This is a very difficult blog for me to write because religion is the most personal aspect of one’s life and I never want to get into anyone’s religion. “I am not perfect,” but I do have an opinion based upon what I know. Let me share it, but before I continue, I hold no man above my higher power, who I chose to call God. I also know that “religion” is a business and sometimes leaders tend to lose sight of the mission. However, my spiritual compass teaches me that what is done in the dark will come to light. For this reason, I reluctantly, offer a few thoughts concerning this mess Bishop Eddie L. Long has gotten himself into.
He came to national prominence in 2006, when his New Missionary Baptist Church hosted four U.S. presidents for the funeral of Coretta Scott King. The church sits on a 240-acre campus and has satellite churches in other cities. It is one of the largest venues in the state of Georgia. The church boasts a roster of parishioners that includes athletes, entertainers, politicians and many who are considered prominent within the African American community. Only TD Jakes is larger in terms of stature and prominence among black ministries.
Sunday morning B-Long took to the pulpit of his sprawling mega-church to address his 25,000 member congregation defiantly and confidently. “Please hear this: I have been accused. I’m under attack. I want you to know that I am not a perfect man but this thing I’m gon’ fight… I feel like David against Goliath but I’ve got five rocks and I haven’t thrown one yet.”
Portraying himself as the Bible’s ultimate underdog, B-Long went before thousands of his faithful supporters and promised to fight accusations that he lured four young men into sexual relationships. However, it was significant to note that he stopped short of denying the allegations while implying he was wronged by them. Nor did B-Long address the allegations directly but spoke at length about enduring painful times. He used the word “painful” nearly 20 times and “difficult” came up seven times along with a lot of scripture.
Many lined up for hours before the start of service with some wearing t-shirts that said, “Love like him. Live like him. Lead like him”, while others stood in prayer circles, clutching Bibles and singing the hymn, “Wash Me White as Snow,” then as B-Long entered the cathedral, a group of people shouted, “We love you bishop!”
Some people in the church cried even before he took the stage to give his statement followed by a brief sermon on facing painful situations. His statement: “I have never in my life portrayed myself as a perfect man but I am not the man that is being portrayed on the television. That’s not me. That is not me.” Members of the church appear to have closed ranks around B-Long. One member said as if he was on a war footing “The devil always tries to attack the Kingdom… We will fight it on our knees with prayer and fasting. He’s not a perfect man, but God will fight on his behalf”.
B-Long made it clear that he is determined to hold on to the religious empire he built and would the fight four lawsuits alleging he used his position to coerce young male members of his flock into sex acts. In their lawsuits, the young men, all over 16 at the time of the alleged incidents, say that B-Long instructed them to call him “Daddy” and moved to block their relationships with girls by “increased contact and spiritual talk as to the covenant between the Spiritual Son and himself.”
It has been rumored that some in B-Longs circle knew about his conduct but did nothing to warn the defendants. They allege that he “has a pattern and practice of singling out a select group of young male church members and using his authority as Bishop over them to ultimately bring them to the point of engaging in a sexual relationship.”
B-Long is a father of four, married, and has been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage and his church has counseled gay members to become straight. Two of the young men say he groomed them for sexual relationships while enrolled in the church’s LongFellows Youth Academy, a program that taught teens about sexual and financial discipline. According to its Web site, it has also held weekly “out of the wilderness” counseling sessions for the “discipleship of men and women struggling with homosexuality.” The other two young men, one of whom attended a satellite church in Charlotte, N.C., have made similar claims. The men say they were 17 or 18 when the relationships began. Federal and state authorities have declined to investigate because Georgia’s age of consent is 16.
These four men, in their civil lawsuits, tell remarkably similar stories. They say that Long took a special interest in some of the young men who attended his church in Atlanta and a satellite church in Charlotte. They say he took them separately on trips to such destinations as Kenya, South Africa and New Zealand when they were teenagers — but above the age of consent in Georgia, which is 16. David-Goliath, really, I think B-Long’s got that backward.
For years, B-Long has been either beloved or bemoaned for his glitzy lifestyle and politically connected mega-church. It has TV ministries, a fitness center, a school, and a program for the homeless and addicted. In 2004, Long and Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., led a march in downtown Atlanta calling for a “return to family values in the African American community” and opposing same-sex relationships, while demanding health-care and education reform. Long was a supporter of President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiatives.
B-Long became one of the country’s most powerful independent church leaders over the last 20 years, turning a suburban Atlanta congregation of 150 to a 25,000 member powerhouse with a $50 million cathedral. I’m sure as a result B-Long felt he, too, should be prosperous. In 2005, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published tax records from the church showing that, from 1997 to 2000; B-Long had accepted $3 million in salary, housing and other perks from a charity he controlled. He told the newspaper: “We’re not just a church, we’re an international corporation. We’re not just a bumbling bunch of preachers who can’t talk and all we’re doing is baptizing babies. I deal with the White House. . . . I pastor a multimillion-dollar congregation.”
Now my questions: What if it ends up being true? Has it tarnished the good work it is said that he has done? Or does this scandal, such as the cases of child sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church and the revelations that Ted Haggard, the former leader of the National Evangelical Association, allegedly engaged in sex acts with a male prostitute, prove that he is a hypocrite. I was disappointed for this reason, from what I saw I did not see a man that was innocent.
He said this is not him. Well who is Eddie Long? The upstanding father of four who came to the pulpit hand-in-hand with his wife and denounced but did not deny the allegations against him? Or the manipulative sexual con artist who, according to his four accusers, does not remotely practice what he preaches? Saint or sinner, preacher or hustler, or maybe he’s just on the “Down Low”.
Nonetheless, there were almost no sign Sunday that his flock wanted to turn him away. However, it was reported that one young man during the second service in a blue shirt stood up and shouted: “We want to know the truth, man!” He was quickly escorted out and did not return. As for B-Long he said, “I love you, New Birth… I’m not leaving you if you don’t leave me.” When he finished, the sanctuary roared with applause as B-Long dropped the microphone, took his wife Vanessa’s hand and left the stage. I hope that we will believe in God and not the goods, as that is where our salvation comes.