I was perusing HuffPo late last week and came upon a question posed by commentator Martin Bashir posing what I thought was a thought-provoking and appropriate question: Should Herman Cain resign from his post as associate minister at his home church?
To be fair, Bashir was positing this thought prior to Cain’s “suspension” of his campaign and made the assumption that his quitting was going to be an admission of guilt on Cain’s part. Not only did Cain essentially quit, but Cain didn’t own up to anything–other than paying a random lady over the course of 13 years. His wife stood by his side no less, but just like that the Cain train derailed, or simply found a station at to stay parked–for the time being.
I’ve heard the murmuring amongs bloggers that Cain is the male, and black male equivalent of Sarah Palin. That is to suggest that we aren’t done hearing from him. Even I myself have wondered will he end up on someone’s ticket as a vice-presidential nominee. Nonetheless, as Cain moves out of significance from the mainstream media, I would like to broach the topic of his ministerial status at his church.
The allegations from Ginger White don’t immediately bother me, this is almost normal for random women to come out of the woodwork through the media vetting process these days, but its the fact that Cain is 1) a black Republican and 2) a licensed minister in a black church that probably has more liberal political leanings. What bothered me about Bashir’s commentary on this subject was that Bashir took a very direct approach and connected dots that I don’t believe were automatically connected.
What Bashir failed to understand was that Cain is an associate minister and according to reports, he’s only licensed, not ordained. It’s not like Cain is over some grand ministry or delievering sermons every other week. Bashir presents the story as though Cain is second-in-command to the senior pastor. However, I think Bashir made a typical knee-jerk reaction that I think most people would; we’re okay with hypocrisy in the pulpit, but we don’t want it from our church leaders
This presents a theological and moral connundrum.
On the one hand congregants exalt their leaders, often times blindly, to the point where the clergyperson can do no wrong. While all at the same time, you hear some clergy always acknowledging that they’re human just like everyone else and put on pants one leg a time like the rest of the pants wearing world. The theological connundrum is based on the biblical scriptures that obviously exalt the prophets and the priests and other ecclesiastical leaders over that of the rest of the people and that doesn’t jive with a clergy rhetoric that says “I’m human just like everyone else.”
The moral connundrum mixes in theological quandries as well. For a congregant, issues of forgiveness and moral repugnance are at play. Society tells us that cheating on one’s wife isn’t right and therefore we should shun it, while certain aspects of Christianity speak about forgiveness while also retributive justice which would say that said offender should be punished or sanctioned in some manner. Unfortunately, too many cases occur where neither forgiveness or justice is meted out and the offender continues on because people would rather sweep the situation under the rug rather than deal with the options on the table.
As with the cases of Eddie Long, Earl Paulk, Ted Haggard, the Catholic church priest abuse scandal, dozens of pastors who cheat on their wives with other women in the church–sex is obviously not enough to immediately get you forced out of your church. In the cases of Eddie Long, Earl Paulk, Ted Haggard and the Catholic priests, those were officially legal proceedings, but cheating on your wife with another woman is socially acceptable in many ecclesiastical settings. It may be frowned upon, but its not enough to break up a congregation or for a congregation to force one out of the pulpit.
Frankly, we have a sex problem here.
People aren’t so much moved by sexual scandal as they are by money scandals in many black churches. For instance, if Cain had been using the money from the church to pay off Ginger White, then perhaps, they would have excommunicated him, but I can pretty much guarantee that he’ll still keep his position as associate pastor. As it stands, there is no evidence to concretely say who’s telling the truth and this just exists as he-said, she-said problem. (Although, I say to Ginger White that in 13 years, you can’t produce any evidence that you had a sexual affair with the guy?)
To go a step further, I think much of this problem stems from theological patriarchy. We image God as a “he” 99% of the time, and the vast majority of pastors are indeed male and certainly in a theologically conservative association such as National Baptist Convention, USA and most church people believe that their pastors not only talk to an invisible being, but hear from it as well. Mash all of this together and throw in some esoteric concepts about right and wrong based on writings where the newest document is quickly approaching its second millenium in existence and you get people who believe the “manD of Gawdt” can do no wrong. Ingrained beliefs, even what I committed in the parenthetical comment, tell us that the onus of proof rests on the woman as the accuser and the man is presumed innocent until otherwise.
To ask whether Cain should step down or not is the wrong question and somewhat misses the larger issues at play. Asking him to step down is not a definitive stance against the alleged behavior nor a disavowal any forms of patriarchy nor taking a step to free the minds of those enslaved by oppressive theological concepts.
Personally, I doubt anything is going to happen at the church as it regards Cain’s status at least nothing that hasn’t already happened. In a black church arena that has consistantly walked the line between being politically liberal and theologically conservative, I think more and more people are no longer operating out of such a dichotomy. Asking Cain to step down or even ignoring it completely is still a status quo approach. Taking him to task on his comments that black are “brainwashed” to vote Democratic would do more good than to strip him of his ministerial title.
As this story, as the personhood of Cain cycles out of mainstream media to make way for Newt Gingrich, the GOP candidate du jour and we gear up for the Iowa caucuses merely days and a couple of weeks away, Cain will fade to the backdrop from which he came. This will be a non-issue and the potential victims in this case will never see justice in the eyes of the public, but just have the memories of the public humiliation.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL