The Dynamic Duo

Their flocks have multiplied despite past controversy. But can the Revs. Victor Curry and Richard Dunn preach politics?

Whether Curry was guilty of adultery A and Baskin heard plenty of stories from parishioners as well as from his daughter A he was plainly guilty of vanity. Why else would he leave so many question marks and innuendos? "He'd get furious if Cynthia visited his office, but these [other] girls would walk in all the time without knocking," Baskin recalls. "They'd call the house and ask for Victor but refuse to leave a name. What Curry needed was an older pastor, somebody to warn him about what the Devil can do."

Especially, others stress, in light of the sexual dynamic that pervades black religion. "Our churches are filled by females, many of whom are lonely and frustrated," notes Lloyd Major. "To them a young, charismatic pastor is the epitome of a desirable male. It's a charged situation, and a preacher has to learn how to distinguish between sincere behavior and behavior that entraps. There's a reason infidelity is the number-one problem in our church."

Curry categorically refuses to discuss the issue of infidelity, claiming it serves no purpose other than to slander him. "I was big enough to admit to my congregation that I'd gone through a divorce," he says. "I came to them and told them I'm sorry. You will not crucify me for something like that. That's private."

Indeed, old skeletons are the last thing Dunn and Curry need now. Both are back in the political spotlight, and, just as important, both have re-emerged as major players in the religious community. Curry, who founded New Birth less than two years ago, has seen membership balloon to more than 3000. To accommodate a parish he says will double in three years, Curry orchestrated a bond program and purchased a North Miami Beach synagogue for $4.1 million. The property includes room for 2500 worshippers, a two-story facility for a proposed school and day-care center, and 1.5 acres of parking. Dunn, who took over the slumping New Mt. Moriah parish a month after leaving Drake in 1991, has tripled the congregation, to about 300. Expecting that number to double again within a year, he recently convinced elders to build a larger church on a nearby parcel of land, and hopes to break ground next month.

The fuel for this expansionism flows, of course, from the ultimate fount: each man's pulpit.

Panchanita Fordham can tell you about the day Jesus Christ barreled back into her life. It had been a while since Fordham visited church, a while since she'd done anything besides lust after crack. But it was the week before Christmas, and the holidays always seem to prick the conscience. Besides, New Birth didn't feel like a church at all. There was no stuffy attitude inside the overhauled high school auditorium, none of that well-will-you-look-at-who-dragged-their-sorry-ass-in-here-this-week-ism. Fordham never even sat down, because the choir and six-piece band were kicking out such a monstrous gospel jam that the wooden seats buzzed and the blue-haired grannies hollered Yes, Lawd like teenagers at a concert.

Up on the raised stage, the Rev. Victor Curry was preaching from the Book of John. He wore a puffy purple robe trimmed with an African scarf and looked about as dreamy as an angel. As he spoke, his long hands fluttered over the lectern like birds, coming to rest on his Bible verses. His tone was deep and smooth, like the bottom of an ocean, and he told the story of John the Baptist as a fairy tale.

Every now and again his voice would bubble up from the depths and howl like a tempest, and Panchanita would look down to find her stomach tingling. "If John wanted to ego trip, he had an opportunity," Curry was saying, "because they came to him and said, 'Are you the Messiah? Are you the anointed one?' But John said, 'No. I ain't taking His glory. I'm just a voice. I'm just a voice crying in the wilderness. I'm just pointing.' And it ain't about Curry, either. I'm just pointing. Curry got no saving power. But I can point you to Jesus. Curry ain't got no healing power, but I can point you to Jesus. See, we're like flashlights. Jesus A He's the floodlight."

Here Curry stopped, looked out at the 1400 people hanging on his words, and decided to take them deeper. "Now, you don't need no light in a place that's already lit up, do you? No. No. No. We got enough light in here. We got to get somewhere where it's dark. Where's it dark, New Birth? It's dark in the crackhouse," Curry blared, and Panchanita bolted upright. "It's dark on Biscayne Boulevard. It's dark in some of them alleys where young men are in the corners sniffing and snorting and smoking. It's dark."

"See, Jesus made the victims and the sinners of the world his priority. It was the religious folk who got mad with Jesus when He sat down and ate with the publicans and sinners: 'Jesus came to his own people and they received Him not.' The truth of the matter is that church is filled with self-righteous folk who get mad with God for forgiving a prostitute. That's the reason folks pay dues instead of tithes, because we've made God's church a club. And not only a club, but a private club." Curry stepped away from the pulpit and imitated a snooty lady primping at a charity ball. "In order to get in the club, you got to dress like me, look like me, walk like me, talk like me, say it like I say it. God says, 'What's wrong with you? My church ain't no club!' It ain't even an org-an-iz-a-tion. It's an organism. It's alive and the mandate is: Whosoever will, let him come! He may not talk like you. He may not walk like you, but let him come. This is a spiritual hospital. The reason people hide behind these masks of superficiality and psuedo pi-os-i-ty is because they're scared to come to church and say, 'I'm hurting.'"

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