The ongoing (and ever-increasing) sex scandal of one of black America’s most prominent (and extravagant) “Mega-Preachers,” Bishop Eddie Long got the nation talking. They’re not just talking about the event itself. Black America is in a debate, on Facebook, on Twitter, on blogs and chat rooms, in editorial commentary as to whether we, as a community, should even be talking about this. Is that a question that we even have to ask? This is beyond gossip.
The depth of the truth will never be known, but when photos of Bishop Long posing in body suits in his bathroom show up on the internet, sexual impropriety is at least “a given.” This is one of the biggest skeletons in the closets of the black church. A huge skeleton that fell out of the Catholic Church a decade ago. It might not be just a skeleton bone in the black church. We might be stumbling up on a whole graveyard. We know this is not a singular occurrence in a single church.
The presence of gay men in black churches, and not just in the choir, is significant. This is an issue waiting to break in probably every city in America where in some church, somewhere a worshipper has been violated. A whole bunch of preachers are, as my grandfather used to say, as “nervous as a ho in church,” because they are the whores in church. So when it breaks, it’s gonna break big.
And it’s not as if the people don’t see it. I was in a conversation with a single mother a couple months ago where she was looking for a church home for her son. She wants him to know God but is “concerned” about the huge gay male she sees in the churches she’s attended. Her solution? Put in the Nation of Islam where he can get “manhood” training.
It is now the silent concern in the black church that has nothing to do with “homophobia,” but everything to do with “predator-phobia” (the label Long’s alleged victims assigned to him) and young boys getting sexually “turned out” in church. Don’t get me wrong. We all need saving, but when the church house becomes the pick-up club (as it has become in many situations -- the music, the dress, the informality, the absence of the word), it was just a matter of time before secular popular norms spilled over into the pulpit.
Looking for God and a changed life is what we seek in the church. When we find something else, do we turn our heads like we do in the street? The issue here is, should it be public conversation about molestation in the church, or are we expected to be silent on this issue.
Sometimes, God makes examples, even of his witnesses, to bear witness to a greater lesson of truth. And Eddie Long is one of God’s larger witnesses (time will tell if he’s one of the better ones). Make no mistake about it, Eddie Long is LARGE. He takes “mega-churchin’ to a whole nother level. Folk in California, and other parts of the country, ain’t seen no preacher rollin’ like this. Maybe Creflo Dollar and T.D. Jakes are his contemporaries in the “prosperity preachin’” business. Maybe? I attended his church a couple years ago while at a family reunion in Atlanta and all I could say was, “Wow!” 640 acres of commerce endeavor, helicopter landing pad and 30,000 worshippers, -- his cup truly runneth over.
But the decadence of Eddie Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church goes beyond the “blessings without measure” that God promises those courageous in their faith. The trappings of materialism were the bait used to allegedly seduce young men. This is not about exploiting one preacher’s foibles. This is not about the politics (and hypocrisies) of black homophobia—even though Eddie Long, himself, is on record as being anti-gay and has even been called a homophobe in published reports.
This is about the continuing crisis of church exploitation (notice I didn’t say religious exploitation) of spiritually vulnerable worshippers and what I call “the devils in the pulpit.” The Church house is supposed to be the safe house for those spiritually and emotionally afflicted. Yet, we see another instance where the guise of “being pleasing in the sight of God” exploits those looking for spiritual guidance.
This goes far beyond the “traditional” preacher “layin’ hands” on lonely women seeking a “godly” men in the church. This is a different type of seduction, similar to when Moses went to the mountaintop to talk with God and came back to find “his people” worshipping the golden calf. These days, the Shepherd is at the front of the line, dagglin’ the golden calf and this wicked, worldly seduction begins from there. Long daggled the golden calf, God-given trappings of materialism, to entrap those God blessed him to spiritually empower. That is not okay!
Certainly, Bishop Long has his supporters and they have been vehement in their support. And his church has done a lot of good in the Atlanta community. But is the good worth the damage being to done to young men (the number yet to be determined) seduced by the trapping of “God-given” prosperity?
No amount of good can cover an evil deed done in God’s name. And what good is a great edifice built in the name of good if it houses evil and its witnesses bear false witness. Is our silence worth the souls we’re trying to save? Not if they hide the sins of the father. Psalms 32:1 says “Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is covered (God hides).” No man is perfect, but hypocrisy in the pulpit, by one of his “shepherds” preying on the sheep,” is one sin God will never hide. Not even God will be silent on it. Then why should we?