First and foremost I must say that this series is not so much a rant, as it is a possible plea for help. Help in understanding what a church environment is going to give me with all of its many contradictions and hypocrisies. I say ‘possible’ because perhaps it’s best after all if I don’t join a specific church organization. Perhaps my faith is best developed at home and practiced as an example in the marketplace where it actually matters. The problem is that I am just not sure. Most everyone I know and respect tells me I need to be somewhere where there is corporate worship and spiritual advisement. And while I’m not optimistic I haven’t totally given up. I am hoping that some of the issues that I am addressing will attract some feedback that may help me to either change my mind or at least give me something to reconsider.
While I won’t bore you with all of the bloody details, keep in mind that I was raised in the church and experienced several different denominations as a child, teen and adult. At one point I was that guy who carried his bible everywhere he went and openly ministered to co-workers and friends. I even preached in services and did some college campus ministry as well. I wasn’t obnoxious or spoke where I wasn’t welcome, but I was very earnest in sharing the faith that I bought into so much. Several factors led to my straying most of them having to do with what I felt was the lack of true leadership and the belief that they didn’t really believe what they were teaching. Instead it seemed that the real intention all along of leadership was to have followers and control over their congregants.
With that I will begin with my first example of why I refuse to join a church.
Yesterday I watched an episode of Unsung. For those of you unfamiliar it’s a show on TVONE that chronicles the lives and careers of musical recording artist. This episode focused on the female group The Clark Sisters, one of the most dynamic and significant gospel groups of all time. Though they never sang pop music, their gospel success reached a milestone where they were able to perform at the Grammy awards. Raised and groomed by Mattie Moss Clark, a hardcore purist pioneering singer, writer, arranger and director of the music for the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the sisters wanted their mother to share in this national stage.
At their Grammy performance these sisters represented their faith and their denomination quite well. They strolled down the isle dancing and swaying giving praise to God towards the audience that were full of the biggest and most successful performers of our time. They dressed to the nines in classic COGIC dress attire, (long dresses that covered their legs with the classiest of designs befitting black church traditions) and sang with a joy unspeakable as if it were Sunday morning without shame proclaiming the name of Jesus.
Their performance received resounding applause. And it helped add another nail in putting gospel music on the mainstream map. Their hit “You Brought The Sunshine” was even played at New York’s famous Studio 54. In other words, people were dancing to a gospel song in one of the most infamous clubs in the nation. The group was invited to sing on stage at Stuido 54. That was a bit too much for Mattie at the time. She wasn’t having that. But it said something about the gospel message doing something revolutionary; reaching a mainstream audience without compromising it’s message.
The COGICs are a very strict and conservative denomination however. The women are not allowed to wear pants to this day. Still one would think the success of the record and the free worldwide exposure of some of the best the COGICs had to offer would be a good thing. But it was not. Upon returning to their local congregation after the Grammy performance, Mattie Moss Clark was called in to the elders meeting and chided for their on stage performance. The Elders felt that the women performing at a secular event was sacrilege. And since Clark held a high position within the COGIC hierarchy she had to vow never perform publicly with her daughters again.
(pictured l-r, Dorinda Clark-Cole, Elbertina ‘Twinkie’ Clark-Terrell, Jacky Clark Chisholm and Karen Clark Sheard )
Now I ask you what kinda shit is that?
First of all I thought the purpose of the gospel was to preach it all over the world. If one is getting his drink and freak on at the club and a song speaking about the love of Jesus is played, isn’t that where you want the message to be exclaimed more than anything. I believe it was Jesus who said that those who are well do not need a physician but those who are sick. I know very well the COGICs feel that the clubber needs Jesus!
Second, the Clark Sisters have always been a very devout group and have represented the COGIC denomination well. I saw Dorinda Clark-Cole preach myself in a small church in Illinois. She came in looking like Miss America and by the time her sermon and singing was over with you would have through she ran a few country miles as she sweated her suit and hair doo out ceasing to care about her appearance while preaching the gospel and expressing her love for God.
I believe the issue was not the gospel at all for these Elders. It was that the COGIC denomination like many others is a very conservative male dominated group. They didn’t appreciate the shine these women were receiving and wanted to control it. According to their own faith, it’s God who promotes and God who has the wherewith to get His Word across as He see fits. God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son… or so they quote. But in reality they don’t believe that as it relates to the Clark Sisters. The church is a business, and far too many preachers are business men first. One cannot rise in the Eldership of such denominations if he/she doesn’t buy into these same old school ways of thinking. But here you have a group of pioneering and devout women arguably being used by God to present His message persecuted not by the world, but by their own church leaders for making a national impact that the preachers themselves could not make.
I’ve been around and heavily involved the COGIC denomination for many years and know the ins and outs very well. I know some great people too involved within that particular faith that do outstanding work. I could not on the other hand subject myself to the politics and limitations of faith this way. If the organization itself is more important than the faith that it defends, then it’s going to be repressive more than progressive in my view. This concept for me is a deal breaker.
This isn’t an indictment on COGICs either. It’s merely an example of what I am talking about overall; the embracing of sexism and control over the very gospel that the organization was founded upon in the first place.