Games People Play
Joe South’s Wisdom, A Preacher’s Madness
The hottest songs on Atlanta radio as 1968 gave way to 1969 were selections from The Beatles’ “White Album” (actually entitled The Beatles). There were no singles released from the album, so the local Top 40 station, WQXI-AM, featured several cuts from the two-disc set, offering listeners hints of the varied directions The Beatles were taking. Also getting a lot of airplay on the station was “Games People Play,” the first hit single* by Joe South, a local boy making good.
With the chiming of his Danelectro guitar sitar and a blending of various musical styles, South created a unique Country-Soul sound. On “Games People Play,” the influence of Gospel music was also clear, with South seeming a preacher, decrying the hypocrisy and hubris of a divided America. In fact, “Games People Play,” thematically, established a line of thought that would infuse the next three hit singles by South. The poignant “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home” reflected on the march of progress that took its toll on nature as shopping centers and asphalt ribbons intruded on the gentle life so long taken for granted. “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” was essentially a plea, and a most rousing one, for the Golden Rule, while “Children” addressed how we humans fail to grow as we take on the years.
Though successful in Atlanta and elsewhere in the Southern states, “Children” wasn’t as engaging as the aforementioned songs or those written by South made popular by other artists (“Hush” by Deep Purple,” “These Are Not My People” by Johnny Rivers, “Untie Me” by the Tams, etc). Still, South and his band, the Believers, made “Children” a compelling track: it’s soulful in a brainy down-home way with its words on how life goes. In the musical homily, South takes note of children’s attitudes, habits and feelings. Children are loud, proud, carefree, lost, lonely and most of all, young, even as they “think that they are grown.” Children need guidance blending compassion and discipline, South declares.
Children need someone to understand
Children need someone to hold their hands
To cheer you when you’re sad
To spank you when you’re bad
Less than a year after Woodstock, with the country’s young and old even more sundered, Joe South struck a sympathetic note for parents who struggle over mixing love and discipline. Though the times were a-changin’, mainstream Americans still respected boundaries and authority. South even went to the pages of the Old Testament, paraphrasing Proverbs 16:18, in the bridge of “Children.”
Pride goes before destruction
A haughty spirit goes before a fall
Just five years before, John Lennon did his own paraphrasing from the same verse in The Beatles’ “I’m A Loser.”
And so it’s true, pride comes before a fall
Proverbs, as is Song of Songs (aka Song of Solomon) and Ecclesiastes are books from the Old Testament often attributed to King Solomon. In the first chapter second verse of Ecclesiastes, the “Preacher,” weary of a vainglorious world, intones “All is vanity.” Solomon was wise enough to decry vanity, although not all preachers feel that way. That takes us to College Park, Georgia, a long way from Mount Zion, where Solomon built his temple. In College Park, a going concern is another temple of sorts. It’s known as World Changers Church International, led by the preacher Creflo Dollar, who piles on the vanities and envisions an even bigger pile.
In 1986, Creflo Dollar conducted the first World Changers service at a school cafeteria in 1986. Only 8 people were there but attendance has picked up. Now the church, at its home-base worship center called the World Dome, boasts a membership of over 30,000. World Changers also has satellite locations throughout America and missions overseas. Much of the mission work is worthy, like helping to build an orphanage in Haiti for children who lost their parents in the 2010 earthquake. However digging deep for Third World kids doesn’t mean lavish lifestyles for the Reverend Dollar, his wife and church leaders have to be cut. Luxury cars, million dollar homes and church-owned jets are all there for the church hierarchy. It makes one think of Luke 9:58, as Jesus told his disciples that even though foxes have holes and birds have nests, the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Creflo Dollar, however, has luxury homes where he can lay his head and a secure parking space for his Rolls Royce.
But the Dollar mansion in Fayette County, just south of College Park, isn’t always the lap of luxury. For Dollar’s 15-year-old daughter, it’s been a house of fear and abuse. “I feel threatened by being in this house,” Dollar’s daughter told a 911 operator on June 8. She was, according to what she told the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, slapped in the face, punched, thrown on the floor, beaten with a shoe and choked (for about 5 seconds) by her father. The altercation began when Dollar told his daughter that she couldn’t attend a party that weekend. He was upset with her school grades. (That’s a parent’s prerogative, something children are reluctant to accept.) The daughter ran to the kitchen, crying. Dollar followed and asked what she was crying about. “I do not want to talk right now,” she answered, sensibly enough. Dollar, like a lot of dads, could’ve been relieved she didn’t want to talk but he decided she was being disrespectful. That’s when the Reverend lost it. Soon enough, a deputy arrived to take Dollar to more spartan quarters for the night. (The charges made by the 15-year-old daughter were corroborated later by her 19-year-old sister.)
The Reverend Creflo Dollar was a free man in the morning. He was released on a $5,000 bond, yet still faced charges of simple battery, family violence and cruelty to children. He took to his Facebook page, writing, “The fight has already been won. We are just walking it out. It’s already been determined that the devil is defeated through the victory Jesus won. Now we must walk in that victory in our own lives.” Dollar also denied the charges from his pulpit two days later, saying he “should have never been arrested.” He declared that now all was well in the Dollar household and finally, perhaps borrowing from the Gospel of Flip Wilson, blamed the Devil for seeking to discredit him, a messenger on a mission from God.
The Dollar devotees at the World Dome ate it up, giving the Reverend a standing ovation that lasted a minute or so when he appeared before them. There was a lot of sympathy for Creflo Dollar, who noted the difficulty of raising children in a culture of disrespect. No doubt many of the assembled had discipline issues with their own children. Give Dollar his due: there really is a culture of disrespect permeating our communities. The people there knew it. They had struggled with it and they knew their spiritual leader had done so too. Yet more disturbing than unruly teens is the image of a minister, representing the Prince of Peace, appearing so triumphant after an ugly altercation with his daughter. Did anyone in the congregation that day ponder the shame beyond the hoopla?
Perhaps one parent there thought of something similar that happened at her home one night. This might be what was going through her head: Cheryl started talking back to her daddy and then she started yelling, no respect. She sassed. She said she if she had her own car, she’d jump in it and never come back. She took the Lord’s name in vain. Such language. That’s when her Daddy heard enough. He pulled off his belt and began striking her. It made me cry, but she was 16 and she knew better than to act that way, but her daddy and I, we knew better too. There were red marks on her body that would make her remember that night. We remember them too. Cheryl also remembered how her daddy lost control. Later he felt worse about that than anything else. Things haven’t been the same between us since.
However, introspection is boring, especially to viewers of the local news. Hoopla, on the other hand, is fun and the Atlanta media, which has often given Creflo Dollar a free pass, was knee-deep in it. On WXIA-TV, news anchor Brenda Wood just couldn’t help herself. She didn’t come to Dollar’s defense but did host a debate of sorts on the proper way to discipline children. The spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child viewpoint came out ahead. On one side was the popular radio personality, Frank Ski, a genuinely friendly guy, while on the other side of the issue was Dr. David Goo, an expert on child abuse and the Medical Director of CorrectMed Pediatrics. Poor Dr. Goo; he questioned the effectiveness of corporal punishment. He had seen, in his work, too many battered children. Love and nurturing, he thought, was preferable to a punch in the mouth, which Mr. Ski said he received when he back-talked his father, just like the one he administered to his own son in a similar situation. Ski emphasized his point by remembering what his mother told him, “I brought you in this world and I’ll take you out.” Lots of laughter as Dr. Goo, beneath the babel, lamented the “too many people taken out.” And things went downhill from there.
The segment, entitled, Brenda Wood’s Last Word, focusing on “race and discipline,” closed with a commentary by the African-American news anchor. Why bring race into the matter, Brenda? The issue is the eternal debate on how to guide a child that affects parents everywhere, never mind skin color. As Joe South said in his song, “Don’t you know that we’re all children and it’s all for one and one for all?” To her credit, Wood doesn’t approve of punching and that “effective long-term discipline can be applied in many ways.” Okay, not bad for TV news but then she says, “Often African-American black families are more basic about this whole thing. There’s no time spent intellectualizing about how long the child’s time-out should be.” As her grandmother might say, she recalled “time-out is for those high-falutin’ prissy people.” Wood said she got her fair share of spankings and that “I like to think I turned out okay.” Brenda Wood turned out “okay” enough to believe parents shouldn’t injure children, or at least that’s what learned from her rambling discourse.
Even with the Rolls, the jet, his fine tailored clothing and Fayette County mansion, it couldn’t have been fun to be Creflo Dollar that weekend of June 10. Thousands of people in Metro Atlanta had to have wondered what it was like to be in Dollar’s shoes, and were glad they weren’t. People make mistakes and some people take their mistakes and turn them into full-blown jams, as did Dollar. In his song, “Walk A Mile in My Shoes,” Joe South contends people should balance their judgments with empathy, yet he’s put out with someone judging him, especially if that person is an authority figure, like a minister. “If you could see through my eyes instead of your ego, I believe you’d be surprised to see that you’ve been blind,” South sings in the first verse of a hard-charging number loaded with the gospel truth. “Walk A Mile in My Shoes” is a rockin’ Sunday School lesson, with snippets of biblical imagery and wisdom that people might consider, especially before cheering a minister who’s spent the night in jail for allegedly assaulting his daughter, even hitting her with a shoe. Society will forever be laden with, as Joe South lamented, “children who think that they are grown, children with children of their own.”
*South did record a single in 1958 called “The Purple People Eater Meets The Witch Doctor, which peaked at #47. Same Joe South, but really, a different career.
Author’s Note: Many thanks to my colleague, Will Cantrell, for sharing his thoughts while this story was being prepared.
The internet is filled with details of the alleged assault, the 15-year-old daughter’s 911 call, as well as filmed excerpts from Reverend Dollar’s sermon on June 10. Also available at wxia.11alive.com is Brenda Wood’s Last Word on Race and Discipline.
According to the Fayette County Solicitor General’s Office, as of September 6, 2012, the charges against Creflo Dollar are still pending.
- Photo: From WorldChangers.org website (fair use).