It may be providential or just serendipitous that one of the best-known Christian music artists, Michael W. Smith, released his new album this week, and it includes a song about abuse in the church. Apt timing, since sexual abuse accusations filed by four young men against mega-church pastor Bishop Eddie Long are rocking one of the pillars of the Christian community.
Smith, who is to Christian/Gospel music what the Rolling Stones are to rock, has won 44 Dove Awards and three Grammys. He wrote his song, "Leave," featured on his new album, "Wonder," after some of his own friends broke their silence about the abuse they suffered in a church.
"It was the hardest song to write," Smith says. And from what he's been told by many friends who say they were abused, he believes there is more abuse within churches than is ever reported.
"You hear about stuff that goes on in the church, it just blows your mind," he says.
Speaking of Bishop Long, he says, "Well, I'm not going to jump to conclusions. I'm not going to judge this man ... but the first thing that came to mind was ... no accountability, if it's true."
Bishop Long has the Midas touch, and he built a kingdom -- not just a church. He took over New Birth Missionary Baptist Church near Atlanta in 1987 when it had a handful of attendees, and he proceeded to create what is now a 25,000-member congregation on a 240-acre campus. According to published reports, he takes in a $5 million annual salary. He preaches the "Prosperity Gospel," which says "God wants you to be wealthy."
Smith has an alternative mantra. "Money, sex ... greed and power. It'll take you down every time," he says.
"And when you get in places of power, if you don't have a support team and a group of people around you that will hold you accountable with that authority and power, you're going to go down. It's just a fact.
"You know you can't do this alone; there's too many temptations."
The Bishop Long case is a sordid affair that is being played out in the court of public opinion. The latest news concerns divorce-paper allegations by his ex-wife, Dabara S. Houston, that Long beat her while she was 7 1/2-months pregnant with their only child. The couple divorced after four years in 1985, and Houston was given custody of the couple's 2-year-old child.
Smith says he understands that whether you're in church or any house of worship, you're not immune to human nature's faults and failings. The real challenge, he says, not letting your ego do the talking ... or the walking ... or the thinking.
"You know you're a Christian artist ... gospel artist .. doesn't matter, doesn't matter," he says. "Because, when you have people telling you how great you are all the time, and all these luxuries that come with that, I tell you, you can start believing your own press."
And he says the distance between seeing and believing is a whole lot closer than you think.