Megachurch prosperity gospel preacher, Bishop Eddie Long was recently slapped with charges that he pressured young men into sexual relationships with him. Since the news dropped there have been comparisons to the Catholic Church and its many scandals involving child molesting priests and other sex related controversies. There have also been a lot of jokes (sometimes tempered with cries that sexual coercions is not funny ... and, honestly, it isn't). But the underlying theme in the jokes and the comparisons is the feeling that something isn't quite right in some black churches.
From Forbes (via The Associated Press):
Long spent more than 20 years building all that up, but his empire hangs in the balance. And his 25,000 followers aren't about to let it all come tumbling down after the three men's claims that the bishop abused his spiritual authority.
"I've always thought he was a very powerful man of God," said Anshay Tull, a 27-year-old attendee of Long's church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. "I'm just praying, trying to stay hopeful that it's not true. If it is true, he has to take that up with God. But that can't take away from the Word that he gives. I think he's very gifted."
He's preached against gay marriage, and his church has counseled gay members to become straight - even though the men claim in their lawsuits that Long used money, cars, international trips, jewelry and other objects to lure them into sexual relationships when they were 17 or 18 years old.
And the Long story keeps getting worse.
CBS News' Erica Hill reports the pastor allegedly sent his accusers numerous photos of himself including at least several of him wearing spandex and workout clothes.
It's not known precisely how the photos surfaced.
B.J. Bernstein, an attorney for the three plaintiffs, said Long sent her clients dozens of e-mails, but they weren't "overly sexual," she said.
Long canceled an interview with the Tom Joyner Morning Show Thursday, opting instead to make his first public response to the sex allegations during a service at his Atlanta-area church on Sunday, according to his lawyer, who appeared on the nationally syndicated radio show in Long's absence.
Attorney Craig Gillen told Joyner that Long took young men on trips as part of a mentoring program, but stands by his denial of claims that he had sex with three of them.
I'm not one to romanticize the black church. Even in its heyday of the Civil Rights Movement there were always issues. Issues with abuse and sexism and the other things that come with the human condition. No body is perfect. And where there is money there are corruptible people. Not every minister during the Civil Rights Movement was talking about justice. Problems with pastors, power and money have existed as long as there have been churches to lead.
But the beauty of the black church was always that it was purely for black people, by black people. Hence why the social activism angle was so strong. How could a pastor, who received all his support and income from the community, not stand up for that community? How could someone who claimed to follow Jesus, the original community organizer and social rabble rouser, not stand up and demand that the needs of his people be heard? It was just something you were supposed to do. It was your duty to right wrongs. Others had to worry about losing their jobs or being persecuted. The black community paid their ministers' rent and bills and the black community protected them. The least they could do is be half-way decent spokespersons for the movement.
But once our problems were no longer easily identified by men in white hoods and slurs, once things got a little better, there were opportunities for those who wanted them to take their flock, church and message and make it bigger, spread it farther and make it more lucrative. There was money to be made in the souls of black folk. You surely didn't think that no pastor would heed that call.
This Long situation has all the markings of the old saying about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Here is a man making hand over fist in cash, dressing in the most audacious of wealth and finery, heretically preaching about God as if he is your holy concierge, granting wishes of wealth and prosperity if you just ask. I could go into how irresponsible that is and that if you follow the story of Jesus he would have busted up these churches, tossing tables and condemning all these darn money changers in his Father's temple, but do you have time for a lengthy discussion on why the prosperity gospel is heretical? That's a whole other blog post, so just read this.
What I will say is that Long isn't the only one abusing his power. He is not the first and he won't be the last. When there is this much money to be made off the souls of people, both black and white, looking for meaning in their lives, you are going to find individuals like Long. I recently spoke with a friend who has ties to the gospel music industry about this issue and he is adamant that the Long accusations are true and have been known in the community for years. He is also adamant that Long is not the only one with improper relationships with both men and women within the church. He is hoping that this scandal will cause all the opulent robes to come off and expose these so called men and women of faith for who they truly are -- fancy snake oil salesmen. Religious hucksters and hypewomen. Hypocrites.
It's time for the black church to get to cleaning house. Let's start with Long.