Pastor Jamal Bryant of Baltimore's Empowerment Temple church says his heart and spirit have been broken by the mockery being made by Christians of what he says is a sincere testimony of a former prostitute during a New Year's Eve church service.
The woman shown in a video that appears to have been first shared on social media by @TrevonPowell, gives her name as Sonia Menzie (phonetic spelling). It is unclear which church the testimony was shared at but Menzie began describing in graphic terms what her life used to be like as a "prostitute" before her testimony was cut short by church officials. The video has since been shared by millions of Christians and others online, mostly as a joke.
Bryant said that a number of Christians sent him the video, but he doesn't believe Menzie's testimony should have been treated as a laughing matter and argued that the church failed her by not allowing her the opportunity to be honest about where God brought her from.
"She said, 'when I was in school,' this woman is now in her 30s. She's going back to her teen years, she started in prostitution. So we can surmise then at 15 or 16. Then because she is in a church that is sanctified, says, 'I was performing oral sex.' But y'all are so holy you don't know what that is. So she's trying to help the church mothers understand what that is, she says, 'I'm using my mouth.'
"And after she said that the associate pastor lowered the mic," the megachurch pastor said in a discussion of the video online. When the woman went into even more details about her past sexual behavior, the mic was taken away and she was dismissed.
"And immediately this video goes viral and my spirit and heart are broken," Bryant said.
He then explained that instead of cutting off the woman and allowing her to be honest about her journey, there are several things that the church could have done differently.
"It's the last night of the year and her testimony is that she was in prostitution. And she is sharing this to the whole church and not one person runs up to say, 'are you still in this life?' There's evidence that you're under the influence. That you are broken, that you are fractured. Where's the women's department to say, 'how did you get into this? Who all did you leave in the hotel? What can we do about your housing?'" Bryant said.
He argued that the woman was dismissed because her testimony made the church uncomfortable, and instead of allowing her a "moment for deliverance" she became entertainment for the masses.
"The saints said what God brought you from is too much for you to talk about. The saints said it is not appropriate for you to say what God did for you 'cause you're not speaking in a language that has been bleached for our comfort and diluted for our respectability politics. So as a consequence, the world today and the saints have made it go viral without anybody pulling a question as to where is she now? What did the church do to put a hedge fence of protection and where are we with a generation that is more sexual than they are spiritual?" he asked.
Bryant likened Menzie's moment to the world's reaction to internet personality Andrew Caldwell, 24, who was made famous by a viral video in which he proclaimed in 2014 at the 107th Holy Convocation of the Church of God in Christ in St. Louis, Missouri, that he was "delivert" from homosexuality.
"The last time that a testimony went viral, it was a young man at a COGIC conference who began screaming that he's been 'delivert.' That went viral and many of you now follow him (on social media) simply for entertainment value and look at a mockery of the power of deliverance and transformation, and not for the opportunity of what it is that the salvific power of the blood can in fact implement," he said.
While he admits that his reaction to the woman's testimony would have probably been the same as the church officials who cut her off had she testified at his church, he suggested that maybe it was time that the church go back to the days where the church had more honest testimonies.
"Our grandmother's hour of church, before service would start, there was testimony and in between the testimony was praise and worship. So the song that was sung, the melody that was lifted was connected to the testimony that was just uttered. When it got deep, when it got heavy, it went from a song to a prayer and using that ministry moment, we shift back to the next testimony.
"But for the last 25 years, we've x-ed out the testimony service and just got the song. So as a consequence, there is no setting the atmosphere. It is the pre-game show," he lamented.
"So now our songs are connected to what is hits. The songs during testimony service you can't find on an album because they were not for entertainment purposes. It was for encouragement, it was for empowerment, it was for enlightenment, but there is no testimony. And what it is that the church has shown the millennial generation is that you cannot be honest about what you have been delivered from because the church doesn't like honesty, the church likes comfortability," he continued.
"The woman on the video did not say 'this is what I am presently doing.' She says I am in the church because this is what God has brought me from. And deliverance is now funny? Or is it uncomfortable?
"So the saints could not handle the testimony because you shouldn't say that in church. I shouldn't say what He delivered me from because my testimony is too raw and too real for the saints who watch fights on 'Love and Hip Hop.' You don't want to hear what God has done, you just want to hear what He is doing," he said. "Stop treating church like Disney World — that everybody's testimony got to be pretty and polished. And understand that some testimonies are ugly, nasty, vile, dirty, but that's the wonder-working power of His grace. The wonder-working power of His love."