Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pressure: For Mrs. Vanessa Long

I read an article two days ago about Mrs. Vanessa Long, Eddie Long's wife. The author of the article summed up the intricate details of the entire  scandal in about 8 paragraphs. Her final conclusion- Mrs. Long and Mrs. Cain, who was included because of her husband's laundry list of snafus, were fools. They were fools, and bad examples (to the whole female population), because they didn't divorce their husbands..sooner. Reading the blog I felt sick. There was a pit in my stomach as I contemplated what each of these families must be going through, internally. Words like BLAME, EMBARRASSMENT, FAILURE, SPOTLIGHT, WEAK, LOVE, DIVORCE and PRESSURE came flooding into my mind. I settled on PRESSURE. I wondered how much pressure is on the shoulders of these women. Mrs. Long is the first lady of one of the largest churches in the country. She has an extended family by way of New Birth that has defined her for 21 years.  SHE IS THE PASTER's wife and I am willing to venture that this title and the subsequent responsibilities that come with it, has dictated everything from her thoughts to her wardrobe for as long as she can remember. She has to dress a certain way, speak a certain way, love a certain way and show an undying devotion to her husband and her GOD. She is the example. She bears the weight of being the consummate wife and mother to her parishioners.  She and the bishop are expected to provide the "Christian family dynamic" that so many of their pupils are looking to simulate by joining a church in the first place. In her role she is also indirectly called to stand in opposition to all the negative and unpleasant images that her congregation may have had of other women, before meeting her. Not to mention,  she is do this gracefully and in quiet submission to her GOD, her church....and ultimately (as Christian doctrine dictates) her man.

I know, I am going to have some backlash for the whole, "shepherd and loyal sheep," picture I just painted, so let me qualify the aforementioned with some psychological observations I have made over the years.
Let's start with the dynamic of hierarchy. In a hierarchy, especially the type that exists in a in a Black church, it seem like there is a tendency to elevate the people at the top of said hierarchy to an almost god like status. They become like deities, or intercessors. Parishioners learn to kind of follow the leader, to listen and be led.  And I guess that makes sense. You have to think, the majority of people in the church are there because they were born into it. Sure, at 8 or 9 years old,  they give you the option to accept Christ on your own by way of baptism, but if you have been raised a certain way, how likely are you to question your faith at 8? Not very. You, just like I did, comply..for the sake of your family and your salvation. There is an implied choice but no real one. All in all it's a very passive process. It is not until we are much older that some people  take a critical eye to what they have been taught, but for many it never happens. As such is makes sense to me that the majority of people in the church look to the "first family" for guidance...they/we have been taught to do so since they/we were dipped in the water as children.  The danger here is that when you come into any situation where you are relying on another human being  to lead you and mold you,  there is a strong probability to both idolize and externalize. In most cases the externality isn't as big of an issue in matters regarding the unseen hand of GOD, meaning we don't necessarily attribute our blessings to our pastor as much as we attribute them  to whatever GOD figure we worship. But in matters of physical reality (what we can see), i.e. love, relationships, child-rearing, and marriage-the story changes. Our spiritual leaders absolutely are the example here. Because,  as much as we like to throw around sayings like "walking by faith and not by sight," deep down we want to see it. And how do we see it? We see it through our leadership.
Our leadership, believing they have been called and divinely ordained to live as Christ on earth, understand this pressure, they take up their "cross," and go to work showing you that the Christ-like life you want is possible if you.. put GOD first, live humbly, and so on.  It is as if they are saying, "see this works, look at me."  And you know what, I really do believe that they believe what they tell their followers.  And even if they don't I get why they would work their ass off to live like they believed it even if they didn't. Unlike other salesmen (and yes, I believe evangelists are salesmen to a degree) they are not just risking a check...they could be risking salvation. So keeping all that in mind, can you imagine the pressure that rests on your shoulders when you realize you are not THE example anymore.  Because your circumstances are causing you to question. Question your marriage. Question your best friend. Question yourself. Question your faith(because how could GOD allow this to happen anyway)?
I don't know y'all. That is some pretty heavy ish  I am disappointed in the blogger and quite honestly in anyone across the globe who thinks that walking away a from a congregation you have helped build, allowing yourself to be the subject of public ridicule and scrutiny,  and accepting that the man you have loved for over two decades  could be homosexual- is easy. I can't imagine it is. And I for one applaud her being strong enough to do it. Eddie definitely wasn't. Do you realize that to date he has still not admitted any wrong doing at all. He denies touching the boys, he blames the scandal on the media...and he didn't even have the balls to end his marriage even though he knew he was no longer really there. Vanessa Long did what he couldn't---what he wouldn't--and for that, she has my utmost respect.
We as a community have got to do a better job of wrapping our arms around those of us who really need it. I can't help but think how much different this scenario would be if the Black church created a safe place for people to express their sexuality.  I think the reason why Mrs. Long may have stayed so long is because the modern church is no place for honesty and acceptance.  We  as a community have a very real responsibility in this. Because the gay and lesbian leadership in the Black community is silent and closeted. Because when we enter a church we somehow loose our ability to critically assess natural human situations (like the fact sometimes marriages fail). Because we are too lazy and scared to be the people we want to be and instead resign to live vicariously through our spiritual leaders.  It's dangerous for us to make any man or woman infallible. Because in doing so we deny them not just their right to choose, but their humanity, and ultimately...their freedom.
So I, for one, am grateful that she did not let the pressure steal more of her life.  I am grateful, that she had the internal fortitude to take her freedom back; to shed the weight of her role (and persona) as "Mrs. Long" and walk in her natural truth as the person she was FIRST....STILL a child of God...STILL a virtuous woman...just Vanessa.

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