As a boy, Marvin Gaye sang gospel music in his father’s church choir. As a young man, Gaye became one of the most popular soul singers in the world. At 44, he is dead – allegedly shot to death by his father. Marvin Gay Sr., a 70-year-old retired minister, in the father’s Los Angeles home. The elder Gay was taken into custody by police after the shooting April 1.
The Soul Singer’s Struggles
Marvin Gaye, Jr. (he added the “e” on the end of his name some 25 years ago at the beginning of his singing career) won a Grammy award last year for his comeback success, “Sexual Healing.” His previous hit songs for the ‘60s include “You’re a Wonderful One,” “Pride and Joy,” “Ain’t That Peculiar,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Can I Get a Witness,” and a landmark socio-religious album, What’s Going On (1971).
Unfortunately, Gaye was also known for his sexual excesses and drug abuse. He apparently felt that he could not measure up to the standards of Christianity as he understood it. “I don’t think I’m a Christian,” Gaye said according to People recently. “A Christian is a man who follows Christ, and that takes a hell – I should say a heaven – of a man to do. My church is within me.”
“You have to understand Marvin to understand that statement,” explained Rev. Frank E. Wilson of Pasadena, California, when contacted by Contemporary Christian Magazine. Wilson, a former Motown producer for 12 years who produced a number of Gaye’s records, is now a Baptist preacher with a ministry to celebrities.
“Marvin was a free spirit, and his lifestyle was not one you’d call Christian, because he seemed to think that living as a Christian is unattainable,” Wilson continued. “But his faith was in the Lord. He said as much on Soul Train on television before millions. I saw him often over the years, spent quality time with him, and counseled him and his wife, Jan. Marvin Gaye loved the Lord. He was saved, period.” Wilson, like many Baptists and evangelical Christians, believes in eternal security.
Last year Marvin contacted me and said, ‘Frank, I’m in trouble.’ Before we could get together, though, he was out of the country. That’s the last time I spoke with him. Marvin never talked to me about his family. But I can tell you that the basis of his personal conflict was against people attempting to run his life,” Wilson concluded.
When asked about the singer’s eternal state, Bishop S.P. Rawlings, General Superintendent of the House of God, was not definite. “As a child, Marvin Gaye Jr. expressed a hope in Christ and maintained it after he was in the limelight,” Rawlings said. “But we cannot say yea or nay. We cannot judge the power of God to condemn or forgive,” Rawlings stated.
Minister in the House of God
Gay Sr. – contrary to reports that he is a retired Baptist minister – has been affiliated with the 25,000-member House of God denomination since 1931. He was ordained an elder (or pastor) in 1934 and a bishop in 1946. The minister was a member of the church’s Executive Board until the time his son became a success some 22 years ago. Gay then retired and declined further ministry, claiming that he feared flying in airplanes to attend the church’s national meetings.
The House of God characterizes itself as “The Hebrew Pentecostal Movement.” It was founded in 1918 by Bishop R.A.R. Johnson of Washington, D.C., a former Methodist minister. The church claims that it adheres to the “faith of Abraham” (hence, “Hebrew”). It calls for true allegiance to and obedience of God by keeping all of the Old Testament Law as given to Moses. Failure to live without sin can mean loss of salvation.
The “Pentecostal” aspect of the church includes a belief in Jesus as the Messiah and in a Spiritual Baptism, in which a believer speaks in “unknown tongues.” According to the House of God, one is not saved if he does not speak in tongues.
Bishop Rawlings, 69, who has been a friend of Gay Sr. since 1931, officiated at the funeral.
In a subsequent telephone interview from his Lexington, Kentucky, headquarters, Rawlings said, “Rev. Gay transgressed the Law of God. He placed his salvation in jeopardy. But he can seek pardon and God will forgive him.”
Despite often close living arrangements since 1962, there was a long record of hostility between father and son. When asked in a prison interview whether he ever loved his son, Gay said, “Let’s say that I didn’t dislike him.”
There is a significant difference in the stories surrounding the shooting told to police by Marvin Gay Sr. and his wife, Alberta. Gay claims he was being beaten by his son, the gun was at hand in Marvin Jr.’s room, that Gay grabbed it and fired, not realizing what he was doing.
Alberta Gay says that her husband ran out of the room, returned some time later, and shot their son.
It will most likely be up to a jury to decide whether the shooting was premeditated or not. If it was, much attention will be paid to the motive. Was it the father’s ultimate punishment on a wayward son?
The last word on this matter has undoubtedly not been heard. The trial or legal action will likely be delayed to determine the father’s mental state. In the meantime, the title of one of Marvin Gaye’s early hit songs comes hauntingly to mind: “What’s Going On.” Epilogue?
Marvin Gay Sr. was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and given a six-year suspended prison sentence. He died in 1998.