This is a long one...I am about to take a risk and say some things that I more or less thought I would never say. I have concluded that it is time. I am approaching my 60th birthday and it seems imminently important that I speak these things into time. I am proud to be from a family of Church of God in Christ pioneers…three generations with three Bishops and many female local and national leaders as well. As such, I grew up around conversations regarding the backstories and underbelly of the lives of many prominent leaders and their families, from the time of Bishop Mason until the present. My family was closely acquainted with the old first families…the royalty of the COGIC and the particulars, peculiarities and proclivities of their lives and relationships were a part of dinner table discussions. I knew who drank too much, who slept with whom, who’s child was not really their child, who misappropriated money, who was gay, who was greedy, who lied, who was power hungry, etc. These issues were not the reality for everyone, but there were many stories. I suspect that for some, the dichotomy of these realities would have made them wonder if there was any truth to any of the proclamations of ‘sin-free’ living, but it did not impact me that way. It simply shifted my expectations. I learned to respect leadership, in spite of what I knew, but I was privileged, as I was never encouraged to fear or venerate the leaders of the church. I was allowed to see people’s humanity, but to worship God…and I continue to worship God with all my heart to this day.
This upbringing was foundational to the work I am called to because I don’t anticipate that people will not be flawed. There are thorns in everyone’s flesh. I don’t need to be judgmental, just practical and my expectations are seldom undermined by the foibles of others because I expect humans to be human…even spirit filled, fire baptized, tongue speaking humans are still works in process. I am not suggesting that our walk with God does not afford us the impetus, purpose and power for a better life, but learning to live a better life is a process that many did not undertake because we were taught that the ability to live ‘holy’ was instantaneous and not incremental. We seemed to spend more energy pretending than becoming. I watched in sadness the true difficulty this scenario was for leaders who could not divulge their issues and were forced by unrealistic expectations of perfection, to hide in plain sight. My heart desires that we mature enough to allow people to move beyond the guilt and shame that that makes them hide, judge and condemn people from their closets. I need broken leaders to stop hurting people. Free people, Free people.
My upbringing also strengthened my ability to take a path that led me away from the COGIC to answer the call to social justice, pastoral and ecclesial ministry as a woman. I deeply engaged in the fight against AIDS, the care of our Elderly and the equal rights of African Americans and women. I was also able to embrace my being a same gender-loving woman, first because it is my reality and because I am called to the many SGL sisters and brothers who have lived tortured lives within their church communities. (I was told that I was leaving the only true church and I was encouraged to stay and hide) I bless God for the call. I am clear about who and whose I am and what I am called to do, hence the opinions of others down through the years has had little effect on me. I have experienced ridicule and there were some who are now in power who aggrandized themselves at my and my family’s expense, but in truth they must live with their ill-gotten gain and the knowledge that I know…
I now understand myself to perhaps be in a unique place, as I do not fear the loss of position or power. I am not seeking to win favor with leadership. I am not interested in the ‘old boys’ or ‘old girls’ club. I cannot overstate how glad I am about being free from these weights. I study and teach the history of African faith and Native American faith and how these spiritualties influence the African American brand of Christianity. I am particularly moved by the influence of African indigenous faith in the spiritual growth of Rev William Joseph Seymour and Bishop C.H. Mason. I love the COGIC with its pageantry, music, celebratory and cathartic worship. I am aware that there is a theological ‘girdle’ that is rooted in the Wesleyan holiness movement, but many don’t fully subscribe to it…but they love the church! All religions evolve and experience reformation in time.
Finally, I thank God for the freedom to believe in Christ and feel the presence of God and to simultaneously embrace a liberating theology filled with the love and light of God and free from fear of damnation (hell, hades, sheol). I am deeply grateful to all of my ancestors for preparing me for such a time as this and to the COGIC for my spiritual formation. I love you still…
Bishop Yvette Flunder