“People want truth or nothing at all. People want sincerity, security and nothing false”
If we learn nothing else from the biggest and messiest black mega-church scandal ever, it is that truth cannot be silenced, no matter how many refuse to speak it or conspire to hush it up. It will find a way to manifest. It does not need to be spoken to reveal itself. So as the story of Bishop Eddie Long swells from Facebook to CNN, engorged by our lust for fallen giants and monsters, let us not lose our heads. Let us learn the lessons that the legion and their leader willfully chose to ignore.
While it is a shock, it should be no surprise to anyone who watched. Long’s potent combination of charisma, bling and prosperity gospel, in the tradition of Father Divine, helped him amass considerable wealth and celebrity status. Like several of his white counterparts, Long pandered to the anxieties and desires of his flock at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church with a potent blend of social conservatism, materialistic worship and anti-gay rhetoric.
Not content to build the largest black congregation in the Southeast, Long sought currency with the political right by advocating for anti-gay marriage legislation through his infamous Reigniting the Legacy march in 2004. In doing so, Long parroted white right-wing misappropriation of Martin Luther King Jr. to deepen political wedges between blacks and the LGBT community. His minstrel antics have drawn stinging denunciations from the likes of Al Sharpton and respected theologians James Cone and the Rev. Irene Monroe. Besides a small demonstration, however, little local public outrage materialized.
The bishop’s standing seemed unshaken in 2006 when New Birth hosted Coretta Scott King’s star-studded funeral, which featured three U.S. presidents. Long seemed untouchable, even as rumors swirled about sexual trysts with young men dubbed his “spiritual sons.” But then, they were merely rumors, the same sort of rumblings that follow some pastors, mega and storefront alike.
Three separate lawsuits have placed Long at the center of the stage he so craved but under a revealing spotlight that he had deftly avoided for two decades. The accusations seem more compelling than earlier precedents like Ted Haggard and Jimmy Swaggart, triggered by a single accuser or incident. Following the first two, presented Tuesday, the addition of a third suit seriously challenges the counterclaims of greed-driven conspiracies. And then there are those jaw-dropping details: Lavish gifts of money, college tuition, cars and trips to several cities were allegedly provided by Long, who allegedly engaged all three men in sexual relationships when they were 17 and 18 years old.
Yet it is not the frequency of the supposed incidents, the expanse of time and location over which they are alleged to have transpired, nor the commonalities among the three plaintiffs that render the charges difficult to dismiss. It is the price these young men will surely have to pay for their public claims against the best-known black pastor in the Bible Belt. Those who doubt his accusers should ask themselves what would be worth the media scrutiny and pointed hostility that they will suffer regardless of the outcome.
Like many black boys, regardless of sexual orientation, they were seeking the caring guidance of an adult black man — something too often unavailable in our communities. Consider the impact of being rewarded by someone older with attention that looks like love, and at the same time being coerced into a sexual relationship, finding that sexual attention pleasurable on Saturday night and then receiving messages that such acts are immoral and perverse on Sunday morning.