Last night I received an email last night on Facebook email that led me to the blog of Rai King. The article was sensationally entitled “Taking A Stand Against a Child Molesting Pastor.” I went on to read the article and realized that this was a piece written naming Bishop Johnathan Alvarado of Total Grace Christian Center as a child molester.
I put the blog post into context and began connecting the dots. Rai King is the wife of Shaun King, pastor of the Courageous Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Rai King acknowledged in her post that her and her husband had formerly been associated with Johnathan Alvarado. Actually her husband used to be on staff at Total Grace. There was a falling out of some kind and the two parted ways.
In the interest of full disclosure, I used to keep up with Pastor King. In fact his blog, Shaun In The City used to be on my blogroll and I used to follow him on Twitter. Only reason I stopped following the brother and took his blog roll off of my blog was that he began to get preoccupied with two major events: the Atlanta floods (fall 2009) and the Haiti earthquake. He began to stop tweeting and blogging about various other issues that I tend to like to read and talk about. It wasn’t anything personal against him, just as a matter of personal preference. In fact, I send kudos to him for being involved with those two events.
From other people in the city, I began to learn of his parting of ways with Bishop Alvarado, so when I’d read a blog here or there, or even when I went to hear him at King Chapel during Holy Week 2009 program schedule, it just seemed to be a tinge of bitterness that he had toward Alvarado. Although he never called out Alvarado by name, it seemed like it was there.
I also learned about the nature of Bishop Alvarado as well.
This was a pastor who was known for having a mouth on him so to speak: he called a spade, a spade no matter the venue. Alvarado, as told to me, was a pastor who was known for calling out fellow clergy for their misdealings. I had even heard of his antics whilst being professor at Beulah Heights Bible College from other students–he just called them as he saw them. That is to say, Alvarado didn’t exactly go quietly either after he and Shaun King parted ways.
Whatever the case may be, to say I was shocked and appalled at the blog that Rai King wrote is somewhat of an understatement.
I guess I felt the need to make a comment because, well, the Kings decided to make it public. I went on over to Shaun’s Twitter page and realized that he had went on an impassioned rant about child molestation and the connection between Atlanta being an international hub for child and sex trafficking and mega-churches. (For the record, King never drew any apparent connection. I’m not saying that their isn’t, but even I was hard-pressed to see what it was.) And he went so far as to actually name Bishop Alvarado a child molester.
So I paused and thought this through.
In fact, I thought back to the last major scandal that graced our recent social consciousness in the ecclesiastical arena, and of course my mind went back to Eddie Long, another Atlanta megachurch pastor. In my blog post “And The Walls Come Tumba’ling Down: The Religious Politics of Eddie Long,” I took the time to parse the different levels of reaction towards such charges: those who believe we should “cover the man(d) of God,” those who actually believe he did it (and would probably throw a charge of homosexuality in it) and those who are outsiders who use this an opportunity to unfairly criticize religion and church people in general. So I filtered this new charge of allegation against the old one, and thought through and came to the conclusion that the two are incomparable.
While there is a culture of silence that is crippling and maiming the ecclesiastical community when it comes to issues of sex and sexuality, I’m not convinced silence is the apparent culprit in this case. From my perspective this is the unhappy marriage of religion and sexuality taking up residence in Lo-debar. For those of you still scratching their heads, Lo-debar was location mentioned in 2 Samuel 9 where Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, is to come from. Most use the metaphorical connection between the fact that Mephibosheth is has two lame feet paralyzed from youth and the fact that Lo-Debar has a literal translation from teh Hebrew Masoretic text of “no word.” (Debar being the Hebrew word for “word” often times in the opening phrases of a chapter or book saying “And the word of the Lord….”) If I can translate myself, I would say “no communication.” I think often times when having the discussion where religion and sex and sexuality intersect we find ourselves often times in a place of no communication at the worst of it all and miscommunication at the best of circumstances.
It’s clear that communication doesn’t exist when one’s Twitter timeline is dedicated to calling out someone, particularly someone who you had a spiritual relationship. And then his wife jumped in the foray with her blog piece. Both are entitled to their opinion; I’m certainly not trying to abridge their free speech, but honestly, to put it bluntly, I just thought it was tacky. As Rai King said, some news reporter called to get some information concerning rumors about child molestation allegations. After Shaun King heard from someone who was said to have been victimized by Alvarado, he felt compelled to say something about it.
Are you just as confused by the levels of “he said, she said” and hearsay as I am?
Now Shaun King leveled some serious issues concerning child molestation and our church culture of silence, but of course much of that took a backseat to the fact that he actually named someone in his allegations. What makes this different than the Eddie Long case was that in Long’s case, the accusers were named and went public and we knew who they were. In this case, frankly, the only person discussing it is King himself. Neither the Atlanta Journal-Constitution nor any other major Atlanta news outlets have made the decision to cover the story–perhaps with good reason and erring on the side of journalistic integrity. Frankly, if a news reporter is calling some third party about the veracity of a lawsuit filed and settled out of court–when I’m sure court records are public record–it makes even me question just how much of a story this truly is!
Being who I am, I tweeted Shaun King directly and asked where was this vitriol during the Eddie Long case to which he tweeted:
@theuppitynegro I actually made some public comments. Difference was this time I know the victims. Seen the facts. I didn’t in Long case.
And in a follow-up tweet:
@theuppitynegro But, I have spoken out against molestation, trafficking, abuse, and more my entire adult life. Read all 30k tweets to see.
I finished up by saying:
@ShaunKing i’m with ya brother being against molestation, but, iono, calling out Alvarado like that just seems–tacky.@ShaunKing As an outsider looking in, it just seems like this wasn’t so much against child molestation as it was against Alvarado@ShaunKing But God bless you and your ministry and hopefully all works out for the good on both sides: victims and victimizers.
I have long since been an advocate of agitating and righteous indignation on behalf of justice and the righteousness of God, but one shouldn’t use the catalyst of sexuality in order to advance one’s personal agenda. Sorry, from the outside looking in it looks like Brother King has a personal axe to grind against Alvarado. Perhaps if this had been the stance King had taken against Eddie Long then I could understand, but King certainly took a much more conciliatory tone toward discussing child molestation on his blog. So I’m left wondering, again are King’s motives about speaking out against child molestation or defaming the name of Jonathan Alvarado.
Well, honestly, I don’t know.
All I can go is off of what I’ve read online. What I’ve observed has less to do with the personhood of Shaun King and his wife and more to do with a general breakdown of civil behavior. It’s just a bad look to do that. So Uppity, why are you doing what you just accused Shaun of doing? Well, let’s look in the manner I’m doing it: I’m trying not to do ad hominem attacks against him, and I’m trying to use this example as a case study of a larger issue about religious civility. Beyond that, this is a cultural issue and I’ve certainly branded myself as a cultural critic; it’s not much that I really consider off limits.
Pastors and preachers in the black church tradition have made a habit of calling out those who they don’t agree with. From calling out white oppressors by their names (think former Alabama Governor George Wallace to Birmingham public safety commissioner “Bull” Connor), to my own memories of a public spat between my former pastor and recently deceased pastor Arthur Brazier of Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, Illinois. One famous fight was between a faction of black preachers including Martin Luther King and Gardner C. Taylor versus the then president of National Baptist Church, USA Joseph H. Jackson in 1961–and it was public!
So while I’m not against the religious politicking that goes on, I am concerned about unfounded claims. The nature of the accusations against Alvarado seem salacious and sensationalized accounts–as of now. For whatever it’s worth, it seems to me to be a reason why a reporter was calling around because so far the story seemed bogus. For all I know, as by daybreak of me publishing this story the AJC breaks some news story about another Atlanta bishop who has fallen from “total grace.”
I understand Shaun King’s passion for seeking justice for the defenseless children that could possibly have been molested, but in the midst of the passion, one must use discretion. Justice could be sought out privately. Justice in this case could simply be making sure that the culprit sees the inside of a courtroom, not necessarily seeking one’s own vigilante justice by smearing his name on Twitter. It also means waiting until all the facts come to the fore, or rather, enough facts to move forward with one’s assumption.
Whatever the case may be, we have to be a responsible ecclesiastical community.
All of us, myself included.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL
Editor’s Note, 3/17: It has come to my attention that WSB News in Atlanta carried a story on 3/16 that the DeKalb County District Attorney’s office has launched a review into alleged criminal charges against Bishop Alvarado, mainly spurred by Shaun King’s Twitter timeline. As of this post and update, Alvarado has not been charged with any crime, nor is D.A’s office conducting a full-scale investigation. It seems as though Shaun King is getting the publicity that he was seeking. For the sake of King’s integrity and future endeavors, I hope Alvarado is found guilty just so Shaun King can be proven right. Otherwise, Shaun King’s name will be tarnished in most circles–and rightly so.