Silence and Shame in the Black Church

Eddie Long's accusers are among many gay churchgoers tormented by their secret.

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I empathize with Eddie Long's accusers.

In August, two of them, Spencer LaGrande and Jamal Parris, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the alleged wounds of what they call exploitation by the man they knew as "bishop" and "Daddy" are still fresh.

"I'm fighting not to pull the trigger," Parris said, days after receiving probation for drug and gun possession charges. "I'd love to take pills and never wake up."

"The truth should've set [us] free," he added, paraphrasing John 8:32. "I thought I could cover the pain up. I thought I could move, start over and everything would go away. I was terribly wrong. I'm living a lifestyle meant to crash." 

Those summer interviews with the newspaper and two Atlanta TV stations, during which LaGrande and Parris reaffirmed accusations of sexual coercion by the mega-church pastor when they were teens, have jeopardized nearly $1 million of a settlement they and fellow litigants have been paid by Long (who has denied the allegations and settled the lawsuit for "closure"). Moreover, they have lost their legal team because of Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church's request for a new arbitration hearing.

I worry most about Anthony Flagg and Maurice Robinson, also part of the settlement, who must remain silent.

I know this silence and shame well.

When I was about 17, a minister, roughly 20 years my senior, visited my family's Baptist church and accepted an on-the-spot invitation to preach. Throughout his sermon, we locked eyes, and in his, I sensed that he could relate to the open secret about which I was teased, a hypersensitivity that church leaders dismissed as an "extra dispensation of the Holy Ghost."

Masculinity and femininity commingled in me in ways I didn't mask the way every other boy in my rural north-Florida town who shared this secret seemed to. While most were careful to have girlfriends and brag -- or lie -- about sex, I was "waiting until marriage." I cried without shame. I was "the elect," a faithful usher, church announcer and outspoken leader of a regional collective of young believers.

After service, I lingered as everyone moved into the dining hall and parking lot. This minister lingered, too. He was full-bodied and had shown that he knew his way around the Bible and the musical scale, making him even more attractive.