum would no longer join him in preaching sermons at their church.
What this story shows is that, for all its claims to transform people’s lives, Christianity often achieves nothing of the sort. It may inspire some positive change on occasion, as does any self-help program followed with sufficient dedication, but there is no magical power in it to change people’s character for the better. The only potential for positive change in this or in any other religion or belief system is what the believer can bring about in themselves through their own, non-supernatural will and effort.
On the other hand, Christianity, especially in its born-again and evangelical forms, does offer a very convenient way for scoundrels and evildoers to hide their true motivations. All they have to do is proclaim that they have been washed clean by Jesus – a claim which many believers, taught to expect the supernatural efficacy of their beliefs, will unquestioningly accept. The wrongdoer instantly has people’s good faith and trust restored without having to offer any solid evidence that they have changed their ways. (See Michael Vick, or any of the countless other convicts who’ve suddenly found Jesus at the jailhouse doors.) And this presumption of trust, coupled with the presumption that one should not question a servant of God, makes it very easy for the person to conceal whatever continued wrongdoing they may engage in. (See Ted Haggard.)
I hope at least some people who naively trusted in Thomas Weeks just because he was a minister have had that trust shaken today. Religious belief, however fervently professed, is absolutely no guarantee of whether a person is moral or can be trusted. Despite the many object lessons our society has received to that end, they all seem to be forgotten far too quickly. Hopefully, this one will stick at least a little longer, and inspire some skepticism toward the next charming con artist who claims to be trustworthy because he speaks in God’s name.