Juanita Bynum is a force of nature. Some call her “prophetess,” and what has endeared her to legions of Christian women for nearly a decade is that Bynum “keeps it real.”
Real about sexuality, promiscuity, lust and good women who make foolish choices.
Bynum draws authenticity from her own life. Her admission to being a recovering sinner is at the heart of her live appearances, bestselling books, video and audiotapes.
Bynum married Bishop Thomas W. Weeks III in 2003. It was a lavish wedding, written about in magazines, and understandably so. The wedding party alone was 80-plus-strong. More than 1,000 guests witnessed Bynum, a divorcee, walk the aisle swaddled in a designer gown that was covered with Swarovski crystals, with a 50-foot train following her.
But the latest news isn’t so good. The beautiful bride of such recent memory was reportedly choked, kicked and stomped by Bishop Weeks, from whom she already was estranged, in the parking lot of a hotel near the Atlanta airport. A meeting reputedly intended to see whether the marriage could be patched up clearly went badly. A bellhop who saw the incident pulled Weeks off his wife.
The bishop, charged with aggravated assault, spent six hours in the Fulton County Jail before being released on $40,000 bond. If his wife sees the case through, she may deliver her greatest service and sermon to female followers.
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Estimates are that anywhere from 950,000 to 3 million women are physically abused each day in America by so-called intimate partners. A 1998 survey found that nearly one-third of American women claimed to have been physically or sexually abused by an intimate partner sometime in their lives.
“It’s happening in every ZIP code and every area code,” said Denise Vazquez Troutman, president and CEO of the Center for Women and Families. The Center, which opened Kentucky’s first domestic violence shelter for women in 1977, today has a 24-hour hot line and eight regional locations.
“Faith leaders,” Troutman said, “must speak out against domestic violence,” and should institute protocols within their own institutions that support victims and that support domestic violence shelters — for example, by publishing hot line numbers and information about services for victims in bulletins and newsletters, and placing domestic violence literature in heavily traveled areas.
The aim, Troutman said, is “to create a faith community environment in which domestic violence isn’t tolerated.”
Ah, but there’s the rub, according to Rev. Renita Weems, former Cosby professor of humanities at Atlanta’s Spelman College.
Within the church, “We have not been taught, not even by some of our most powerful women preachers, how to challenge abuse.”
Weems writes, preaches and lectures extensively and sees a particular need to “attack and demystify,” for preachers and teachers of the Gospel, notions having to do with the subjugation of women. Read more on Weems’ blog, http://somethingwithin-rjweems.blogspot.com, about such matters as “the problems with submission,” “equality in marriage” and “wives-obey-your-husbands.”
It’s good stuff and a good jumping off point for what clearly is an overdue war on the terrorism that’s going on in public and behind closed doors.
The terrorism that we commonly call domestic violence has produced such horrifying findings, for example, as the fact that 324,000 pregnant women in America every year are victims; that, on average, more than three women a day are murdered by their supposedly significant others, and that the health-related costs (direct medical and mental health services) for this violence exceed $5.8 billion a year. Moreover, violence against females starts early, often when they’re dating in high school.
Men are victims of women’s domestic violence, too, but women are much more likely to be killed.
As for Juanita Bynum: Wherever she is healing, both from the physical pain and, no doubt, the pain of a very public humiliation at her husband’s hands, I pray that in the recesses of her mind she is hearing over and over the lyrics of Donnie McClurkin’s inspirational gospel hit:
“We fall down. But we get up. For a saint is just a sinner who fell down and got up.”
Betty Winston Baye’ is a Courier-Journal editorial writer and columnist. Her column appears Thursdays in the Community Forum.