The Imperials have long been a household name in the arenas of, first, Southern Gospel, and then, Contemporary Christian music. During their heydays of the ’70s and ’80s, it could be argued that this group was as “big” as, say, Michael W. Smith or Steven Curtis Chapman, or what have you. I’ve been ministered to by their music. It’d be hard for me to list a favorite Imperials song, because there were many that spoke truth to me.
“I listen to the trumpet of Jesus, when the world hears a different sound; I march to the drumbeat of God Almighty while the others just wander around…”
“Even the praise comes from You; every prayer that I raise comes from You; fill my mouth with words of worship, and I’ll give them back to You.”
“He didn’t bring us this far to leave us; He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown; He didn’t build His home in us to move away; He didn’t lift us up to let us down.”
“Praise the Lord; He can work through those who praise Him. Praise the Lord, for our God inhabits praise. Praise the Lord, for the chains that seem to bind you serve only to remind you that they drop powerless behind you when you praise Him.”
“You’re the only Jesus some will ever see; you’re the only words of life some will ever read, so let them see in you the One in Whom is all they’ll ever need.”
I could easily go on for a couple hours, but you get the point. These songs of faith and challenge were a blessing to me through the years, and though I haven’t kept up with the Imperials for almost two decades, now, I appreciate how God used them in my life.
Imagine my dismay, then, at the following: several of my buddies, including Paul and Don, have alerted me to the lawsuit undertaken by the current Imperials against the former Imperials, or more accurately, against group leader Armond Morales; tragically, the current Imperials have as a member Armond’s son.
Don has posted a great article on the subject:
In it, he references “An Open Letter from the Imperials”, from their website. Since the group has written this open letter to us, I find it fitting to write an open letter to them:
Where’s Jesus? An Open Letter to the Imperials
One of the most difficult things in life to do is to know how to respond when professing followers of Christ act in sinful, even unethical ways toward us. From reading your open letter, it occurs to me that if even a portion of the allegations you make against Armond Morales are true (and I pass no judgment either way on the truthfulness of them), then indeed this is the case with the four of you: you have been sinned against, acted against unethically, and lied to. That’s tough to take; I’ve had it happen to me, though not on the scale you allege, and I’m sure the pain is great, particularly with the family ties entailed in the situation.
That said, I must protest that your actions, in filing suit against a professing fellow believer, constitute defeat. Period. Whether you prevail in the lawsuit or not, you are defeated. The cause of Christ is harmed. The name of Christ is slandered. The followers of Christ are discouraged. I must ask, in your decision to file suit, “where’s Jesus?” For while it may well be true that He is not in the actions of the one who sinned against you, neither is He in your decision to take this matter before a secular court of law.
I will use some of your own words to demonstrate my contention. You begin by saying,
We are literally fighting for the survival of The Imperials.
Might I humbly suggest that you err first in fighting for the wrong thing. The ministries of men come and go; there is a time when the Imperials will cease to exist, whether it be now or later, just as churches, parachurch ministries, and the like, as entities filled with imperfect people, and as entities raised up by God with a “for such a time as this” time-stamp, eventually give way to other ministries. If my goal as a pastor is to “fight for the survival of” my church, I surely have the wrong aim. That’s not to say that my hopes and prayers and efforts will not be devoted toward the church’s “success”, but understood Biblically, the goal of the church is to glorify Jesus Christ, and if/when a church is not able to effectively do that, its demise isn’t unwarranted. Similarly, the goal of a Christian singing group must be the same, and thus I suggest that your own words betray a fatal flaw in your plan: the glory of the name of Jesus must come before the “survival of the Imperials”.
Further, you state:
From our perspective here were our choices:
1. shut the group down and walk away even though we felt God had given us a vision for it;
2. do nothing and face a potential fraud lawsuit and also watch as former Imperials made it difficult for us and confusing for Imperials fans;
3. file the lawsuit so that a judge could validate the Trademark Assignment and thereby protect what God had entrusted to us.
You are in error as well on this point, believing that these three choices were your only possible ones. I can think of at least a couple of other options: one, the enlisting of a Christian conciliation team to meet with both sides of the dispute. Peacemakers is just such a ministry, devoted to the avoidance of such lawsuits and the making of peace between believers. You do say, to your credit, that
Jason continued to offer a variety of solutions including some type of Imperials umbrella organization or bringing in some pastors to help us work through the situation in a godly way. Armond refused every suggestion!
This was good, but an organization such as Peacemakers would, I am sure, have been able to give you Biblical counsel (instead of legal counsel), as to how to proceed. Assumedly, Armond and his wife are members of some local church. Was the leadership of this church apprised of the fact that one of its (prominent) members had so sinned against you? It would then be incumbent upon this church to investigate and mediate such a situation, or at least to carry through until such a mediation (again, perhaps through Peacemakers) was carried out. Parenthetically, were this church to fail to fulfill this clear Scriptural mandate, it’d not be worthy of the name “church”; unfortunately, such is the case with so many of our contemporary churches, including many who’d label themselves “evangelical”.
A second option, to which you allude, is the possibility of changing your name. You address this:
We prayed and asked the Lord if we could simply change our name so as not to have to go through all of this. We have regularly “begged” the Lord for permission to change our name and we have never felt clear to do so. We have been asked many times… “Why don’t you guys just change your name and let them have it?” There is no easy answer to that. When Armond told us he was going to sell us the Imperials he prayed over us and laid hands on us all and then passed the mantle to us. All we can say is that we all feel a very strong call from God to this group and have asked Him many times to release us from it. Every time the answer is the same. “This is what I have called you to do.” We have wrestled with this question many times but in the end it comes down to God called us to be The Imperials and to steward the legacy and we have to follow His leading.
Excuse me, but I find this explanation to be (I’ll put this charitably) poor. You speak of never having “felt clear” to change the name. I’m sorry, but what does this have to do with anything? Since when do we allow “feelings” to trump the Word of God? If it is wrong to file a lawsuit against a fellow believer–as I’ll argue below–then we can take our “feelings” and throw them in the wastebasket. There is “no easy answer” to why you don’t change your name? Only because you have bought into an unbiblical understanding of the idea of the will of God. You “feel” a very strong call from God to this group; well, OK, but again, your feelings must always be secondary to obeying God’s Word and exalting Jesus. Hang your feelings. If they amount to exaggerated sentimentality, then grieve the fact you must change the name, but change the name. If they amount to an unbiblical elevation of the subjective at the expense of the truth of the Word, then confess your misunderstanding of God’s Word and will, and change the name. Glorifying Jesus matters much, much more than what name you put on the billboard. It’s not even a hard call, looked at objectively, which I understand might be difficult for you to do.
I appreciate the first sentence below (but little else):
As believers, ministers and lovers of the Word of God, we could not move forward with a litigation proceeding (no matter how necessary it might seem) without seeing what the Word had to say about this situation. The obvious passage that we did a lot of study on was 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. We will readily admit that not all believers interpret this passage the same way and upon first reading we wondered if there was any place for our “secular” court system in this process. As we dug a little deeper and sought counsel from pastors and other students of the Word, it became our understanding that Paul was talking about suing people over “trivial” matters (such as suing someone for not returning a borrowed item) and not matters that effected (sic) one’s livelihood. This is the way we provide for our families and in effect, others were attempting to steal our way of making a living.
Here is that Scripture:
6:1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!
You go on to say:
It should be noted that during all of this time we were seeking much prayer and counsel from our pastors, board members and a select group of pastors around the country to whom we are accountable and in whose churches we have ministered. They all strongly agreed that we had no choice but to do everything we had done up to this point.
Remember the old joke? What time is it when the clock strikes thirteen? Time to buy a new clock! I’m reminded of that silly joke when I read your words above, though I admit I’m not laughing. When you have pastors and counselors who advise you that you need to file a lawsuit against a fellow believer under these circumstances, it’s time to get a new group of pastors and counselors. To read the qualifications into this passage that you read into it (Paul was talking about “trivial” matters and not “livelihood” matters) is to find in the Scripture what is not there. It is clear that Paul’s concern is the glory of God, and not the livelihood of people. Why not rather interpret Scripture aright, honor God, and trust Him with the results? Why not rather be defrauded? Why not rather suffer wrong? These are Paul’s questions, and they are mine as well. Do you really believe you can continue with this lawsuit, and then with straight faces stand before people and sing about “faith”, about “obedience”, indeed about the glory of God? How can you possibly pretend to do that? Why would anybody with any discernment take you seriously? I certainly could not, under such circumstances.
I appreciate the legacy, the ministry, and the worldwide impact of the Imperials. Given my druthers, I’d be in favor of the group being able to continue using the name. But my druthers don’t matter one rip. What matters is the glory of Jesus and the Word of God. And so I call upon you to drop this lawsuit immediately, repenting of filing it in the first place; to seek reconciliation only through the means of a Biblical ministry dedicated to the glory of God; and to gain a fresh understanding of the proper place of “feelings” in the grand scheme of discerning the will of God. If you continue with this lawsuit, you are defeated, whether you win or lose.
The name, the legacy, the awards, the prestige; none of these things should ultimately matter. In your lives and ministry, as individuals and as a group, there’s only one question that ultimately does: where’s Jesus? My prayer will be for your repentance, first, and then for your reconciliation with Armond (and any others), and then for your recommitment to the glory of the name of Jesus, and then, finally, for your restoration to effective, God-honoring ministry.
Pastor Byron D. Harvey