Archive for the ‘Juanita Bynum’ Category

Love Don’t Love Nobody

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Rumors spread like a California wildfires two weeks in blogosphere that Evangelist Juanita Bynum and Bishop Thomas Weeks were getting back together. It seemed there for a moment that the high profile clergy couple had decided after their violent break up last summer and after months of acrimony back and forth that there was a marriage worth salvaging there in the rubble afterall. I decided against saying any more about the Weeks-Bynum soap opera than I had already, knowing only too well how easily unsubstantiated rumors become urban legends in cyberspace.

Truth is I didn’t know at first what to think about Juanita Bynum reconciling with her husband Thomas Weeks after such a tabloid-like break up last year.  (Both parties have since issued statements denying rumors of any reconciliation). The mostly negative reaction of the public to the rumor, however, did give me lots to think about. What’s so bad about Weeks and Bynum getting back together? Since when did marital reconciliation become such a bad thing?

As someone who’s written and spoken widely against violence against women – trying to do my part as a biblical scholar, minister, and writer to demystify Christianity’s role in chaining women to their batterers — I wanted to believe for a moment that perhaps the negative reaction to Bynum going back to  Weeks was a victory. Reconciling with ex-batterers is no longer considered romantic. Praise the Lord. But it wasn’t worry about the evangelist’s safety that most folks talked about. It was an overall cynicism about love and marriage, and an overall suspicion about couples breaking up and making up, that filled the airwaves.  (Of course, it doesn’t help that Weeks and Bynum’s exorbitant lifestyle as ministers makes them the brunt of lots of criticism . But that’s another topic) How could she go back? It was a lie from the outset. She deserves what she gets, was the tone of many of those weighing in. Watching the reactions you begin to understand why many married women keep quiet about the ugliness they live through in marriage. Lest they look like witless doormats in the eyes of their family and friends if, when, they choose to stick it out and work through the rough spots in marriage.

What’s become pretty clear to me from all the verbiage wrapped up in the Weeks- Bynum soap opera is that we are, all of us, failures at the thing we each crave the most.

We don’t have a clue about love.

As a clergywoman who is herself married to a clergyman I have my own opinions about the Weeks-Bynum saga, some of them I’ve written about here. Plenty I’ve kept to myself. The one thing I do know is that marriage is hard work. Whether you’re a minister or a hotel cleaning woman marriage is the hardest work you’re ever do in your natural born life made harder by the fact that there are so few in the village to talk openly and honestly to about the messiness of marriage and fewer still to speak truthfully about what it takes to rebuild a marriage after the ruin.

jump the broomWe are in love with the idea of love. But loving a real somebody, whether romantically or platonically, can be bone crushing, exhausting work.

When you marry a man you give him access to your heart, access to hurt you, knowing that despite his best intentions he will do just that a hundred times or more in the course of a marriage.  But with marriage the two of you promise to stay around to do the hard work of forgiveness and to rebuild the broken the places.

Here’s one of the lessons of fairy tales you don’t get until you’re smack in the middle of one yourself: that a maiden doesn’t fully become a woman until the day she wakes up and realizes that she didn’t marry a god after all, but only a man. (And yes, the love I’m talking about here on this blog is heterosexual love. I expect to write about same-sex love another day. Heterosexual love is the love I know best. Loving a man is my poison of choice.)

Admittedly, I doubt I have enough God in me to forgive a beat down from my husband. I grew up in a house with a violent father and swore I’ve never love or live with a batterer. But I wouldn’t hold it against Juanita Bynum if she decided, after much counseling for the both of them, she’s willing to give her marriage to Weeks another chance.  While I have never been kicked in the stomach, I do know that there are many other ways in marriage to get the wind knocked out of you.

When you forgive someone you give up your right to make the other person pay (forever) for the wrong he did to you. Now that’s hard work, baby girl. You forgive because you too are forgiven over and over again. Now that’s grace.

Every marriage in fact is built upon a mound called forgiveness. Unspeakable things. Stupid things. Things that were once important but pale in importance when faced with new crises. Things that if the marriage is to survive you forgive, overlook, pretend not to see, let go of –yes, for the sake of the children, for the sake of the mortgage, for the sake of the village – until grace and prayers and love have a chance to do the labor intensive work of mending the torn ligaments of the relationship back together.

Of course, there may come a time when there’s no more life in the relationship. No more ligaments left to mend. It’s over.

old loveFolks who read this blog know I’m not an Obama fan, but it’s not like my heart doesn’t melt every time I stumble upon the photos in cyberspace of Michelle and Barack Obama in an affectionate embrace of some sort. I’m black and married, and am as starved as the next black person for images of black love. I want to believe that all is not lost when it comes to black men and women loving each other. But then again I’ve always been a sucker for a love story.

I’m a better woman for having loved and for having tried to make a go at marriage with this man with whom I jumped the broom nearly seventeen years ago. But make no mistake about it: This two becoming one that the bible speaks about is bloody, bruising, oftentimes humiliating work, the way love calls upon each of us to negotiate, compromise, roll with the punches, climb up and hold on by our fingernails, explore and rebuild from scratch, one Lego at a time, a relationship that works for the two of us. It’s giving yourself over to dying and resurrecting a thousand times and trusting God (and each other) that each time a piece of you dies in marriage, something stronger and better in you is (re)born, something that brings you a little closer to the person that God envisioned you’d become.

Let’s Fall In Love

Monday, September 24th, 2007

The success of television shows like “Sex in the City,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Wife Swap,” and “Trading Spouses” suggests that we are fascinated with marriage. We can’t get enough of peering into and speculating about what goes on behind closed doors between a woman and her husband. The drama playing out on our television screens, like the greater ongoing cultural debate on marriage, demonstrates that we are caught up in a clash between the myth of marriage and the reality of marriage.

It’s been over a month since the story of Juanita Bynum and Thomas Weeks’ marital woes hit the news, and there’s no sign of the public losing interest in the drama. Every day a new video clip, another news link, finds its way into my box. The details slowly emerging suggest that the marriage between Bynum and Weeks was anything but story book. Which only proves that marriage may be made in heaven, but it’s left to couples here on earth to work out the details.

With so many marriages ending (often in scandal and sometimes with violence) in divorce, and with those who remain married at a loss to be able to explain how they manage to hold it together, it’s a wonder anyone still dreams of getting married. But plenty women still envision themselves someday as a bride. After all, Mother Nature doesn’t give a twit about the divorce rate, or about domestic violence, or about marital drama. Mating is a powerful biological instinct. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated flees do it. It’s just that humans call it “falling in love.” And when we fall in love, we prefer to mate for life. Too bad Mother Nature didn’t equip us with a gene that could make the more likely task of “un-mating” simple and painless. That’s where birds, bees, and other creatures have one over on us. When humans fall out of love, break up, or divorce, there’s bound to be lots of finger pointing. We’ve got to come up with a moral behind our break-ups to make them make sense to us.

Now that Weeks’ rage has subsided and Bynum’s physical bruises have begun to heal, both parties are doing what they do best as televangelists which is to use the camera to paint themselves in a positive light. My friends who have never been married are eager to assign blame. Weeks makes that easy to do since he’s the one who threw the punches, and no thinking woman can overlook that fact. But those of us who have been married know that what makes or breaks a marriage is a much more complicated truth. Weeks insinuated at his latest news conference that marriage to an ambitious woman like Bynum was no stroll in the park. He’s probably right.

Marriage has changed drastically more in the last 30 years than in the last 3,000. Part of the drastic ways marriage has changed are embodied in the Bynum-Weeks marriage (um, divorce), which is why we can’t help picking over what we think we see.

It’s the story of a story book wedding that was supposed to be the story book reward to a woman who swore off her earlier promiscuous lifestyle and resolved to wait on God for her soulmate. Is God to blame? It’s the story of a marriage of a wife and husband who share the same profession in a culture accustomed to men selecting women of lower social rank than themselves to marry. Here the wife is an internationally known evangelist. How does a man raised in a tradition which teaches that women are subordinate to men pair up (mate) with a woman who is better known and more financially successful than himself?; and how does an ambitious, driven woman who claims to believe the same negotiate the delicate topography of the male ego? And finally, in recent days, it’s the story of the battered evangelist-wife sitting poised and well-coiffed before the camera, talking about God, resolved about ending her marriage, convinced that she’s found the springboard to launch the next phase of her career. Meanwhile on another side of town, the bishop-husband appears before the camera contrite, talking about God, looking somewhat befuddled by all that’s happened, confessing his love for his wife, and admitting that he wants his marriage and doesn’t want to divorce.

We’ve come a long way, baby. I think.

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated flees do it. It’s just that humans call it falling in and out of love.

The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle Master’s House

Friday, September 7th, 2007

Friday is normally “Within the Quote” day here at Something Within where I share with readers a quote from one of my favorite writers. I plan to do that today, but I can’t resist jumping in with a few comments about Evangelist Juanita Bynum’s interview this week before the media.

The evangelist called a press conference this past Tuesday evening to let her supporters and well-wishers know that she is moving on with her life under a new mandate as “the new face of domestic violence.” She announced that while she still loves her husband and forgives him, she intends to go ahead and proceed forward in divorcing Bishop Thomas Weeks (a move that was already underway). Saying that domestic violence is “not a church issue but a social issue” Evangelist Bynum announced plans to launch a new ministry aimed at women around the world who have suffered violent attacks at the hands of the men who were supposed to love them. Later she mentioned that at this Saturday’s fund-raiser for presidential hopeful Barack Obama hosted by Oprah Winfrey to which she has been invited the evangelist hopes to have a chance to speak with presidential hopeful Barak Obama to urge him to make domestic violence an important issue on his agenda.

I’m happy to see that Evangelist Bynum is moving forward with her life, something that is encouraging to all those of us who were shocked and outraged by the beating she suffered two weeks ago at the hands of her husband, Bishop Thomas Weeks. But I must agree with my fellow sister blogger over at Content Black Woman that while her desire to help battered women is noble, the evangelist should move carefully and not come off as being opportunistic and exploitative.

For one thing, the evangelist is not, as she claims, the new face of domestic violence. That role has already been taken by the latest woman to be attacked by her husband–six seconds ago. Bynum wants to minister to battered women. What will be her message to the millions of bruised women, she doesn’t say. Here’s hoping that besides preaching movingly about painful relationships and “deliverance” Bynum uses her influence to make concrete change. How about lending her face and name to raising money for the many domestic violence organizations doing yeoman work in this area already, grass roots organizations with long track records for going in and rescuing women physically from abusive relationships, staffing domestic abuse shelters, and lobbying for stiffer legislation against abusers? Here’s hoping Bynum drops by and sits at the feet of some of these heroic activists who can give her lessons on politics, gender studies, and theology that can go along with the scripture she knows so well.

The evangelist hopes to have a word with Senator Barack Obama about domestic violence this Saturday at Oprah’s fundraiser? Hmmmm. Did anyone else’s head snap at this one? The “eternal daughter” (a term psychologists use) is what came to my mind. The woman who must have a male protector in crises, a man to run to for security, advice, and guardianship. Obama is a powerful man, but let’s not fool ourselves. There are other ways to position this issue politically. Again, talk to women who’ve been doing this work for years. Too bad female guests are expected to be dressed to the tee at this gala fundraiser. Bynum’s case would go over better if she could appear without make-up, brandishing her bruises from the other week. I would write a check to her personal ministry coffer if she did that.

Finally, by stating emphatically that domestic violence is a social issue and not a church issue, Evanglist Bynum makes it pretty clear that she knows which side her bread is buttered. She has no intention of upsetting those at the helm of TBN and other megaministries by taking the church to task for its traditional teachings on the roles of women and men. The evangelist will leave that to the rest of us loudmouth, hell raising, bare-face feminist/womanist towncriers standing outside the palace to do that. So be it.

And now for a quote from feminist thinker Audre Lorde who knew something about women who take pride in their mastery of the master’s tools, women who think they can dismantle the master’s house without catching any hell from master.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Wives, Obey Your Husbands

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Seizing on other women’s pain to make a point on my blog is not something I relish doing. But there’s a point to be made here as we watch the fall out in the media and blogosphere around the marital crises of Evangelists Juanita Bynum and Paula White. A point that’s been long time in coming. And I am a teacher at heart. So, take out your pencils and let’s get started.

The marriages of two highly celebrated women televangelists unraveled publicly last week. News broke last Wednesday about the brutal attack on Evangelist Juanita Bynum in a hotel parking lot by her husband of four years Bishop Thomas Weeks. Shortly afterwards, Evangelist Paula White and Rev. Randy White stood in the pulpit of their 23,000 member Tampa Bay, Florida church announcing the end of their 18 year marriage.

Ordinarily, marital strife (in Bynum’s case) and divorce (in White’s case) don’t make headline news. Not unless you’re a celebrity. Everybody divorces. Fifty percent of all marriages in this country go up in smoke (60% of black marriages, says some). Sad and staggering, but that’s our reality. What makes Bynum and White’s marriages attention-getting is that Bynum and White are women who have managed to climbed to the top of the otherwise male dominated profession of Christian ministry. Women who build megaministries that can rival those of the most successful men in their profession attract the best and worst attention to themselves. Their followers, those have been strengthened and helped by their ministries, urge folks to pray for Bynum and White, reminding us of their right to privacy and that they too are human. Others, those who loathe all things related to church, televangelists, and organized religion in general, take this time to blast the church, televangelists, organized religion and, those who are, according to them, their sniveling followers. Others of us believe that a window of much needed conversation has been opened up. Some good can come out of all of this, we pray.

Here’s the lesson to be gained, I believe.

Many of the news stories describe Bynum and White as fiery, gifted Pentecostal preachers who are known internationally for preaching women’s empowerment. Say what? Since when did Pentecostals preach women’s empowerment? That’s a non sequitur. You’re talking here to an Pentecostal, an ex-Pentecostal anyway. Believe me when I tell you there are things I miss about my Pentecostal past and continue to cherish about that tradition. But its teachings on women is not one of them. Bynum is a captivating evangelist. She’s talented. She’s masterful. Heck, the woman can preach! (As for Paula White’s preaching, I’ll leave that for another post.) But Juanita Bynum doesn’t preach empowerment, not outrightly, not consistently.

Since when did those who believe in women’s submission, men’s headship, and strict and proper roles for both genders start preaching women’s empowerment? I’ve sat and watched both women preach and host shows on the rabidly conservative TBN network, and not a word has come out of either woman’s mouth debunking the notion of women’s submission to men. To the contrary, both women have risen to the top of the neo-Pentecostal, charismatic, evangelical world in which they travel preaching fiery messages essentially keeping women in their places — waiting. Waiting on God to deliver them, waiting on God to send them husbands, waiting on God to reward them for their longsuffering, and waiting on their husbands to honor them for their submission. I don’t mean to caricature, trivialize or denounce the preaching of other women. After all, I’m a woman in ministry too. But as much as we would like for it to be different, your anointing does not protect you from scrutiny. I don’t mean to deny the many other good things about their ministries. But their messages to and about women are not the sort that challenges the notion of women’s subordination to men.

It can’t be empowerment if you’re still preaching wives’ submission and husbands’ headship. It can’t be empowerment if women are wives (or ladies-in-waiting) and men are priests, the “covering”, and the “head” of the household. It can’t be empowerment if your sermons keep women believing they’re incomplete and lacking unless they are married? It’s not empowerment if you fail to tell women that they don’t honor God by suffering through abusive marriages. It’s not empowerment if men are not challenged to see women as equals and if women are not made to stop romanticizing their subordinate role. It’s not empowerment if you don’t open women’s eyes to the way their devotion and patience are being exploited by their churches (not all churches, of course) and by their pastors (not all pastors, for sure).

Here’s the lesson I take away from this sad news about my colleagues in ministry: If the marriages of women who preach submission fail, then rather than blaming it on the devil, perhaps it’s because submission doesn’t work. Never has. Certainly not in today’s world. Which explains why the first question I get in workshops for married women is “How do I submit to my husband?” Here’s what I’ve noticed in all my years of conducting marriage seminars: husbands never ask for tips on how to obey the scripture that says, “Submit to one another” (Eph. 5:21). Men don’t worry their pretty little heads about submission. They leave it to the women to get that one right.

The opposite of submission is not being a man-hater, as some would like to argue. The opposite of being submissive is being responsible. Responsible before God for having a brain. Responsible for hearing from God for yourself. Responsible for being accountable to God for your own talents and gifts. Responsible for negotiating equality in your relationships and for not settling for less. Responsible for teaching people how to treat you.

For too long women in the church have gone mad trying to obey the messages they’ve heard from society and from the pulpit, trying to figure how to live up to the script that expects them to be spiritually strong, but emotionally dependent (on men), economically self-sustaining (if you’re a black woman), but psychologically subservient (to black men)– and simultaneously physically chaste (if you’re woman of faith). We don’t question the script. We blame ourselves for failing to live up to the script.

When I’m feeling charitable toward the prophet Paul (which isn’t often) I give him the benefit of the doubt. Seeing how radically women took the gospel message and how eager they were to embrace the freedom that came with following Christ, Paul had second thoughts. He didn’t want this fledgling church movement to call too much attention from its detractors, and thus caved into pressures to prove that Christ follwers were not a cult, but decent and orderly folks. Urging “wives submit to your husbands” (Eph.5:22) should prove the point. The same goes for his fear that slaves hearing the gospel get the wrong idea and threaten the Roman stock market by seeking freedom from their bondage. “Slaves obey your masters” (Eph. 6:5-6) was meant to put an end to possible rebellion among Christian slaves. On my better days (which are few), I sympathize with the position Paul found himself in as a pragmatic theologian. But you don’t get to have it both ways, Paul and others. You can’t preach freedom and equality and domination and hierarchy simultaneously.

Here’s what Paul meant to say about relationships: we need a language for talking about the give and take, power and vulnerability, independence and dependence that come up again and again when two people fall in love and plunge heart long into the task of trying to live together in marriage.

Marriage is hard even when both parties believe in mutuality and equality in marriage. Sharing. Negotiating. Swallowing your pride. Censuring yourself. Finding a rhythm between the two of you. Trusting the other. Forgiving. Letting go of the hurts. Overlooking. Growing older and changing. Finding a new rhythm. Renegotiating. Starting over. It’s messy, bruising work that wreaks havoc on your self-esteem and ego. But you can survive the bruisi-ness of marriage when you know that you’re not the only one in the relationship “dying to ego.” Marriage is about mutual sacrifice, mutually giving and forgiving, and mutually surrendering one’s wants and needs for the sake of the other– not because of some preconceived notion about roles and gender, but because you love each other, and because forever is a long time to be sad, miserable, and subjugated.

Stay tuned for lesson Two on Wednesday.