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ISSUE 121 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/5/2007

Evangelist Bynum battered

By Lyndel Owens
News Editor


Friday, October 5, 2007

American society questions no union more than those between fiery, Bible-banging televangelists and their often wildly comfortable (no, lavish) lifestyle.

Think of the Colorado mega-church minister who, in addition to scripture, dabbled in hardcore drugs and transvestites. Does Oral Roberts ring a bell?

In 1987, he told followers they must donate 8 million dollars, otherwise God would "call him home." A final $9.1 million kept Roberts alive (just enough to keep up his profiteering - - oops, I mean prophesying).

Are there rewards in heaven? Who knows? God pays it forward. Most people know the stories. Many public ministers have been incarcerated for fraud and racketeering, and they have few qualms.

Hence, countless Americans assume a perverse interpretation of the "ask and you shall receive" which motivates the public-preacher's ministry.

The rise of Evangelism also heralded the negative stereotype of the public minister, a template against which society scrutinizes other well-known pastors.

This is why Juanita Bynum, the 48-year-old former hairdresser, flight attendant and welfare recipient turned Pentecostal "prophetess" (targeting women nationwide via the Trinity Broadcasting Network) finds fire and brimstone in her coffers.

The media question her archaic rhetoric about a "wife's duty to please" and her denunciation of domestic abuse in light of her husband beating her in a hotel-lobby in late August.

Though this hasn't been Bynum's first sharp role change, her decision to actively oppose domestic abuse ought to be applauded instead of rebuffed. The implications are enormous. She reaches thousands of women on a weekly basis and intends to use this turn of events to animate her message of empowerment and action.

Her call to arms is a healthy and natural response to self-suffered violence –- - a truly admirable and positive step.

A preacher since 1998, Bynum is famous for her charged sermons. She uses her checkered past to exemplify wrong life choices.

Before her marriage, she delivered sermons centered on the difficulties of a chaste, single life, a message simultaneously encouraging her audience to persevere in the name of self-respect.

Her personal approach creates a rare level of intimacy between Bynum and her followers.

However, traditionalists unaccustomed to lighter distinction between the saved and the sinners criticize Bynum.

Bynum, however, changed her message after her ritzy 2003 wedding to fellow Pentecostal Bishop Thomas Wesley Weeks. She began imploring women to concern themselves with their husband's pleasure and contentedness.

Together, the power couple coauthored books and toured the country to deliver sermons on how to develop a solid marriage.

Their lavish wedding and Bynum's extreme makeover were too close a comparison to Jimmy and Tammy Faye Bakker (of the popular show "Praise the Lord Club"), the epitome of the veiled excess and malleable morals of the 1980s.

Her infamous heavy makeup and hair made her appear electrocuted, but Jimmy's tax evasion, racketeering and cheating is what people recall each time they see a televangelist.

In 1987, Jimmy's white-collar crimes led to his incarceration and eventually, the two divorced.

Ask your parents, they'll know– - - they may have even donated a portion of the one million dollars raised weekly by the duo.

So are Bynum and Weeks the newest residents of Bakkerville? No.

Granted, some extravagance and narcissistic elements place them in the township, but there have been accusations of adultery, money laundering and scandal in addition to the beating.

What remains are two private lives stretched across the public stage. It is particularly difficult within Pentecostal denomination to distinguish between opinion and the "Lord's word."

The movement has never opposed integrating personal charisma, as religion and personal experience are not considered mutually exclusive. Indeed, to lead a congregation, one must testify to having a personal conversion experience.

Bynum refers to her personal conversion experience when naming herself a prophet. The title refers to God speaking through her, not her similarity with Ms. Cleo.

Yet, a biased Sept. 20 New York Times article doesn't bother to highlight this distinction, or include the details of Pentecostalism or give Bynum credit for dealing tactfully with these public blows.

Instead, the article's word choice, selected experts and slanted reporting mercilessly portray her as just another enterprising preacher.

Statistics report that it typically takes a woman in an abusive relationship seven attempts to leave before she actually does.

Bynum left in one. Following her abuse and its very public aftermath, she has held together well and acted rationally by denouncing domestic abuse.

She is in no way capitalizing on this to get attention. No, she is doing what many lay women in her position have done, and her vow to thwart domestic violence is in line with the Pentecostal interplay between experience and the holy.

The media chooses to ignore important characteristics and details of her brand of Christianity, leading to a vulgarly unthoughtful portrayal of a woman struggling through a wrenching personal ordeal.

News Editor Lyndel Owens '10 is from Granville, Oh. She majors in English, Asian studies and sociology- –anthropology.





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