Star Preachers and the Pressure to be 'Perfect'

The media light has fallen upon famed Pentecostal preachers and their less than perfect lives, which, to many, has come as a shock.

National evangelist or prophetess Juanita Bynum, 48, was granted a restraining order last week after filing for divorce from her husband, Bishop Thomas W. Weeks III, alleging that he beat her at an Atlanta hotel parking lot in August.

Bynum, considered the most prominent black female television evangelist in the nation, had rose to renown, especially in black communities, empowering women with messages renouncing pre-marital sex and breaking free of sexual promiscuity.

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Now as she seeks a divorce based on the argument that her marriage has been "irretrievably broken" and that she is a victim of "cruel treatment," critics are attacking what seemed to be presented as a model marriage, with some accusing the prophetess of exploiting the parking lot attack for publicity.

But Bynum, who says she forgives her husband, struck down the notion that Christians live perfect lives.

"I think the misconception of Christianity is that we are people that don't have any problems," she said on ABC News' Good Morning America. "And that is absolutely not the truth."

"The purpose of spirituality is to assist you and give you the proper wisdom that you would need to handle a situation in a much more different way than a person would handle it had they not known the Lord," she continued. "I think we're tested and we're judged how we come through it."

She found it "ludicrous" that critics accused her of trying to gain more popularity, noting that God has already "favored" her with popularity and that she didn't need another person to know who she was.

The Weeks' divorce come just as another renowned Pentecostal duo, Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International in Tampa, Fla., announced their plans for divorce. In this case, the split is amicable and they blamed it on the two different ministerial directions their lives were going.

Both have been married and divorced before.

"Divorce, once a taboo in evangelical culture, is now a fact of life," writes David Van Biema in Time magazine. A poll by Newsweek showed that the divorce rate among pastors is 50 percent, no different from that of the general public.

Still, divorce is disappointing to many evangelicals. The Whites acknowledged that their divorce would let down their followers and attendance at the Tampa megachurch would "take a hit."

And one pastor cautions against attaching perfection with pastors.

"This expectation of perfection is unrealistic," writes Corey J. Hodges, senior pastor of the New Pilgrim Baptist Church in Taylorsville, in The Salt Lake Tribune, "and pastors who attempt to portray such an image cause serious damage to the church congregation and the community of faith in their times of personal crisis."

On further note, with the latest scandals having occurred within the Pentecostalism, some have raised questions about the movement.

"The Charismatic movement is so driven by emotion and by passion that it sometimes lacks both theological and moral accountability," says respected theologian Dr. R. Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of America's preeminent evangelicals, according to Time.

Tim Morgan, an editor at Christianity Today magazine, sees it as a more organizational problem. "Quite a few of these independent churches feel they are beholden to God alone," he says.

Fewer Pentecostals in the United States belong to churches that are part of a Pentecostal denomination than those who identify with independent churches. According to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 5 percent of the U.S. population are Pentecostals who identify with a denomination and 18 percent are Charismatics – those who describe themselves as charismatic or pentecostal but don't belong to a particular denomination.

Notably, divorce within the Assemblies of God – the largest Pentecostal denomination in the country – can jeopardize a pastor's job. The denomination requires that the pastor provide just cause for the divorce before ministerial credentials can continue, according to Hodges.

While the media has spotlighted Pentecostal figures and their struggles, Anthea Butler, professor of religion at the University of Rochester in New York, says the same sort of thing is happening to other Protestants such as Baptists and Presbyterians. But those other Protestants "are not media figures," she said, according to Time.

Bynum and Weeks married in a private ceremony in 2002 and again in a million-dollar, televised ceremony in 2003. The couple has been estranged since June.

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