Pastor, I am not into that, you know!

Pastor, I am not into that, you know!

Christopher Burns

Saturday, January 21, 2017

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There is everything frightening about the spate of church-related, sex abuse cases in Jamaica involving teenage children — mostly girls. What’s even more disturbing is that, although all too familiar, evidence suggests the occurrences are largely unreported.

Everything about these sexual maladies and horrifying trends should impel us to abominate, in the strongest terms, all forms of sexual abuse of our boys, girls and young women. We should condemn all forms of sexual violence, even as we accept the imperfections of men — especially men of the cloth.

Nevertheless, accepting human imperfections and failings is not an excuse for the kinds of wicked penetrative invasion or transactional relationships some of these men (and women) are foisting on our vulnerable and innocent children. Besides the serious criminal breach, there is a lasting desecration of these children’s ambition, body and promise — it is a defilement that no amount of therapy or passage of time may ever cure. Pastors or not, we cannot allow gaps in our personal economies to lull us (parents or guardians) into complacency or cause us to conjure convenient sorry-ass explanations as conduits to assist us with wriggling our way out of taking responsibility for sanctioning such terrible deeds — inadvertently or not, or on the basis of financial opportunity.

We cannot take lightly the enormity of these problems, nor can we underestimate the burden that psychological and physiological trauma imposes on victims of these crimes. There is no available data — that I am aware of — that track sexual abuse, including rape, to suicide rates in Jamaica. However, it would not surprise me if there were a strong correlation and causal relationships between sexual abuse and suicide among adolescents. As a point of reference, there has been a noticeable increase in cases of suicide over recent years.

The disgusting thing about these sex abuse cases is that these men, yes, so-called men and women of God, would have us believe their nonsense about possessing "Christ-like" qualities, as if that is sufficient for them to violate all the tenets of their religious calling, then turn around to ask that we treat them with understanding, kid gloves, forgiveness, compassion and mercy. Yet, these are the same scoundrels who insist that we exact a different form of punishment to "non-believers" or secular beings for committing the same aberrations. This is tantamount to sheer hypocrisy, if you ask me.

Do not get me wrong; not all pastors, priests, mother or father superiors are monsters. Certainly, not all of them commit crimes, rape or molest children or "lift frocks". Most pastors are decent, caring, law-abiding, and responsible human beings with a desire to do good and show mercy. Most take their commitment to Christ and to His Church seriously and sacredly, and act in accordance with biblical teachings and principles. In fact, many of them are responsible and accountable, and behave in a "Christ-like" manner.

It is easy to use the recrudescence in church-related, sex abuse cases as a platform to paint all church leaders with a broad brush. However, that would be reckless, irresponsible, and a foolish endeavour that would serve to impugn characters and impute motives where neither is necessary.

However, there are pastors who take no responsibility for any of their dastardly deeds, such as when they rape little girls and boys or entrap them into financial relationships in exchange for sex. To them, it is never about taking responsibility. Instead, it is always about Satan. "Oh, Satan made me do this, or Satan made me do that, and blah-blah-blah…" Poor Satan. If he happened to be present while they were perpetrating their ugly deeds or feeling up little girls in the pews, they would most likely throw dirty water in his face! These so-called pastors who violate the innocence of young girls or boys in pursuit of their dreadful sexual desires are neither good to pick up nor discard with, and when caught they should receive the full force of the law.

One of the painful realities of these sordid behaviours indulged in by some pastors and elders is the sense of entitlement they feel by virtue of their vaunted positions in the church and communities in which they live. They feel they can do no wrong and are quick to proclaim the moral, spiritual right and superiority to "sit high but to look low" (as low as possible), oftentimes persistently peeping between and betwixt a church sister’s legs and getting prime view of the private curvatures and crevices that lie therein.

Stories abound about unconscionable "dirty little" pastors, priests and superiors who are spiritual leaders by day, but sexual predators by night. Their delight is in finding and exploiting as many "fresh vegetables" as feasible, then crawling back up into their shells to behave like "lambs to the slaughter" or like sheep before shearers, suffering instantaneous inability to speak when caught.

While the rule of law must prevail, and jungle justice has no place in a modern society such as ours, the punishment for men or women who rape or sexually abuse little boys and girls, or who fleece and foist themselves on old women (or anyone for that matter), must expose perpetrators to painful testicular or other genital forms of punishment, as well as public humiliation and ridicule. In addition, parents who knowingly acquiesce or conveniently turn a blind eye to sexual abuse, be it at home or elsewhere, should similarly be punished and embarrassed. Parents, biological or surrogate, can and should be bold enough to say, "Pastor, I am not into that, you know!"

They should be resolute in their condemnation of their spouses, husbands, wives, cousins, brothers, sisters, other family members or friends when they discover that sexual abuse is taking or has taken place. There must be no shield or hiding place for anyone who robs a child or an adult of their innocence. More mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, should be saying, "Pastor, I am not into that, you know!"

Though comical in nature, and a complete misreading of a pastor’s suggestion on "how to succeed", the following true story is intent on illustrating the intrinsic value of disagreeing, if even mistakenly.

The biblical ring to his Christian and middle names was as hilarious as it was conveniently sacred. Never missing an opportunity to recite his full name, he used the standard refrain: "My name is special...I am Bishop Zephaniah Obadiah Ezekiel Stewart…but most people just call me Maas Zakie for short…" Bishop Stewart’s precision and purposeful pronunciation of his first and middle names was legendary, as it provided fodder for jokes and juvenile pranks.

Maas Zakie, somewhere in his late 40s, was about 5 feet 10 inches tall, of muscular build, but sported an enormous belly that precariously swung over his belt, and also laid bare his rather huge belly button — we called it "big navel". He was of dark complexion, with bulging eyes, and a wide nose that occupied much of his facial real estate. His thick, salt-and-pepper hair, along with his clean-shaven face, gave him a distinguished look. Maas Zakie and his wife had two children, Daphne and Ezekiel Jr, who went by the moniker "Zoes". We assigned him that nickname because, in our eyes, his parents did him a grave injustice by giving him his father’s full name: Z O E S.

With all those stylish but quaint Old Testament appellations, Bishop Zakie Stewart was accorded instant respect and was well liked, even though the general fondness for him did not prevent controversy over some of his ways which were quite odd at times. He had a strange way of speaking (in a sing-song voice) and would interrupt himself constantly just to show off his self-styled "full understanding" of the gospel and to underscore the "importance of Pentecost". Yes, he was Pentecostal to the core. A true "fire and brimstone" preacher he was, and one who left little doubt as to the finality or correctness of invoking "in Jesus’ name" at the end of every prayer or religious argument.

Though many decades removed, it seems like it was only yesterday that he headed the little Pentecostal church on the top of a hill our grandmother called "Mount-elution" [Mount Resolution] in St Mary. That aside, memories of Bishop Zakie Stewart and his countless Sunday evening services remain indelibly fresh in my mind. To begin with, there was always something about the unpretentious Sunday evening sunsets that magically exposed the striking superficiality inherent in Stewart’s curious pulpit antics and equally strange ecclesiastical habits — however hard he tried to conceal them.

Nevertheless, Bishop never disappointed. We depended on him to illuminate the threatening darkness that came with sunset. He cleverly and religiously spent a good five or so minutes of his pulpit time behaving like "master of all he surveyed…" And, as was typical of him, he would blurt out a long-sounding, "Praise the Lord! Good evening, brothers and sisters in Christ…And you teenagers, yuh better start behaving unnu self…" The chuckling and teasing would ensue almost immediately, because Delroy, who was in his early teens, did not take kindly to being called a "teenager". He thought the bishop was calling him a cockroach.

As always, Bishop Stewart would mount the rostrum with the agility and playfulness reminiscent of a man in his early 20s, although he was (presumably) in his late 40s. In true Pentecostal style, and with tambourines, guitars, drums and piano playing, Stewart would kick off a rather disorganised but entertaining ‘praise and worship’ session to the evening service. He did this with pulsating dance moves that would make today’s dancehall "Shampoo-whine" moderate in comparison.

For Zakie Stewart, though, it was always a case of "A dance mi a dance in Jesus’ name." With sermons as predictable as the setting sun, especially in its warning that "night draweth nigh", Stewart always led his congregation into singing "Bringing in the sheaves, brining in the sheaves…we will come rejoicing…bringing, bringing in the sheaves…" This is a standard precursor to summoning congregants to "Give unto the Lord some of the blessings he hath bestowed on you." In other words, it’s collection time - tithes and offerings.

Suffice it to say, Bishop Stewart did not suffer fools gladly; he had zero tolerance for slackers, especially men with "alligator arms". Hence, those too unwilling or hesitant in their decision to place something of ‘worth’ in the collection plate were singled out as "ungrateful, unsuccessful and ungiving". Stewart’s Sunday evening sermons were always about advancing the "prosperity gospel" and the principles of multiplication. "Give and you shall receive…" Yet, as expected, he purposefully chastised as unsuccessful those who could not give. Hence, his reprimand, "You do not use your talents to multiply…so I will teach all a unnu how fi multiply…Sisters, let me show yuh how to succeed…"

No sooner had the words fallen from Bishop Zakie’s lips, a church sister, well into her 50s, and in no mood to accept Bishop’s willingness to teach his mostly female congregants how to succeed, sprang to her feet and with index finger wagging shouted: "No, pastor! Mi nuh agree wid dat at all...Mi married, and fi mi husband never bring dem deh out a order sinting to mi. Not ova mi dead body, Pastor, mi nah guh succeed, suh mi nuh know how yuh come up wid dat… Pastor, I am not into that, you know…"

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