The recent appearance of Atlanta mega-church leader Bishop Eddie Long took center stage on the “Steve Harvey Show.” Long spoke at length with Harvey regarding the allegations of sexual misconduct with several young Black men at his church. Long has since settled various aspects of the allegations through out of court settlements and non-disclosure agreements. When pressed about whether he did in fact have sex with the young men who accused him, he declined to answer stating legal restrictions.
Long shared his personal struggle, which almost led to a divorce from his wife and contemplation of suicide. During the midst of the allegations against Long, his continued leadership of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church seemed doubtful. The church suffered a decline in membership and monetary donations as the scandal unfolded. Even other megachurch pastors told Long’s congregation they should stick by their pastor despite the allegations. Surprisingly, Long was able to maintain his power in the church when many thought he should have stepped down. Noted minister and daughter of Rev. Martin L. King Jr., Rev. Bernice King was an active part of the ministerial leadership at the church and it was thought that she would have taken over leadership of New Birth. Instead, she resigned from the church during the height of Long’s legal issues. King stated that it had nothing to do with Long and the sexual allegations; instead, she declared that she was going to start her own ministry.
The unfolding narrative of Eddie Long shocked the religious community of metro Atlanta and raised difficult questions among the faithful. The thought of a preacher engaging in homosexual affairs while in the pulpit smacked of the ultimate hypocrisy. Many stated he should step down because of this blatant sin and hypocrisy. But another segment that includes members of the church disagreed and stood by Bishop Long. Afterall, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church is a community and they are the ones who decide whether Long’s sins are forgivable. There can be no doubt that the things Bishop Long has been accused of were morally and spiritually wrong. But his sins are forgivable within the Christian faith.
More importantly, it shows a serious dichotomy in what the Black community finds acceptable in their leaders. Long’s alleged sins are no different than those of a pastor who engages in extramarital affairs with women. The Black church is thought of as a collective, speaking with a united voice. Sadly, that collective broke down many years ago because of institutional self interest and the rising of the cult of personality of the megachurch leader. Even among the concepts of Christian morality in the church, there is a split among those who cling to old traditions and are confronted by people who live in the worldly present.
Long’s drama lays bare homosexuality in the most sacred of all Black institutions and challenges the spiritual to take a side. However, homosexuality has always been a presence in the Black church. But people have not felt comfortable expressing and thinking for themselves. Others who may set a moral standard are not following the same standard. No one is without sin. Often, people who pretend to be pious are the most impious of all and so it seems with Eddie Long.