"This too shall pass," Pentecostal teacher Juanita Bynum wrote to fans after months of intense media attention following a 2007 parking-lot assault by her husband, Bishop Thomas Weeks. Now, it appears it has.
Renaming herself "Juanita Bynum II" on her website, Bynum has signaled a return to speaking at conferences for Christian women. Now, with media attention swinging her way once more, the question is how—and how long—Bynum, who first gained notability for drawing large crowds at T. D. Jakes's "Woman, Thou Art Loosed" conferences, will be defined by her past.
In a strange case of symmetry, last month Paula White, a high-profile Pentecostal teacher whose marriage unraveled around the same time as Bynum's, made news when she took the helm of Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Florida. The two break-ups made headlines in part because they seemed to reveal a pattern, leading Charisma and Time magazines to ask, "Is Marriage Still Sacred?" and "Are Mega-Preachers Scandal Prone?" Time interpreted the incidents as proof that "divorce, once a taboo in evangelical culture, is now a fact of life."
In 2007 and early 2008, Bynum's appearances on TV shows like Divorce Court and during the court proceedings (during which Weeks eventually pled guilty for aggravated assault) led some to doubt her role as a spiritual leader. The test of Bynum's popularity will play out in coming weeks, but a mostly female audience in Plant City, Florida, welcomed Bynum's return to the stage August 27. Pastor Calvin Collins, whose Greater New Hope Anointed Ministries sponsored the event, introduced Bynum by saying, "She's traveled the world. She's been through storms. And she's come out on the other side."
Comparisons between Bynum and White are probably inevitable due to the timing, and it is true that White's comeback seems less dramatic than Bynum's. (White's announcement involved ex-husband Randy White, who stepped down as pastor of Without Walls and named her his successor.) No one can know all the details of a marriage relationship—and only God knows the heart—but because White and Bynum lead their lives as public figures, they are held to higher standards.
Is that fair? Christians should be aspiring to a higher standard than the world, no matter how publicized their lives—or their mistakes. Unfortunately, it is the mistakes, especially of those who are held up to be role models, that attract the most attention. According to Charisma, news about Christian celebrity couples like the Bynums and Whites has a "domino effect," creating distrust and discouragement about marriage within the church. Yet we are told in the Bible to learn from our elders in the faith (1 Tim. 5:17), and that Christian women can have a powerful and needed influence over the younger (Titus 2:3-5).
So, who is worthy to be a Christian role model? And who makes that decision?