Bynum discusses marriage on ‘Divorce Court’
By D. AILEEN DODD
Just when the media spotlight was fading on national evangelist Juanita Bynum, the pastor found a new forum where her star could shine again —reality TV.
Frankly, Judge Lynn Toler, of Fox TV’s “Divorce Court”, had no idea who Bynum was when producers asked if they could invite her on the popular courtroom show. Creative minds behind the scenes of Divorce Court wanted to tackle a serious topic —spousal abuse.
Toler’s staff thought Bynum’s national story of surviving domestic violence would help others living with abuse find the strength to leave violent relationships —and attract some solid ratings.
“I had never heard of her before,” Toler said of Bynum Wednesday. “The executive producer came to me and said I know you don’t like to do shows on domestic violence, but this is a way we could do it responsibly.”
Footage of Bynum’s two-part interview on Divorce Court has been posted on www.divorcecourt.com in anticipation of her appearance today. And if ratings hit a home run, Bynum could be invited back.
A spokesman for Bishop Thomas W. Weeks III on Wednesday said he, too, was asked to go on Divorce Court, but declined the offer. In March, Weeks pled guilty of assaulting Bynum last summer and was given probation as a first offender.
“Bishop Weeks understands that he cannot prevent his wife from saying whatever she wants, but as in the past, if mistruths are told, he will respond accordingly,” said his divorce attorney Randy Kessler.
Bynum’s decision to appear on Divorce Court after the media blitz surrounding her domestic violence trial has some metro Atlantans wondering whether the Pentecostal “prophetess” is trying to extend her stay in the limelight.
Latoya Hardamon of College Park, who has followed Bynum’s ministry, said enough is enough. “You are a woman of God, what is your purpose of going on Divorce Court?” Hardamon said. “We have seen all of that already, we don’t have to hear it again.”
The Rev. Cynthia Hale, who pastors a flock of 5,000 at Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, is also puzzled. “I am not sure how going on Divorce Court is going to extend her ministry,” said Hale . “I believe that something as sensitive and as personal as divorce should not be aired in public.”
However, David W. Key, director of Baptist Studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, says since Bynum has no formal church of her own, that reaching out to souls through Divorce Court, couldn’t hurt her. Bynum developed her ministry based on her life experiences as a woman looking for love. “I don’t think it will impact her as it would other ministers who have not created their ministries off of their personal stories,” he said. ” I think she will find a new audience on Divorce Court.”
Divorce Court Judge Toler said she also had some concerns about Bynum, but later came to understand her. ” I asked her if she was trying to stay in the limelight,” Toler said. “She said the fact that I got into a domestic violence dispute with my spouse was more of a threat to my ministry than anything else.”
Bynum tells Toler on TV about her decision to leave Weeks: “I said to myself, I love him, but I love me more.”
Toler said she learned something from watching Bynum minister to a couple dealing with domestic violence on the episode. “She was able to speak to the offender in a way that I couldn’t,” Toler said. “She said things I didn’t think of.”
Meanwhile, Bynum’s divorce is still pending. An attorney for the evangelist tried twice to get a tell-all book about the Weeks-Bynum marriage yanked before the divorce could be resolved arguing that it contained “false statements” about Bynum’s alleged drinking and drug use, among other things. Two judges – including the Gwinnett County Superior Court judge scheduled to hear the divorce – denied an appeal for a retraining order to stop Weeks’ book, “What Love Taught Me.”