Commentary: Why Has Greed Made Far Too Many Black Churches Lose Their Way?
Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2006
By: Tonyaa Weathersbee, BlackAmericaWeb.com
Sometimes, black churches do things that make me want to say amen. But a few in Alabama have been doing things that just make me want to holler.
My latest screaming fit comes courtesy of those black churches in Birmingham who sold their souls to coddle Richard M. Scrushy, the embattled founder of HealthSouth Corp. and a wealthy white man who, it seems, figured that through them, he could buy not only spirituality, but influence.
Embarrassingly enough, he figured right.
Last week a writer, Audrey Lewis, claimed that Scrushy -- who left his mostly white, Evangelical suburban church in 2003 to join a black church after he was indicted on fraud and money-laundering charges -- had been paying her through a public relations firm to come up with glowing pieces about him in The Birmingham Times, the black weekly newspaper. While Scrushy told The New York Times through a spokesman that he didn’t know that the firm was paying Lewis, he did admit that he reviewed her articles before they were published.
That’s bad enough. But what’s even more despicable than the grossly unethical journalism involved here are the circumstances that surround it.
According to BusinessWeek Online, Lewis came to do work for Scrushy through her church, Believers Temple Church. The pastor, Herman Henderson, claims that Scrushy hired him to organize black pastors to attend his trial -- to form an “amen corner,” if you will -- and to do public relations work on his behalf.
Lewis is Henderson’s assistant.
Scrushy has denied ever contracting with Henderson for public relations work and claims that Henderson only wants to extort money from him. But what’s clear is that Scrushy -- who was miraculously acquitted last summer by a mostly-black jury of what seemed to be airtight fraud charges -- did find a way to curry favor from the black churches. The church that he joined, Guiding Light Church, received $1 million from his foundation, and several other influential black churches received money as well.
That troubles me -- because it tells me that too many black churches are no longer about the business of justice as much as they are about business, period.
I say this because black churches, more than any other entity, ought to be especially hard-nosed when it comes to the issue of corporate crime. For one thing, corporate crime is the kind of crime that winds up devastating the little guy when jobs, pensions or benefits are lost because of fraud at the top.
That was the guy that the church used to go to bat for.
And to believe that Scrushy was a victim of some sort of gross injustice that called for all the displays of praying and ballyhooing that went on requires a real suspension of reality. Among other things, five chief financial officers at HealthSouth testified that they cooked the books, and they implicated Scrushy. Five.
It’s hard to believe that Scrushy knew nothing about that.
The other thing that sickens me about this whole prayer-for-payola episode is that it flies in the face of what black churches ought to be about -- the equitable application of justice. To me, it would seem that black churches, especially those in Birmingham, would be more consumed with helping the scores of black men and women who, unlike Scrushy, can’t afford a decent lawyer, much less an amen corner. These are the ones who staffers at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta often have to defend; people who had incompetent, sleepy or intoxicated lawyers. Then there are the people for whom the lack of legitimate opportunities played a role in their descent into criminality. They could use the kind of support that Scrushy, whose own greed caused him to abuse the opportunities that he had, received from the preachers.
It’s tragic that some black churches will allow themselves to be used as fodder for legal strategy if the price is right. Tragic because black churches are supposed to be there to support the black community -- and to help lost souls find their way.
Too bad that greed has caused some churches to lose theirs.