“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness,
but instead expose them.”
The Story Behind the Story – Roberta Langella and Pastor Jim Cymbala
How Celebrity Christianity, Spiritual Abuse, and Bad Theology Leads to Suicide
My name is Steven Langella. I am a former member and deacon of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. I would like to share with you the story behind the story of my sister Roberta Langella. For the past 20 years, Roberta’s story has been told by Jim Cymbala, the Senior Pastor of The Brooklyn Tabernacle, and the National Co-Chairmen of the 6:4 Fellowship.
Roberta’s story has been featured in the books; Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire and You Were Made For More, the VHS video He’s Been Faithful, and the DVD When God’s People Pray . Roberta also made an appearance on the ABC News Program Person of the Week – Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir on Friday, Apr 14, 1995. It is not an exaggeration to say that The Brooklyn Tabernacle made millions of dollars off of the books that included Roberta’s story. Roberta did not want to share that she was HIV positive. But Jim Cymbala coached Roberta and told her that her story would encourage thousands. So reluctantly, Roberta went along with Jim’s wishes and shared her story with the world. At the end of the day The Brooklyn Tabernacle made millions of dollars, and Roberta Langella lived the rest of her life on food stamps and welfare.
Roberta committed suicide on October 2, 2016, due to an overdose of Percocet. She will be greatly missed. Our family wants to thank all of those who showed up for her Memorial Service on October 8, 2016. Your overflow of love and support for Roberta was overwhelming. Thank you for loving Roberta and us at this very painful time. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a difficult time.” Proverbs 17:17.
Unfortunately, not one pastor from Brooklyn Tabernacle, including Jim and Carol Cymbala, attended the Memorial, sent flowers, a card, a text, a phone call, or any other form of condolences to the family. And yet, Jim Cymbala was still selling Roberta’s testimony on the Brooklyn Tabernacle website. In the below video, Jim Cymbala tells the audience that true shepherds care for the souls of the people that God has entrusted to their care. It seems Roberta is the exception.
The story of Roberta Langella that is being told in Jim Cymbala’s books and DVD is simply not true, and what makes it even more troubling is that Jim Cymbala knows it’s not true. It is, at best, a half-truth that has been altered to give the appearance of a woman who is a “vibrant Christian”. It is true that Roberta was extremely likable, funny, compassionate and artistic. Roberta could make a rock laugh. But Roberta was struggling spiritually. And this went on year after year. And it is for this reason that I am writing the truth about Roberta Langella. Many of you who thought you knew Roberta might be surprised at what you read. You might even be angry at me for telling the truth. But don’t let anger cloud your vision. Instead, look at the facts stated and then come to your own conclusions. There is a great injustice being done in the name of the Gospel, and for that, I must speak the truth in love.
As we have seen in recent years, there is no shortage of exaggerated Christian testimonies that have been embraced and believed by the church at large. One such testimony is that of Ergun Caner. Ergun became an overnight Christian celebrity through his dramatic testimony regarding his conversion from Islam to Christianity. Yet it was all a lie. He stretched and fabricated his story for dramatic effect. For more on this story see the article The Ergun Caner Affair – One Assembly of the Evidence on Dr. White’s website Alpha & Omega Ministries.
My desire is not to attack or condemn anyone here. God will judge the motives of men’s heart and test their work. What I desire to do is speak the truth about Roberta Langella. And I must do this because I know the truth about Roberta Langella. And what has been put forth by Jim Cymbala’s books and DVDs is not the truth. And to stand by quietly, while a lie is being told in the name of the Gospel, would make me just as guilty as Ergun Caner. Admittedly, I bear an added burden. I’m not just talking about anyone. I am talking about my sister. Hopefully, what I share will cause many to stop buying books and DVDs with fabricated testimonies. Hopefully what I share will help others to avoid using gimmicks and dramatic stories when it comes to preaching the gospel.
The Gospel is the power of God, not dramatic stories. The Apostle Paul stated in Romans 1:16:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
The gospel is a message about the birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the Gospel that is the power of God unto salvation, not a person’s sordid past, or even a Christian testimony. God’s means of bringing about salvation has always been, and will always be through the Gospel. God doesn’t need our help, our gimmicks, and He especially doesn’t need our exaggerated stories. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “The Gospel is like a caged lion; you don’t have to defend it – just let it out of the cage.” In the same way, the Gospel does not need our embellished or exaggerated stories. Just preach it and results will happen. And it is for this very reason that I must share the truth about Roberta’s story. Jim Cymbala has used Roberta’s story repeatedly over the past 20 years to promote the truth of the Gospel. Yet ironically, the story is not true. This is a great disservice both to the Lord and to His church.
It was also a great disservice to Roberta Langella. Roberta could never live up to the image that was portrayed in Jim Cymbala’s books and DVD’s. Although she desired to be the “vibrant Christian woman” who Jim Cymbala portrayed. In reality, Roberta was a weak and struggling Christian who suffered from severe depression and loneliness. Added to that was the daily weight of trying to live up to the false image that the books and DVDs depicted. It was a recipe for disaster.
Roberta first came to the Brooklyn Tabernacle in 1989 where I was a member and kept inviting her to church. One Tuesday night she showed up at the prayer meeting, sat down next to me, began to weep and said to me, “Steven I need Jesus”. She just came off of a crack binge and was a broken woman. She started coming to church and attending a Monday Night Bible study. I began to see growth in my sister but she still had a long way to go. Within a year she was a member of the church and joined the choir. It was then that she wrote out her testimony and gave it to Carol Cymbala, the choir director, who in turn gave it to her husband Jim Cymbala. In retrospect, that was the worst day in Roberta Langella’s life. For that day would catapult Roberta into the status of a celebrity-like Christian. The last thing that Roberta needed was to be a celebrity. What Roberta really needed discipleship. Sadly, that is something that Roberta would never receive from the leadership of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Instead, she was used as a trophy to promote books, videos, DVDs for the Brooklyn Tabernacle that brought in over 3 million dollars. I know that this is really hard for those loyal to the Brooklyn Tabernacle to hear. I do not believe that they intentionally set out to exploit Roberta or place a heavy yoke around her neck that she could never bear. Nevertheless, that is exactly what Jim Cymbala did.
And the reason why I believe this happened is due to the fact that Jim Cymbala is a fan of Charles Finney. If you know anything about Charles Finney, you know that he is the father of modern-day pragmatism. Finney was driven by one thing and one thing only: numbers by any means necessary. Since Finney believed that man basically could save himself by an action of the will, he initiated his “new measures” to get as many decisions for Christ as possible. An article entitled Together Against Extrabiblical Methods on the Grace To You website states the following:
“Finney was a pragmatist driven solely by results. He held no strong allegiance to any theological framework. That’s why his preaching was such a mixed bag—he was only interested in refining his sales pitch.”
“But marketing and manipulation don’t make the gospel any more plausible or potent.”
“The truth is that the gospel doesn’t need to be cleverly packaged—it simply needs to be preached.”
What does this have to do with Roberta? Everything! You see, pragmatism is not concerned so much with content as it is with results. The only thing that matters is, “Does it work?” Can we use it to draw large crowds? Will it meet a felt need of the people? If so, then let’s do it! Sadly, “By any means necessary” has become the rallying cry for many Evangelicals in America today. Pragmatism blinds the eyes to the fact that pastors are called to shepherd the sheep, not exploit them.
And this is exactly what happened to Roberta. Instead of caring for Roberta’s soul, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them” (1 Peter 5:1a), the leadership at the Brooklyn Tabernacle saw Roberta as a marketing ploy, an object to be used by the Brooklyn Tabernacle to proclaim the gospel. Soon Roberta became somewhat of a Christian celebrity who was known as the girl with the “amazing testimony”. This was detrimental to Roberta on so many levels. Roberta had always been preoccupied with seeking approval from those around her. She was extremely insecure and never felt like she fit in. Now, all of a sudden, she was a Christian celebrity and it was like a drug for Roberta. Her identity had always been wrapped up in her acceptance of others and now she was on top of the world. Everyone wanted to be around Roberta. Soon she was traveling the country, speaking at churches, sharing her dramatic testimony. Her story was featured in Jim’s book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, in the choir’s video He’s Been Faithful, and in the DVD series When God’s People Pray and even on an ABC News Program. She had a short-lived appearance in Jim Cymbala’s book You Were Made For More which we will get into a bit later. Roberta was at the peak of her celebrity status when it all came crashing down.
The story of Roberta that has been portrayed in Jim Cymbala’s books and DVDs are simply not true. Yes, Roberta had a very sordid past. Yes, Roberta sought mercy at the feet of Jesus Christ. Yes, Roberta seemed to be making some real progress initially. But it was all short-lived. In reality, Roberta never learned how to walk in the grace of God. Roberta’s life can be compared to the parable of the seed that fell on rocky ground:
“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil,but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.” (Matthew 13:5-6)
The bottom line is that Roberta struggled spiritually. And that struggle began when she was leading the Brooklyn Tabernacle Homeless Ministry in 1994 and continued until she committed suicide on October 2, 2016. Roberta was never the “vibrant Christian woman” that Jim Cymbala portrayed her to be in his books and DVDs. There were several occasions where Roberta went to Jim and told her that she was severely depressed and struggling spiritually, to which he responded, “Roberta, suck it up, it’s not about you”. His antidote was to send her out to other churches to give her testimony. The truth is that Roberta was a commodity, and her story was so dramatic and larger than life that it would sell books, DVDs and even “help” the cause of the Gospel. She was not allowed to be a weak, depressed, struggling Christian. Otherwise, she would have been a poor advertisement for Jesus Christ.
“Roberta suck it up, it’s not about you”.
In 1995, before the release of the video He’s Been Faithful, Roberta was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and clinical depression by a psychiatrist that she was seeing. She went to Pastor Cymbala prior to seeing the psychiatrist for counseling because she was suffering from depression. The only counsel that Jim Cymbala gave her was “pray more”. After he found out that she had gone to see a psychiatrist, he forbade her from taking any of the medication she had been prescribed for the two conditions and warned her never to go back to the psychiatrist again.
He’s Been Faithful – 1995
MANY STRUGGLES AND RELAPSE (2004-2006)
Roberta became deathly ill and ended up in the hospital and then in a nursing. After Roberta was released from the hospital and nursing home in 2004 she struggled with drug addiction. The bottom line is that Jim Cymbala and the leadership of the Brooklyn Tabernacle knew about Roberta’s struggles and basically ignored them as the below emails clearly show.
From: Roberta Langella
Date: 1/25/2006 @1:43AM
Dear Pastor Cymbala and Carol,
Greetings! I want to give you a praise report. I believe I had a major breakthrough with the Lord and I am so exited I must share it with you. It has been 2 years since I have been home from the hospital and as I am sure you are well aware, I have had many struggles, beginning with my unintended addiction to pain pills to my very unfortunate relapse which really devastated me. I had been clean and sober for 18 years. I can’t tell you how that set me so far back. I thought I would never return. I could not really understand how or why that happened. I was at my most vulnerable moment that my ex-boyfriend showed up on the scene. It was he (my-ex) whom i relapsed with.
In her email, Roberta stated that for the past two years, since her release from the hospital, Jim Cymbala was “well aware” of her “many struggles”, which included, addiction to pain killers, and her relapse with her ex-boyfriend (Just to clarify, a relapse meant that Roberta went back to smoking crack and was intimately involved with her ex-boyfriend, the same boyfriend that Jim Cymbala wrote about in his book “You Were Made For More”. See audio below).
Roberta went on to tell Jim Cymbala that she had a breakthrough. A woman at a prayer meeting prophesied over her. That was her breakthrough. This is very disturbing to me. My sister confessed to her pastor that for two years she was struggling with crack, addiction to pain kills, and intimately involved with her ex. But now she is doing great because a woman prophesied over her and she had a breakthrough.
How did Jim Cymbala respond to this breakthrough? Three months later he asked Roberta to give her testimony. Instead of long-term discipleship and caring for her soul, he put her up in the spotlight, again. Jim Cymbala failed to pastor Roberta but instead exploited her, again.
From: Hamilton, Fayola
To: Roberta L.
I am emailing you because Pastor Cymbala wanted to know if you will be available to give your testimony this Sunday, May 7th at the 3:30 PM Service, or Sunday June 3rd at the 3:30PM Service.
Please let me know.
In His Service,
Assistant to Pastor Jim Cymbala
The Brooklyn Tabernacle
ONE YEAR LATER – WHEN GOD’S PEOPLE PRAY (2007)
Fast-forward one year later. The DVD series When God’s People Pray was released in January 2007. Roberta was one of the featured testimonies in this DVD.
Watching this video, as someone who knew Roberta — the real Roberta, I can only conclude that Roberta was giving testimony to the Roberta of 15 years earlier, when she was at the height of her celebrity Christian status, and not to the Roberta of the here and now. Although it is a moving video combined with music and videography to help create a moving testimony, it’s all a lie, a lie that Jim Cymbala helped promulgate.
What I find extremely troubling is the fact that Roberta was heading up a ministry at the Brooklyn Tabernacle. She was sexually involved with a man who was not her husband . And when she confessed this to the leadership, instead of sitting her down and ministering the gospel to her; instead of practicing church discipline and caring for her soul, they simply covered it up as of nothing ever happened and Roberta continued to lead the ministry.
This was not helpful to Roberta at all. This is a misapplication of the scripture “love covers a multitude of sin”. This verse does not mean that we simply sweep sin under the rug and forgive and forget. Sin has consequences, and those who have a repeated pattern of sin in their lives must be sat down and special care given to them to restore them and help them walk in the grace of God. Whenever Roberta did confess to the leadership that she was struggling and not living right, instead of spending time and walking her through the scriptures, they sent her out to give her testimony.
Roberta had a history of attraction to older and authoritative like figures. She continually allow domineering and manipulative men into her life and seemed powerless to resist their control. When a powerful and well known pastor like Jim Cymbala convinced her to share her testimony, she could not say no.
I also would like to address something in the above video. Roberta said that “God have her a scripture”. I can only assume that this is in correlation with the topic that Jim Cymbala was speaking about on clinging to God’s promises.
Here is verse Roberta quoted:
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily” (Isaiah 58:7–8).
There is only one problem with claiming Isaiah 58 as a promise for healing, it’s not a promise for New Testament believers. It was addressed to Jews who were in exile for their idolatry and disobedience. To pull verses out of their historical context and claim them as personal promises from God is dangerous. Especially when those promises are found in the Old Testament. She should have received correction on misusing scriptures. Her pastor should have explained to her that healing is not a promise for those who feed the homeless. Roberta is dead now. So did God’s promise fail? Roberta continued to battle with the HIV and was repeatedly in and out of hospitals from 2007 until her death. In my past conversations with Roberta we spoke about these so-called “promises” and she confessed that she was confused as to why God never healed her. Whenever scripture is misused and misapplied it becomes a source of great discouragement. This only served to plunge Roberta into a deeper state of depression. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12)
After the lights faded and Roberta was told that the ministry to the homeless was no longer a priority for the Brooklyn Tabernacle; and that God was “moving in a new direction”, it was then that Roberta came face to face with the reality that she was not that strong vibrant celebrity superstar Christian, but a weak, struggling sinner who could not seem to get her act together. And unfortunately, since the Gospel was never the foundation of Roberta’s ministry, she was not equipped to deal with her own depravity and sinful heart, and she spun out of control. Roberta was not doing well. Although at this time she was working at the Brooklyn Tabernacle heading up the Decorative Arts Ministry, she was struggling spiritually. Yes, even while taping the DVD Series When God’s People Pray she was suffering from severe depression, addicted to prescription drugs, and started drinking heavily. Now the last thing that I want to do is speak ill of my sister whom I love. We all have skeletons in our closet. But it is because I love Roberta, and because of my love for the Gospel, I really don’t have a choice but to tell the truth, no matter how ugly this is.
The truth is, Roberta continued to struggle until she passed away. And it was because of Roberta’s condition, and my concern for her life, I finally send the following email to Pastor Jim Cymbala on August 6, 2007. Six months after the release of When God’s People Pray and one year prior to the release of Jim Cymbala’s book, You Were Made For More.
From: Langella, Steven G
Sent: Monday, August 06, 2007 12:20 PM
Subject: Regarding Roberta
I know that I always seem to come to you with bad news regarding my sister but what am I to do? She is in very serious trouble and is on a path of self-destruction.I know how much you love her and she really will not listen to what I have to say.
Here is her situation.
She has not been to church in a few weeks (except for Pastor Boekstaff’s funeral,she sat in the Balcony). She is now smoking cigarettes (I saw her on numerous occasions and she confessed that she is).
She has been drinking occasionally as well. She has been sleeping with an old boyfriend xxxx. She says it has stopped but I really don’t know if that is true. She has been seeing a Christian Counselor that xxxxxx recommended.
He has counseled her along the following lines:
In regards to her relationship with xxxxxx who is not a believer – He said she should not stop seeing him. In regards to cigarettes – He said she should not try to stop smoking at this time.
When my sister Susan told her that she needs to stop seeing xxxxxxx, Roberta replied: “I want what I want and I don’t care”. Susan also told her she is in danger of losing her salvation to which she replied: “I can’t lose my salvation so it doesn’t matter”
She is in trouble Pastor Cymbala. She has been up and down for years and she is getting worse each time she does this. She is heading up a ministry and I told her that she is on dangerous ground and also has a responsibility that goes along with being a head of a ministry.
I love my sister and cannot sit back and not say anything. What kind of watchmen and faithful friend would I be? I know that Pastor Burgos spoke with her a few weeks ago but nothing has changed at all. I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news but like I said. What am I to do? Sit back in silence and watch herself destruct? What I am saying can be verified by two other people and I know if you talk to Roberta she will tell you the truth.
Steven G. Langella
I really wish that I could say that the leadership took my email seriously. Unfortunately, they did not. Although they sat Roberta down from the Decorative Arts Ministry and stopped paying for her car payment. They did nothing to nurture her soul or help her spiritually. They only gave her the typical anecdote of, “Go sit in the Prayer Band and attend three services”. There was no true discipleship for Roberta to be found at the Brooklyn Tabernacle. She continued to drift and struggle and spiral out of control.
ONE YEAR LATER – (2008)
Fast forward one year later to July 1, 2008. Not much had changed for my sister over the past year, in fact, she was actually getting worse. So while I was serving as a Deacon at the Brooklyn Tabernacle I sent a second email to Pastor Jim Cymbala regarding Roberta’s condition.
I’m reaching out to you on behalf of my sister Roberta. Currently, she in Florida visiting my mother. The reports that I am getting from my family are very disturbing and I am deeply concerned.
While Roberta went to Florida to help my mother care for my sister while she recovered from ankle surgery, I have been told that all Roberta does is sleep all day, and at night she is out with a neighbor who is known drug addict. Before her trip to Florida Roberta confessed to me that she was addicted to painkillers. She is chain-smoking and drinking to the point of getting drunk regularly. My mother caught her sneaking into my sister Susan’s pocketbook to steal her Percocet painkillers that were prescribed for Susan’s ankle. When Susan counted – there were 9 missing.
Roberta even went so far as to ask our teenage sister if she knew where to buy OxyContin. In case you are wondering OxyContin is supposed to be the newest drug of choice on the street. It’s prescribed for pain but is sold on the street crushed.It’s snorted and is supposed to deliver a powerful and fast high that is better than heroin. It’s lethal.
My family sees Roberta resorting to back to her old ways – manipulating, lying, and stealing. My mother and sister told me that she has been very difficult and aloof since she got there. My mother said she always appears to be under the influence of some kind of drug and is almost zombie like at times. I am sorry that I am saying all of this to you but I really don’t know what else to do. She is on an absolute path of destruction and my family is losing trust in her. She is self-destructing and doing it fast.
She has had two mini strokes in the past month and this morning my mother had to rush her to the emergency room because she was taking sleeping pills, pain-killers, and other medication. That coupled with her cigarettes and alcohol are going to bring her to an early grave.
I am telling you this to beg you to please intervene. She will listen to you. She needs to be confronted and needs to go to some kind of rehab program. She has been like this for a few years.
There seemed to be a more appropriate response to my second email. Pastor Cymbala spoke to the church at the Tuesday Night Prayer Meeting that same night and they prayed for Roberta. But that is where I believe the church failed. As important as prayer is, it is extremely unhealthy when other aspects of Christianity are neglected in its place. There is a time to pray and there is a time to act. Roberta needed more than prayer. She needed her leaders to be the under-shepherds that they were called to be and come alongside her and correct her, encourage, her and disciple her. Something that all the praying in the world could not accomplish. Unfortunately, that never happened. Nothing much changed regarding Roberta’s condition. It was around that time that my wife and I left the Brooklyn Tabernacle.
Here I would like to address the issue of prayer. Whenever a church magnifies prayer above the Word of God, it become susceptible to false teachers. When doctrine is downplayed, the church is left defenseless and lacks the ammunition to fight off false doctrine. The church is the pillar and foundation of truth according to 1 Timothy 3:15. When we jettison the importance of expository preaching and sound biblical doctrine, and replace it with prayer, we are on dangerous ground. The church does not need prayer. The church needs prayer and sound doctrine. We cannot pit one against the other. And any pastor that does so is grossly mistaken.
Also, we can’t pray effectively unless we first have a proper and correct view of God? When a pastor elevates prayer above preaching and teaching, he is teaching the people that what they have to say to God, is more important than what God has to say to them. We must reject that kind of man-centered theology. True prayer is ignited by rich Biblical doctrine and theology. The more we understand and know God through His word, and the more we understand and know our own depravity and wretchedness, the more we will flee to Christ for refuge and find mercy and grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
YOU WERE MADE FOR MORE – 2008
On August 8, 2008, one month after my email to Pastor Cymbala, the book You Were Made for More was released. When I read the story about Roberta I was beside myself. I thought to myself “How in the world can they print this story when they know all too well that Roberta is not doing well spiritually?”
Listen as Jim Cymbala tells another story about Roberta:
As you can imagine my family was extremely upset. We were beside ourselves. How could this pastor, who was supposed to shepherd the flock, go so low, as to exploit Roberta again! Not only did the book portray a Roberta that simply did not exist, the story itself is a lie. It was not the complete story that Jim knew about. The Roberta of You Were Made for More is nothing more than a figment of Jim Cymbala’s imagination. This is nothing less than pragmatism gone wild. Who cares if its true, as long as the people are blessed. The book failed to mention that Roberta continued to struggled prior to, and after the incident described in the book, as the above emails clearly show. These details were left out of the book to make the story more dramatic. After all, drama sells.
My sister Susan responded to Jim Cymbala’s book in an online forum. Here is Susan’s response.
A Response to “You Were Made for More” Pastor Jim Cymbala by Susan Langella – Elazm.
My name is Susan, and I am the sister of Roberta Langella, who as many of you know, has been part of the Brooklyn Tabernacle for many years. I read Pastor Cymbala’s new book,” You Were Made For More”, and I felt compelled to write this response to what has been written in the book; compelled to write the truth. I am acting alone here; my family knows nothing of my decision to write this. They only grieve with me for the marketing ploy my sister has apparently become to Pastor Cymbala. Since possibly millions of people will read this new book, I feel it is my moral responsibility to correct, in a public setting as well, the distortions of what has been written to the masses in this book about her by Pastor Cymbala.
I feel it is imperative, in light of what has been written on this blog, to state, unequivocally, that I have no personal vendetta against the Pastor, staff or family of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. They have always been very kind to me, and I have never been personally offended by anyone at the church in any way since my first day in attendance in 1988 when I got saved. I later became involved in the nursery ministry, and eventually became part of the choir, singing alongside my sister, and have been blessed for having been a part of the congregation. But, when I read the new book, my heart sank with the realization that the Godly Spirit that permeated the church when I was a member had been compromised for the benefit of book sales and that my sister was a part of that compromise. Then, it became overwhelmingly personal because I love my sister dearly, and have been her biggest supporter and fan throughout the highs and lows of her incredible life.
This isn’t the first time Roberta’s story has been told by the Pastor; her story has been told in previous videos and books, and that story has been a blessing to many. But, in retrospect, it seems that once the lights had dimmed and the publicity had stopped, Roberta became dispensable. I was always amazed at how forgiving she was at being treated like a sideshow at times, but she never stopped smiling when all eyes were upon her. In the past few years, she has struggled with severe depression, and it was her family who held her, cried with her, and loved her during these times, as it should be. Pastor Cymbala has been aware of her struggles before and during the writing of this book, as my family members have communicated with him regarding the depth of her depression and struggles she has been facing for the last few years. He even recently met with her to discuss her situation, but then passed the responsibility onto another Pastor. Since that meeting, nothing has been done to help her, so she has sought help elsewhere. For Pastor Cymbala to include Roberta in this book, knowing her true spiritual, physical, emotional and mental state, is a travesty, and I must question the integrity of his motives for writing about her in this book. I can’t help but feel those motives are based on sensationalism for the sake of book sales, and to benefit the Brooklyn Tabernacle; not out of genuine concern for my sister. If he genuinely cared about her spiritual condition, he would have never written these things, because they only serve to distort the truth for the sake of publicity and burden my sister with having to uphold the distortion of that truth. It is a very big responsibility to be viewed as a spiritual example to so many people, and I know my sister struggles with that view of her in contrast to what is going on inside her soul, and the lack of consideration shown her for the profit of others is too much for our family to bear.
Pastor Cymbala knew and has known the true spiritual and emotional condition of my sister while writing this book, and what is written in those pages is in dark contrast to the truth. I believe that he has purposely not addressed these issues, but has actually dismissed them because the timing of my sister’s precarious emotional state is certainly not conducive to the publication of his latest book. I do not wish to put her life on display for the world to see or judge, but since that, in effect, has already been done in this book, I would like to point out the facts vs. what has been written in the book:
Page 157 states:
(a) “In the ensuing years, Roberta has become a remarkable woman of God, ministering in several areas of our church. She headed up our outreach to the homeless for quite a while”.(b)“She currently teaches in our Downtown Learning Center, helping young people and adults acquire employable skills in decorative painting and fashion design. Her smile and enthusiasm are a blessing to everyone she meets. We all admire her courage to keep going, even when she doesn’t feel well”.
(b) “She currently teaches in our Downtown Learning Center, helping young people and adults acquire employable skills in decorative painting and fashion design. Her smile and enthusiasm are a blessing to everyone she meets. We all admire her courage to keep going, even when she doesn’t feel well”.
(a) Roberta and the ministry were showcased in the “He’s Been Faithful Video”, and it was a ministry near and dear to her heart. She worked tirelessly for this ministry, despite her compromised physical condition. After the success of the video, Roberta was abruptly told that there would no longer be a homeless ministry. The only explanation given was that “we aren’t THAT kind of church. While Roberta was in charge of the ministry, she received a small stipend from the church, because she was on disability. Shortly after the ministry ended, she became so ill that she couldn’t work, and it was at this time that the church told her they could no longer “afford” to give her the stipend. She never uttered a single negative word, as she has always been fiercely loyal to Pastor Cymbala, but I know she was extremely wounded by that, but never questioned him about it.
(b) Since that time, Roberta has rebounded health-wise, and started working in the Downtown Learning Center, as described above. Due to her struggles with cigarettes, drinking, and being involved in a relationship with a non-Christian she was asked to step down from her teaching post and has not taught there in almost a year. The leadership of the church is well aware of this and the reasons for her departure from that ministry.
Page 157 states:”In early 2003, she became very sick. She had repeated bouts of pneumonia, plus pancreatitis…..it is not exaggerating to say that she almost died that day. In the middle of her physical weakness and emotional loneliness…”
Roberta did almost die several times during the year that she was sick, six months of which were in a nursing home. Pastor Cymbala visited her once during that entire year. When she was released from the nursing home, she struggled with the day-to-day chores due to her being only 90 lbs. and extremely weak. The church did not set up any kind of ongoing support system to help her,” in the middle of her physical weakness and emotional loneliness”. Roberta confessed to me many times that she felt completely “abandoned” by BT. A few faithful friends would visit and help out when they could, but Roberta had to rely solely on the help of her family to get her through those difficult times.
Page 160 states:“…She clings to the Holy Spirit for strength to keep that door closed in her life. She is stamping out the appeal of the flesh through the enabling power of God”.
The truth of the matter is that although my sister desires to walk in freedom, her life, at this time, does not reflect what has been written here, which is well-known by Pastor Cymbala and other members of the pastoral staff. Once again, it pains our family that the hardships of my sister would be deliberately exploited and the facts twisted for financial gain “in the name of Jesus”.
The following day, after Susan posted the above on Topix, Roberta’s phone began ringing non stop. It was Pastor Cymbala. My sister Susan sent him the following email:
Jim Cymbala replied:
On Sunday, August 24, 2008, 9:41 PM,
Pls. Call me at 91x-xx4-xx67.- PJC
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
To make a long story short, the family eventually met with Pastor Cymbala in September 2008. He told the family that he personally spoke to Zondervan and that the story would be removed from the book but unfortunately he couldn’t do anything about the thousands of copies that had already gone out with Roberta’s story in it. We suggested that a public statement would suffice. That he and Zondervan post a statement explaining that the story of Roberta was removed because it was not true. Jim responded by saying that would be impossible since they already gave him a $200,000 advancement on the book and he nor Zondervan would never agree to that. He apologized and made some promises to the family, unfortunately those promises never came to pass. The family waited for six months and then contacted Zondervan. It was then that we found out the story was still in the book. Zondervan revealed to us that the second printing had gone out prior to Pastor Cymbala contacting them in early September, which seemed rather strange since Jim told us that he personally spoke with Zondervan and confirmed that the second printing would not go out until the story has been replaced with another one.
We had to threaten Zondervan with a lawsuit before they finally removed the story.
It has been eight years since this whole ordeal has taken place. Roberta is no longer with us and yet her story is — to this day, still being told in books and DVDs produced by Jim Cymbala and the Brooklyn Tabernacle. And as I was writing this post, out of curiosity, I decided to download Jim Cymbala’s audio book You Were Made for More and to my surprise, what did I hear? The voice of Jim Cymbala telling Roberta’s story. The same false testimony that Zondervan and Jim Cymbal promised to remove from the book back in 2008. Yet, in spite of the promise, Roberta’s story was still being sold on Amazon and on the Brooklyn Tabernacle website.
So it is for this reason that I am writing this story. Even if Zondervan and Jim Cymbala did the right thing, and removed these false testimonies about Roberta from their books and DVDs, that would not account for the thousands upon thousands of books, audiobooks, and DVDs that have already been sold. I cannot tell you how many blog posts and sermons I have heard that use Roberta’s story found in these resources. In some instances, I personally contacted these churches and shared what I am sharing with you today. Thankfully many have removed her story.
I simply cannot wrap my depraved mind around this concept of using lies and fabrications to preach the Gospel? How can this be you ask? One word: Pragmatism.
It seems that Jim Cymbala is now practicing the very thing he once preached against. Below is an excerpt from the message that Jim Cymbala preached at the Praise Gathering in the early 90’s called “My House Shall Be Called A House of Prayer”.
Sadly, Pastor Cymbala wrote Roberta Langella off a long time ago. Coupled with the fact that she was no longer useful to the ministry of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, and that she went public on a blog in 2009 to expose the wrongs that were done to her, Jim was unable to extend the same grace and mercy to Roberta that he preaches week after week from the pulpit. In fact, he could not even find it in himself to send flowers, a card, or any other form of condolence to the family when Roberta died, even though he was still selling her testimony on Brooklyn Tabernacle’s website.
Since there will never be a public statement from Jim Cymbala or Zondervan correcting this erroneous story, I wanted all who are interested in the truth to know the true story behind the story of Roberta Langella. It would appear church leaders will never be held accountable for their dereliction of duty on this side. We have seen over and over the entitlement and corruption of church leadership in America. Pastors who use church funds and church people to build their own personal empires. Many of these churches are family businesses where unqualified sons and daughters are given positions. But they will answer to God one day. And what a terrifying day that will be.
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people:
“You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD.”
These men are the hidden reefs in your love feasts, shamelessly feasting with you but shepherding only themselves.
They are clouds without water, carried along by the wind; fruitless trees in autumn, twice dead after being uprooted.
Let’s make one thing crystal clear. Roberta Langella committed suicide because she suffered from years of depression which was partly caused by the celebrity Christianity and the lies perpetrated by the ministry of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Roberta could no longer carry the weight of living up to some kind of super-Christian status. The false promises of God that were derived from bad hermeneutics failed Roberta! She never received the healing that she thought that God had promised her in Isaiah 58. Roberta was never corrected by her pastor, but instead, was encouraged to share those scriptures in the DVD When God’s People Pray. Bad Theology has consequences. I am sure Roberta had other issues and was responsible for her own actions, but to say that 20 years of spiritual neglect at the hands of the Brooklyn Tabernacle leadership did not have a role in her committing suicide is a denial of the truth.
Note: I am a committed New Testament believer who is a member of a local church. Although my post does not represent my church, nevertheless, my Elders stand with me and agree that the truth must be told for the sake of the Gospel.
PLEASE READ PART 2: In Roberta’s Own Words – The Story Behind the Story of Jim Cymbala and Roberta Langella – How Spiritual Abuse Leads to Suicide – Part 2
I wrote this poem the day Roberta died. I believe it depicts the real Roberta Langella. Roberta was a very funny, compassionate, and talented woman. She was loved by all and will be greatly missed.
OUR LITTLE BIRDIE HAS FLOWN AWAY
It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to you today my dear sister. Throughout the years I have watched you suffer, fight, and struggle with your health, your faith, and even with yourself. You so desperately wanted to fly Birdie, but only managed to limp slowly along the path of life. And yet, through it all, you found a way to laugh and make others laugh.
I watched you Birdie, as you fell at the feet of Jesus asking him for mercy and grace and I watched Him answer your cry for help.
I watched you Birdie, as you tried to soar with eagles as others pushed you out of the nest much too early only to let you crash and burn. But through it all, you kept on limping along, laughing and making others laugh.
I watched you Birdie, as you aimlessly wandered without hope or direction, desperately trying to fly, but never quite making it off of the ground. Through sickness, sin, trials, and struggles you never lost your sense of humor or the ability to make others laugh, even though, at times, your laughter was only a mask to hide your own pain.
And now, our frail, weak, struggling, and limping, little Birdie has flown away. We will miss you greatly Roberta. But my hope is that one day I will see you on the other side.
And the reason why I have that hope is not because of your profession of faith in Jesus Christ, or your steadfast faithfulness, or your ability to endure until the end. But in the faithful God who chose sinners before the foundation of the world, and who in spite of their inability to soar like eagles, brings them safely home because he is faithful and true. And because He sent His one and only Son Jesus Christ to die in their place paying for all of their sins. And because I believe that God has great mercy on weak and struggling Christians who just can’t seem to get their act together.
It is this glorious Doctrine of Election that gives me hope that I will one day see you again.
Your brother, Steven Langella.