The messy theology of Bishop Eddie Long

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Bishop Eddie Long. – Photo: Courtesy

Bishop Eddie Long, one of the black church's prominent pastors of "prosperity gospel" and bling-bling theology, is flashing neither his gold nor silver these days. 

The Atlanta-based Long had hoped to close the lid on a sex scandal by settling for an undisclosed sum with the young men who charged him with using trips, gifts and jobs to coerce them into a sexual relationship.

But the mess won't subside and trouble keeps coming: Long's wife recently filed for divorce, church coffers and membership keep shrinking, and now Long's stepping down temporarily from his bully pulpit. 

Who among us would not flinch at the thought of a "holy man" preying on the young men in his charge instead of praying with them?

But many of those inside Long's stained-glass closet at Atlanta's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church have known for some time of the bishop's penchant for young men, whom he calls "spiritual sons." Sadly, some parishioners just didn't care.

"What he does in his personal time, he does," said Adrian Jackson, a New Birth member for 21 years. "As long as he's in there preaching, that's what matters to me."

Long, like too many African-American ministers on the "down low," denounces gays from the pulpit while using his clerical authority to court and to covet vulnerable, much-younger fatherless males.

During his infamous anti-gay march in December 2004, Long stated, "In essence, God made Eve to help Adam replenish the earth. Woman has the canal ... everything else is an exit. ... Cloning, homosexuality and lesbianism are spiritual abortions. Homosexuality is a manifestation of the fallen man."

The pressure for Long to step down at New Birth, some would argue, has been more about the church losing money than its loose morals.

One of the reasons many churches avoid implementing a zero-tolerance policy concerning sexual aubse, including pedophilia, is that the church neither sees nor understands it as a form of sexual violence. Its pervasiveness within the church, from its seminarians to its bishops, has anesthetized church officials to the severity of the crime and its effects, both on the victims and their families.

Therefore, institutions like the Catholic Church and New Birth close their eyes and refuse taking responsibility for the abuse.

Due to the older age of his victims, Long is not accused of pedophilia. But his behavior reflects the same sick power dynamics at play in crimes involving children. Many of his relationships with young men began as non-sexual while they were still underage

Like pedophilia, Long's behavior amounted to sexual exploitation. He abused his power and  used manipulation and emotional coercion to get what he wanted. At the same time, he preached publicly against the behavior he was forcing on his victims.

The sexual exploitation of parishioners is viewed as a sin and not a crime by most clerics. It persists in our churches through a culture of silence, deception and shame. Some have the unfortunate belief that they can overcome these transgressions against by daily offerings of prayers and penance – but not prosecution.

The men involved in these cases are sex offenders like any others.  And Long's name should be added to them.

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