The American Catholic Church was rocked when its long-standing cover-up of priests’ sexual abuses came to light. Orlando area mega-preacher Zachary Timms tumbled from grace this year when details of his year-long affair with a Parisian stripper surfaced on the Internet. And who can forget how National Baptist Convention head Rev. Henry Lyons’ sexual and fiscal indiscretions led to his imprisonment and all but collapsed the venerable institution a few years ago?
Dr. Betty Price, wife of popular television minister Fred Price, has written a book on the issue of cheating preachers, alluding to an episode involving her own husband. Hell (no pun intended), even the Christian blogosphere has jumped into the fray as gospel rapper Da’ Truth got char-grilled by religio-gossip monger Ann Brock on the Old Black Church site over an alleged affair.
But for sheer sensationalism, muscular gossip, and ‘go-for-the-jugular’ punditry, Philadelphia area writer Shannon Bellamy’s “Pimps In The Pulpit” is hard to top. Bellamy’s account of her affair with a local minister who took advantage of his position as a spiritual advisor counselor in order to seduce her, is a vivid, no-holds-barred page turner.
Let’s make one thing clear form the outset: No one is ever going to mistake Bellamy’s tome as great literature. Her steam-of-consciousness, rambling narrative shreds to death damn near every grammatical and syntactical rule in the English language; there is no chronology adhering to the unfolding of events; and the narrative is hardly linear.
But none of that is the point, nor is any of it Bellamy’s objective. Instead, the novice writer has crafted a convincing indictment of a church hierarchy that gives tacit approval to the Boy’s Club mentality that abuses its authority by serving women up as sexual pin cushions, then shirks its responsibility to answer the charges, and refuses to police itself even in the harsh light of revelation.
Bellamy is unashamed, giving up names, dates, addresses and the sorted details of private e-mails in her attempt to hold her abuser to account. And she says that this work of contrition and absolution is not hers alone.
“People ask me how I can put myself out the as a martyr,” Bellamy told the SUN during a recent interview. “I prayed that I could make as honest a book as possible. Through me, God has told this story.”
Bellamy’s cautionary story of betrayal unfolds in the melodramatic manner of a soap opera. The victim of sexual abuse as a youngster, Bellamy becomes an over-achiever who buries her emotional and spiritual dissatisfaction under an avalanche of material acquisition. At a point, she begins to seek solace in the church.
She finds a home at Philly area mega-church Sharon Baptist, where she falls under the spell of a married charismatic pastor/counselor who seduces her into a torrid sexual affair. Over the course of the next several years, Bellamy is cajoled by her lover to divorce her husband, abort a child, endure the rigors of several life-threatening cosmetic surgeries, and entirely subsidize the proceedings out of her own pocket. “I was completely under this man’s spell,” Bellamy says of the pastor.
A trip to the islands with this man becomes the beginning of her catharsis as Bellamy begins to see the trap this relationship become for her. Slowly, she begins to wean herself form the crippling involvement that has compromised her principles as well as her sincere quest for salvation.
“Pimps In The Pulpit” has set off a firestorm of controversy. Bellamy has been a guest on radio’s ‘Michael Baisden Show,’ and it seems everyone in Philly has a copy. The SUN attemped to contact certain principles mentioned in the book who are associated with Sharon Baptist, including Pastor Keith Reed; however, all matters pertaining to the controversy were turned over the Sharon Baptist P.R. person, who routed all questions to a church spokesperson, who would only say that “the mission of the church has not been affected or compromised.” In addition, talk of a $20 million lawsuit against the church has circulated, but as of this writing, no legal in that regard have been taken.
Critics of the book have dismissed it as extortionist, characterizing it as character assassination and revenge, and accusing Bellamy of be unwilling to carry her any burden of responsibility for her own actions, Bellamy dismisses those claims as having missed the point.
“I take no responsibility for what happened to me,” Bellamy said. “When I came to the church, I was looking for the chaste life God wanted. Then I met a pastor who I trusted, who I shared everything with, but who used that trust to use me. This man did everything he did in order to get me. This man tricked me into this. It’s like being in a cult, brainwashing. The church failed to protect me.”
For all of the sensationalism attached to the book, Joyce Hill-Simpson, MSW, a mental health professional who specializes in counseling sexual abuse victims, agrees with Bellamy. “This woman was particularly vulnerable as a victim of sexual abuse,” says Hill-Simpson. “And her counselor likely knew this at the beginning of their relationship. He wielded that information as if it was a gun.” Hill-Simpson goes further by concurring with Bellamy’s final conclusions in the book.
“She’s right. It is not her fault,” says Hill-Simpson. “The counselor has a moral and legal responsibility to serve their charges as a counselor only, not to abuse his authority or power by manipulating their clients into sexual relationships. This particular counselor’s actions went against every rule of professional conduct.”
Today, Bellamy is an advocate for the victims of church-sanctioned abuse. She is also battling to have churches change their strategies for counselor / client relationships. “There are a lot of women out there who trust their advisors, only to find themselves victimized by these men,” Bellamy says. “These women are especially vulnerable, but they never have to find themselves victimized twice—first by their pain, and again by those they’ve trusted to help them find their way out of the darkness.”
A Celebration of the Life and Work of DENNIS BRUTUS will be held on Sunday, January 10, 2 PM, at the Moonstone arts center 110A S. 13th Street, Phila., PA, (215)-735-9600. Mr. Brutus was a world-renowned political organizer, and one of Africa’s most celebrated poets.