Saturday, August 20, 2011

Addiction, Christianity and the Death of Zachery Tims, Jr.

I shouldn't be surprised to find shallow, snarky, insensitive commentary on Gawker. But their commentary on the death of Dr. Zachery Tims, Jr., "Megachurch Pastor Found Dead, with Drugs, in Times Square," was even more grating than usual:
Times Square has cleaned up a lot over the last 20 years or so! But there's still no better place on earth to die with drugs in your pocket. Especially if you're the pastor of a huge church in Florida...
If it is drugs—and if Tims was using them—it would mark a sad return to the addiction that Tims struggled with as a teenager in Baltimore, before being "miraculously saved" and, a few years later, turning to life as a pastor. His church, the New Destiny Christian Center, occupies a 21-acre space outside Orlando. Sometimes it gives away cars to its members, just like Jesus did in the Bible...
(By the way: If you're thinking Wow, all this story needs is a stripper, guess what? Tims and his wife divorced in 2009 after he confessed to a one-year affair with a stripper. That's megachurch pastor bingo, right?)
It's easy enough to treat this situation with the kind of smug satisfaction that accompanied the fall of a Jimmy Swaggart or a Jim Bakker.  In 2008 Tims and his wife Riva were divorced due to what she called his "multiple and repeated extramarital sexual affairs."  And he was a well-known proponent of the controversial "Prosperity Gospel" which claims God wants his followers to be wealthy and answers prayers for success. But while Zachery Tims and I may not share much in the way of theology, we did have one thing in common: we're both addicts.


I don't doubt the sincerity of Tims' faith for a minute, nor do I doubt the reality of the conversion which took him off the streets of Baltimore.  I've seen many addicts of one stripe or another (myself included) come to Christianity in search of healing. Jesus can fill that great aching empty darkness so you can pretend it isn't there for a while.  He can take away all that guilt until you stumble, and then he's always there waiting for you like Hickey's wife in The Iceman Cometh, offering healing and reminding you just what a miserable failure you are.

Autopsy reports remain inconclusive: we still don't know what role, if any, drugs played in his demise. But whatever happened on the 37th floor of the "W" hotel, I suspect Tims died filled with regret, nihlism and self-loathing which I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.  And so I just can't really work up a whole lot of glee over this particular fall from grace. May his ex-wife and family can find healing, may he be remembered for the good he has done rather than his failings, may he find in death the peace that eluded him in life.