This may be shocking news to some, but — come to find out — there’s an actual reason why people have negative misconceptions about the church and people who call themselves ministers.
Self-described minister Derrick Mosley was convicted a few days ago of attempting to extort money from New York Yankees slugger Gary Sheffield and his wife, gospel singer DeLeon Richards-Sheffield. Apparently he claimed to have in his possesion a tape of Mrs. Richard-Sheffield in an indiscretionary escapade with R. Kelly, a man infamous for his indiscretions.
Now there are only a few details that any of us really need to understand in order to get the gist of what happened here.
First, it had been rumored for years that DeLeon Richards and R. Kelly, both originally from Chicago, had known each other back in the day. That rumor gained more validity when Sheffield released a statement last November when the allegations were first raised. In his statement, he supported his wife, though he did acknowledge that, prior to their marriage, she had engaged in “a long-term relationship over ten years ago with a well-known singer.”
Second, according to the AP story, Mosley had contacted Sheffield’s business agent first, seeking $20,000 in exchange for his destroying the embarrassing tape and offering counseling for Mrs. Richards. Mosley’s defense attorney would later claim that he only wanted DeLeon to atone for her sins, and that there was no actual threat of him releasing the tape. And third, according to the Chicago Sun Times story, after agents raided his home he admitted that he wasn’t even sure if the woman on the tape in his posession was Richards-Sheffield or not.
The official report says the jury took three hours to deliberate, which on a judicial scale, is akin to a commercial break on Judge Judy. I mean, really. Cases in traffic court can take longer than that. So clearly this man has done something really wrong, and will serve time because of it. But that’s not what bothers me so much. What bothers me is the fact that this man calls himself a minister.
In my mind, there’s a difference between ministers and activists. Activists push to make things happen. Ministers push to make good things happen.
I know that’s a blanket generalization, but just go with me for a second. The way I see it, activists try to promote causes that they believe in, and maybe some people believe in that cause, and maybe others don’t. But ministers, well… they’re supposed to minister. I mean, even if you’re an atheist and you don’t believe in God, are you really going to oppose the actions of most ministers? Not really, because generally ministers are about praying for people, teaching people the Bible, counseling marriages, etc. Generally speaking, in my mind, ministers are about helping people. I mean, that’s what the word “minister” means.
But the general populace is starting to get another picture of ministers, a picture that gets painted in greater and greater detail every time a story like this unfolds. For many, the image of a minister is a self-serving, judgmental, gluttonous charlatan that preys on the weak-minded, down-and-out members of society. This brand of minister has failed to take on the basic Hippocratic principle that compels, when confronted with malaise, “to help, or at least to do no harm.”
This is part of the reason why stories like this one by John W. Fountain in the Detroit News exist, because the church is being viewed more and more often as an institution that not only fails to help, but fails to at least do no harm.
Now there may be a miniscule grain of truth to the idea that Derrick Mosley might have, at least initially anyway, had a good motive for bringing the issue up. I know that ministers today have a uniquely challenging set of factors to deal with, particularly those who minister in cities. And I don’t like to point out a problem without at least attempting to offer a potential solution. So for the rare possibility that someone out there reading this may be in a similar position in the future, here are some things you should (and shouldn’t) do, if you find out that someone famous in your field of influence may be knee-deep in something moral or illegal:
1. Make sure this is something that deserves your attention.
This may mean undertaking a certain level of due diligence to ensure that these claims are not just idle gossip or a smear campaign from a rival. Fans of Clay Aiken, bitter from his having lost his season’s “American Idol” contest to Ruben Studdard, could start a series of rumors claiming Studdard to be a child molester if they really wanted to. With these matters, you must consider the source.
If the source seems credible, then that’s just the beginning. Let’s say, for the sake of hypothesis, that you believe DeLeon Richards really did have a series of sexual encounters with R. Kelly before she married Gary Sheffield. Do the Sheffields’ go to your church? Have they consented to submit to your spiritual authority? If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” well then like the Lone Ranger, your work here is done. What’s happened has happened, and that’s between them and God until He sees fit to allow you to be included in the process.
2. Follow the Biblical standard for confrontation.
If you’ve read Matthew 18:15-17 then you should know how this goes. (And for God’s sake, if you consider yourself a minister and you haven’t read this yet… stop reading right now, and go read the whole chapter.) If someone has sinned against you, go talk to them about it. If they won’t listen to you, then bring another few people with you, so there can be witnesses. If they still ain’t feelin’ you, then bring it up before the church. And if they still persist after that, then cast ’em out.
Notice that there is a clear progression. It doesn’t start with making things public. It starts with being direct and talking to that person, mano y mano. Also notice that this refers to sin in the present tense. If you’re talking about some offense that happened years and years ago, check to see if the person has repented. If they have, then forgive and move on. Only when there has been no repentance and the sin is still persisting are we given license to confront in this manner. Nowhere in Matthew 18 are the instructions, “extort your brother out of $20,000 so his sin can be kept a secret.”
3. If you must confront, make sure it’s done in love.
Biblical confrontation is done not for personal gain or a sense of superiority, but out of love for the person that has gone astray. If you’re in a position where you need to rebuke someone of status, make sure that your motive is to uplift and not to tear down. The goal of a rebuke is restoration, not humiliation.
And this is where the actions of Derrick Mosley, if they’ve been reported accurately, make me the most nauseous. Let’s say my man Gary Sheffield decides to give Mosley the money, and DeLeon proceeds with the “counseling.” What is it going to solve to keep things hidden? How is it going to help them with their marriage? I give major propers to Sheffield for being up front about the whole thing, because when the story first broke a year ago, he came forward with a statement: I love my wife, it happened, let’s move on. Fear causes people to keep their skeletons locked up in the closet, but true love wants to deal with issues out in the open.
Those are the things that separate actual ministers from those who try to play the role. ‘Cause them cats is called players. Let’s not get those two mixed up anymore, okay?
I’m G*Natural; thanks for mixin’ it up with me.