Before we get started, this isn’t a movie review, and I will not spoil the movie Honk for Jesus for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.
Honk for Jesus was shot in my hometown of Atlanta and stars actors Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown. It is a dark comedic satire of a pastor and his wife who at one time were leaders of a megachurch and ministry, but, due to the pastor’s sexual misconduct, are trying to make a comeback of sorts and reopen the church.
The movie follows the couple on this comeback journey. Although Honk for Jesus doesn’t mention Bishop Eddie Long (who died in January 2017) by name, there are deep similarities to Long’s story, which included being accused of the sexual abuse of five young men. I remember the story well. When it first came to light in 2010, I was a young youth pastor serving in the same county as Long’s New Birth Church. I even had students in my ministry who knew some of the young boys allegedly abused.
At the time, it was a difficult story to grapple with. I was told by my then pastor not to address the issue, especially on social media. In other words, within my own church at the time, and within Black church culture, we were told to sweep it under the rug and as best as we could avoid the conversation.
“Within Black church culture, we were told to sweep it under the rug and as best as we could avoid the conversation.”
As I watched the movie last weekend, it was hard to avoid returning to that era in ministry. I knew the movie would dish up some twists and turns that would expose the Black church, forcing viewers like me to admit that during the Eddie Long era, ministers like myself may have failed the church by not addressing Long’s situation.
What many moviegoers may not know is that the film was shot less than 20 minutes away from New Birth Church, on the campus of Greater Travelers Rest, which is the former home of another defunct mega church, The Cathedral of Chapel Hill, which was led by the infamous and controversial Bishop Earl K. Paul, who was Eddie Long’s mentor. It is widely known that Long spent many hours on the campus where the movie was shot, studying his mentor. Long knew the campus well, which makes Honk for Jesus even more ironic.
All through the movie, I found myself going down my own memory lane — but also having to admit that I, too, played a small part in not confronting some of the sexual issues that don’t get addressed within the Black church.
This was not the first time I had to sit and think about my part in not addressing Eddie Long’s sins. Last year, I sat in Long’s old office to interview the current pastor of New Birth, Jamal Bryant. As I sat there, I couldn’t help but imagine that some of the alleged abusive behavior likely took place in that very room.
Then last weekend as I sat in my seat at the theater, I could only think of the verse in James 1:23-24 — “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
Honk for Jesus has not received great reviews in the Black church community, which makes me wonder: Are we not wanting to look in the mirror and admit the Black church’s record in confronting and dealing with deep sexual sins?
After seeing the film, I no longer can just sweep away the sins of Eddie Long, and I refuse to ignore the plight of the many young Black men who have been victimized by powerful men such as Long.
I’m thankful for movies such as Honk for Jesus, which make us take into account not only the sins of people like Eddie Long, but hopefully will help the Black church think through what role we should play when leaders in the pulpit victimize our young men and women. As people of Faith, we no longer can remain silent.
It should not take a movie to remind us that these issues happen within our places and spaces — even as we have tried to sweep it under the rug as we sing and praise God.
Jesus probably would do far more than the movie did by kicking over our tables to get our attention.
Instead of honking for Jesus, I’m going to choose lamenting and pausing for Jesus, who would weep alongside the victims of sexual abuse.
Maina Mwaura is a freelance writer and communications consultant who lives in the metro Atlanta area. A native of Orlando, Fla., he earned a bachelor of science degree in communications from Liberty University and a master of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Remember the women: The Southern Baptist cover up of sexual abuse | Opinion by Pam