An open letter to gospel artist Marvin Sapp (and “shepherds” everywhere)
Dear Pastor Sapp:
An unkempt stranger once walked into a Toledo, Ohio sanctuary, behaving erratically. When the pastor asked church members to rise, the man stood at attention in soldier-like fashion. At another point, the graying visitor gave a military salute. Without interrupting the service, without even speaking a word, the pastor, Kevin Bedford, caught the man’s attention and beckoned to him while an on-duty police deputy kept close watch.A retired naval chaplain, Bedford guided the visitor through an exit, calmly asking if the man had ever been enlisted. He quickly learned that, yes, the man was a veteran who suffered from related emotional problems, but had fallen on hard times and been without medication for months. Not much later, the sheriff’s deputy re-appeared, interested in the pastor’s safety. The minister shared what he’d learned with the officer, immediately asking the deputy to help solicit resources for the visitor, who didn’t know what to do for his troubles – but knew he wanted to be in a church.
Pastor Sapp, I don’t know your ex-congregation member Dr. Teleka Patrick, who went missing last year, or her family. But, like that suffering veteran, she deserved spiritual support. “The Bible makes it clear that, even the ‘wilderness’ – the prostitutes, the mentally ill – needs a voice,” says Bedford, now pastor of Aurora, Ill.’s Progressive Baptist Church. “Kicking them out is the equivalent of closing the blinds on the hungry and shutting the door on the beggar.”
Many of us have read the protection order that was issued to secure your family, and we’ve seen the letter banning Dr. Patrick from Lighthouse Full Life Center Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. We’ve heard that you were – perhaps reasonably – concerned that Dr. Patrick crossed boundaries into your private life, Pastor Sapp.
What we’ve not seen or heard is any sign that you fed this lamb in your flock with the bread of compassion. Not only have all media been denied interviews since Dr. Patrick’s December disappearance, but private investigator Jim Carlin says that neither you, nor your staff, will speak even to him as he works to locate your excommunicated member; in fact, he tells me that Dr. Patrick’s family hasn’t even been contacted for an offer of prayer. Conversely, Mr. Carlin, a Catholic who had never heard Dr. Patrick's name before he was contacted to help find her, took the initiative of submitting a prayer request that resulted in a chain of e-mails stretching around the world, solely because he recognized the need. If a self-described "Irish cop" can show love toward a stranger, why doesn't her former pastor?
"At the end of the day have to ask ourselves why we gather on Sundays," says Bedford, the minister. "Do we gather to be entertained, or do we gather to learn from Christ's example in our daily lives?"
Pastor Sapp, I can appreciate that you’ve already spoken to police, according to reports, and you owe me no personal explanation – but refusing to make yourself and every potential source of information from the church available to those interested in Dr. Patrick’s safety comes across as cold and disturbing.
Christ said, “What you did to the least of these, you also did to me,” and a 30-year-old woman who vanishes from loved ones and a prestigious job one dark, frightening night on a highway ranks among “the least.” It’s not too late to set a more Christ-like example, Pastor Sapp.
Your silence is speaking more loudly than all of your concert performances combined.
EDDIE B. ALLEN JR. is a published author, award-winning reporter and freelance journalist. Both of his major non-fiction works explore the lives of well-known Detroiters: His forthcoming book is a ghostwriting collaboration with the family of civil rights icon Rosa Parks, and he is independently producing his first biography, Low Road: The Life and Legacy of Donald Goines (St. Martin’s Press), as a feature film.