Before you criticize me and judge me as a hypocrite or sinner, know this! I am both.
I have had plenty of bad church experiences or "Hurts" since I was six and a half years old. I remember walking to church,
85th street in east lake ( Baptist Church , Al) with my family because we did not have a car. My parents were around the age of 37 or 38 and lived very modest (down right poor) if the truth be known. My father was dying of a brain tumor, yet he walked with the rest of us to church. Before you conjure up images of a wholesome God fearing man, he was not, At least not until his recent conversion to Christianity. Prior to that he was a Chief Petty Officer in the United States Navy who had just returned home from Birmingham . He was pretty much in the religious category of an atheist. My mother was raised Methodist and pretty much turned to the Baptist faith. I was the middle child of their three boys. I watched and observed my father, who was my childhood hero and pretty much still is turn from a very Vietnam type handsome looking Sailor who wore a great looking uniform to work, to a man who became bald headed, very thin, and very weak. I remember the constant trips to the hospital he took when an ambulance came to our house to take him. I also remember the anger I felt when the neighbors would stand on their porches and watch with pity and fascination. They were watching the man of the house die and I was too young to grasp what the obvious should have told me. Instead, my mother and her gift of words simply and bluntly told me when he was gone. I still think it was the loudest telephone ring I ever heard and when she answered the phone that was in the living room by saying Hello, then yes, then hanging up the phone she said. Your Daddy is dead! I remember the image that came to my mind was an empty turtle shell. A teacher had told me the turtle was dead while I was looking at it. That was what death meant to me, an empty shell. The irony is that I felt empty instantly. I could not breathe for almost a full minute I was so heart broken and sad. I did not cry and I did not understand why I did not cry because I had never hurt so deeply in my soul. I do not remember the first of thousands of cries I had from missing my father. During the months of my father dying with a brain tumor I remember the church people bringing a hospital bed and setting it up in my parent’s room for my dad to lie in. I remember the endless line of church visitors and the gifts or food they would bring. The special feeling I would feel from so many that cared. It wasn't until a short time after my father's death that I was at church and walked into a storage room there and saw my dad's hospital bed leaning against a wall. Empty. I remember just standing there and looking at it. I remember the sadness of my dad's bed. Empty. I remember the sadness being replaced with anger when I realized that after he died all the people stopped coming. No more church members with the exception of the Bookout's. They were an older couple who continued to come visit us occasionally of the next few years and always remembering to bring us a little toy. But the rest just quit coming. Why? I was just too young to understand but I remembered the anger. It wasn't long before we were just the white trash members of the church. Those Edwards kids! They are always playing too hard, and always making noise. It wasn't long after that when we Edwards’s kids got the blame when all the kids were just too noisy having fun. I remember once when my brother and I skipped Sunday school to roam the halls of this enormous church. We got caught by a Deacon who berated us and grabbed my younger brother and me by the arm squeezing it very hard and hurting me. I was scared and I distinctly remember thinking he wouldst dare do that if my dad was alive. How right I was. Incidents like this happened often. Later in our pre-teen years my brother and I had a friend named Reggie. He was our age and black. At that time the church had a gymnasium and recreation center that the church kids could go to during the summer and play until our hearts were content. One day we invited Reggie and went and had a wonderful time. I remember when Reggie had to go home my brother and I stayed to play more. After Reggie left, the director who was one of the world's nicest men came up to me and grabbed my shirt at the collar and physically lifted my face to his by my shirt. He told me, "Don't you ever bring another damn nigger here!" He whispered other sweet nothings to me but I can't remember what they were. It doesn't matter. I was never a good student but that lesson was learned on the first take. Some Christians huh? Well it was culture in those times right? Our and there's! Whatever! It just went along with the rest of the hypocrisies I learned there. I bounced around here and there during my life at one church or another, never finding a place to call home so to speak. My older Brother John who was always interested in the bible and church more than I was decided to leave the Birmingham police force to go into the ministry. This time it was quite different. He was captivated with his new found religious philosophy in the Word of Faith Denomination. What I only knew as Charismatic. He left the state with his family in tow to school in Hollywood . He would learn from the great Kenneth Hagen at Broken Arrow, Oklahoma . He would stay there two years and attend school with his wife Coni. He ate it up breakfast, lunch and supper. When he returned two years later to start his own church, I decided I would help him. I started listening to his teachings about this type of faith that I found to be new to me and I decided to give it a try. Why not? I sure wasn't impressed with the great leaders of faith in my own church experience. Besides, I had to help my brother right? By this time I was working night shift as a police officer and had some time during the day or afternoon to help. Pastor John, my brother, started meetings in his home. His first church meeting was in his living room and was attended by the obligatory family and maybe a friend or two. Understand. This means there were about five or six people other than John's family present. Ha! Funny. Little did I know that in a few short years this living room preacher would be flying all over the world preaching and have his on T.V. show rubbing elbows with Richard Scrushy, professional athletes, Rhema Bible College
and other big names. But here we were in his living room in
. Having church and listening to this new faith. All you have to do is have faith. The concept attracted me instantly. After all, when you have nothing in life but bills, faith is pretty much all you have left. Pastor John taught me all the streets and avenues of faith. How I could speak into existence all the money I needed to support my family, to become successful in whatever I chose to do, to be healed of any sickness, and go to heaven when I die to boot! I thought, Hell yes, that sounds good to me. So I continued to help my Brother build. His heart was in the party district of Birmingham which is known as South Side. This is where all the college kids, homosexuals, freaks, and ghouls are known to hang out. I went with my brother pounding the streets of South Side passing out flyers, talking to strangers and inviting them to his new church the Edge. We nearly got into fights outside of the bars. People did not realize that these two church dudes were police officers or use to be and that we grew up fighting, and despite trying to build a church we were still dealing with anger problems. Fortunately, the close calls of having street fights were avoided. Cooler heads prevailed. We went high and low in every corner of the Godless South Side of Birmingham seeking church visitors. Before long we rented a Knights of Columbus building to serve as our church. Very slowly but surely people came. We had our share of clowns, kook's and weirdo's visit. I remember having to work bathroom duty. It was my job to make sure that when children visited the bathroom no adults followed them in. That is how wacky some of our visitors were. I had personal friends of mine from work, other friends to visit. John had his family and their friends plus all the new visitors that would come and go. Eventually the Edge started to grow. We had a talented band that replaced not so talented music. We had Christian Alternative / Rock concerts that drew a few interested youth. We had fun! And for once I felt as though I was really serving the lord. I was passionately serving the Lord and my brother by assisting to build a church. Imagine me, a church builder! And yet I was. I also believed and conformed my thinking to the name it and claim it recipe of faith. After all, it was right there in the bible. Pastor John flipped through the bible from scripture to scripture that clearly spoke of these principals. I applied them to my life. I used the prayers, spoke the language and recited positive professions of faith. It was getting me nowhere fast. At the time I was in financial dire straights and struggling on a policeman's salary. Trying to support a family and still believing in moving mountains in my life. The church was growing. The money was trickling in. I know, because I was the one taking and counting the offerings. I remember thinking this could be quite a money making business. Mostly it was money that started the first problems between my brother Pastor John and me. No, he wasn't stealing the money or misusing it. However, we had our disagreements on how it should be used. Pastor John was the boss. The one and only boss and I was just me. Bigger people started getting involved in the Edge church. People, who Pastor John began confiding in and making plans while putting me outside of the circle of big things that were happening, People with big money, or people who gave big money began to take my duties. Now I began to think Wait a damn minute, who was it that was there going into grungy south side clubs, walking miles and miles of streets passing out flyers, giving rides to strangers to church while these Johnny Come Lately's come in taking over responsibilities? I began to perceive that those who gave more money became the key people in the politics of the church. I was right. Give and you shall receive. I gave. I gave what I could. I even bounced a check by mistake that cost me dearly as anyone who has ever been broke has. Did my positive confessions work? Well, it didn't cover the bounced check, I can promise you that. Neither did the church, nor my brother. I remember asking my brother. Why did this happen? My answer was that maybe I left a window open for sin to creep into my life which stole my blessing. Gee thanks! I feel better now. Maybe I could be a crack head and get the blessing from the church to help me with my next fix. I guess the crack heads that came for help had tightly sealed windows in their lives. No room there for the window thief to steal they're blessings. It didn't take long for me to see that this Word of Faith message had a built in excuse for everything that didn't work. Why didn't sister so and so get healed of her cancer? Why did brother so and so die? Did he have sin in his life? Oh my! Well what human being doesn't? My questions or doubts began to build up quickly once I was pushed out of the inner circles of the divinely blessed Edge church members. I began pointing out hypocrisies or personally perceived wrongs of this church until my brother and I finally fell out and my family and I who worked our butts off at our own expense to play a large part of building this church. I turned in my key and left. I again spiraled down into a bitter anger towards my brother and church altogether. Before long the Edge church was financially ready to move on to a better church building in Trussville, Alabama . My brother seemed to have lost his desire or heart for South Side. I personally thought that the money would be more plentiful in Trussville. I was right! Again. The Edge moved onto Trussville and grew. The months went by and I had been moved to day shift on patrol. I happened to drive into a beautiful cemetery where the tombstones are old and really neat to look at. My pager went off and I saw that the numbers 911 followed my younger brother's phone number. Naturally, the page horrified me. What could it be? I called and learned that my Niece, Jennifer had been rushed to Children's Hospital in Trussville, Alabama by ambulance and that she was in "Bad shape", it doesn't look good." I immediately left work and went home to get my wife. My younger brother Terry had explained that they had found that Jennifer had a brain tumor and was in a coma. How could this be? Jennifer was in perfect health. She was fourteen years old for crying out loud! Although I was deeply hurt and still angry with John, I of course went to the Hospital to be with them and to be there with Jennifer. I immediately began making my positive confessions. I prayed for instant healing and recovery for Jennifer. I begged God to heal her and remove the cancer from her head. I fully leaned on my faith and sincerely believed for a miracle. I believed in life for her despite my faith in brain tumor's being weak. I convinced myself that Jennifer would live and the cancer would die. The following 48 hours were a blur of prayer, hope, and desperation. It consumed me. I grieved for my brother, Coni, and Jennifer's two brothers Lee and Brian. What torment must they be enduring? Church member's, family, friends, and co-workers streamed through. Prayers were lifted to God to spare our loved one. I remember going into see Jennifer. She looked like she was asleep. She was warm to the touch. Instantly, selfishly, all the memories came freshly to my mind of instances where I could have treated her better, showed her my love for her better. The tears rolling down my face were hot with self loathing. Regret. I was her Uncle. Some Uncle I was! The monitors with there numbers were explained to me by John and Coni. Coni was a Registered Nurse. I looked at the numbers and readings on the equipment and begged God for them to change. To show signs of recovery. I remember an Evangelist finally came after repeated request, a big shot in the Word of Faith Ministry. He came to pray for Jennifer. I remember the relief I felt. The renewed hope. Then later in the early morning hours when the Doctor came to John and he left the waiting area. I prayed, I confessed. When he returned he spoke to the crowd gathered for the news. He explained that Jennifer was essentially brain dead and only living through life support. He further explained they would be removing her from life support. I cried. I cried hard. I felt the realization dawn on me that these positive confessions did not work. I was angry, hurt, and desperate. Later in the morning the family gathered at Jennifer's bedside for our earthly good byes. I told her I loved her, kissed her warm forehead and told her good bye. As a family we all sang Jesus Loves You there in her I.C.U. room. It was sung with tremendously saddened voices. But it was at the same time the most beautiful I have ever heard it sung. It was true. Jesus loved Jennifer more than even we did. God's will was done. For whatever reason, for whatever good that God's plan for Jennifer was, it was out of our human control. No prayer could change the outcome. No positive confession worked despite the sincere faith in which it was confessed. Jennifer entered heaven. Our faith and our prayers were no match for God who needed her and wanted her with him. We don't understand the intricacies of the details in God's plan. We are too simple of creatures to understand. We can not manipulate them regardless of how desperately we try. Once again, through the bonding of Jennifer's death my brother and I worked out our relationship. Again my family joined the church we help to build. I listened intently and again tried to have faith in the message although there was internal conflict in my soul over it. I would never again believe in the word of faith religion even while I chose to be involved. I watched further growth in the Birmingham . Many, many people joined and I saw that the church had even out grown its new building again. The money poured in. Pastor John continued to preach the message and had once told me that his window was left open with his fighting with me that allowed the devil inside to steal his daughter. I'm sure John would argue he said this, but he did. Maybe it was anger. Maybe it was frustration or even his hopeless attempt to make an excuse so that he could continue to believe that his belief did not fail him. I printed and saved the e-mail in which he told me this for proof as I always have for hate e-mail in which I call it from people who write and say things they may later deny. I understood it from his point of view. We always need a scapegoat for our belief when things happen that contradict how we believe. I essentially felt like John blamed me for his daughter’s death after our second falling out. That is a hard one to forgive. In fact I didn't forgive him for several years. I didn't even speak to him for several years until we had a phone conversation that went down hill very quickly. I told John that he was a False Prophet in that phone conversation between very vulgar words. I also meant it. I believed my brother was caught up in a false religion and I told him so. I told him he was a leader of a cult. I was right! I even prophesied to him. I told him his church would grow huge, that he would become very successful until his people figured him out and quit him. I told him he would lose everything and fall right on his face. You see, I believed this to be true. My brother has a unique talent. He is a natural born leader. I wish I had that talent. Nothing could stop me. He can walk into a crowded room and within minutes have everyone’s attention and have them believe whatever story he had to tell them. I knew he would get big. He did. He traveled the world preaching. He grew churches in Edge Church Africa, They still exist. His ministry went throughout Europe and Africa. He made huge money and had a huge following. And then it happened. I was right. His people turned on him. They threw him out despite that he visited them when their family was sick in the hospital, preached their families funerals, married their couples, counseled their marriages, counseled they're cheating wives and husbands. He was there for them all and they threw him out like yesterday's news. They were done with him without any concern of his welfare. What I was dead wrong about was that Pastor John had finally saw what he was doing was wrong. He saw that he was duped by the very religious belief he was teaching. God spoke to his heart and showed him that he was taking scripture out of its original contextual meaning and purpose and using it to twist it into a formula that would benefit his own selfish desires. After John's revelation of truth, John did only what a true man could do. He admitted his fault and wrong doing to his congregation. From that point on he preached the scripture as it was written, in the context it was written, for the people it was written for. The deacons of the church were furious. He was stealing their opportunity to speak into existence the things they desired by using particular bible verses as a foundation for their faith. What Pastor John began to preach did not go over with them well at all. They ousted him and gave him the full swift kick of the left foot of fellowship. You see, it is my belief that people are desperate to believe in something they can obtain if they have the power to obtain it. What a perfect religion. Having eternal life, full control of your life, health, prosperity, success, riches, who wouldn't want to believe that? But the plain and simple truth is that this belief requires you to put faith in faith, not in God. That is the error of this message in my opinion. It is so easy to be deceived by a con man who calls himself a preacher when you have desperate, unhealthy, poor, ordinary people searching for a better existence being told by a man of God that they can have all of this and eternal life if they tithe, confess positive confessions, live sinless and have faith in faith. Before long all you will be having is faith that produces nothing if you are not having faith, total faith in God. The preacher gets rich. The people keep feeding him money hoping for a return. I share this as my own experience. Those who know me know I am far from perfect. I struggle just to be good. I am not trying to put anyone down in their belief but merely trying to warn that there are things in this religion behind the scenes that are not seen. I have been there. Are they all bad? No. No, unless they are placing faith in faith, before placing faith in God. My brother John, Pastor John, has been humbled in a severe way. He has asked forgiveness sincerely and I know this by seeing something I have never seen in him in 42 years. He puts others first for the first time in his life and he truly believes in God. Jesus is his savior and he knows Jesus forgives. It takes courage to man up and confess when you are wrong. It takes even more when you have been broadcast publicly, and traveled the world doing wrong and then apologized and changed. I am proud of my brother. He is doing right and doing the best he can and he has a true heart for people and a true heart for God. We are once again friends as well as brothers.