The allegations of sexual misconduct made by four young men against Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church outside Atlanta, are especially poignant because of the minister's long-standing public hostility toward homosexuality. Long has preached vehemently against homosexuality and even led a march in 2004 to oppose same-sex marriage.
If these allegations turn out to be true — and we are well aware that they are only accusations — Long will not be the first public figure to preach against what he practices. The Root asked popular TV psychologist Jeff Gardere to address the contradictions between word and deed of so many public figures when it comes to homosexuality.
The Root: If the allegations against Bishop Eddie Long are true, his public behavior would be completely at odds with his private life. Why do we so often see that among public figures?
Jeff Gardere: I think it's a conscious or subconscious way of coming to terms with being in denial about their own feelings or proclivity toward being homosexual. Psychologically, they cannot tolerate the idea that they can act on those impulses. They quite often feel that if they publicly fight homosexuality, this may be a way to atone for their own sinful behavior and their own sinful thoughts.
I had a friend who went to jail for beating someone in a bathroom because the guy said, "Hey, good looking." It turned out that my friend, while in jail and afterward, was involved in homosexual affairs. It's almost a projection, if you will, of their orientation.
TR: Why is it so often people in the public spotlight who are so vehement in their hostility toward homosexuality?
JG: Where they are in life gives them the power to deal with homosexuality that way; if it's a family guy who feels secretly homosexual, he'll bad-mouth homosexuals in front of his family. It's not about being a public figure that makes them want to act out this way.
TR: How do you treat this denial?
JG: It is very difficult to get someone to admit that their hate toward homosexuals may be a denial of their own homosexuality; it's something that happens very slowly in therapy, where you question: What is the impetus? What is the reason? What are the ethics of hating someone they perceive as being different from themselves? Is this a manifestation of impulses they cannot tolerate?
If you cannot deal with your feelings or conflicts with your own homosexuality in a constructive manner, you're either left with being a ranting homophobe or you might act out sexually, or you became an alcoholic or a drug addict or even very promiscuous heterosexually. There are many ways to deal in an unhealthy manner with any issues we are trying to repress.
TR: Is there a level of subterfuge in their behavior?
JG: I don't think these guys wake up and say, "I know I am gay, and I am going to cover up by being anti-gay." They live in a fugue state. It may be unconscious behavior. It's a step toward failure later on; it's much worse to be outed.
It's almost like having a split personality. On part of the day or month or week, you give in to this Mr. Hyde thing; most of the time you're a Dr. Jekyll and fighting these impulses. These are very real emotional and psychological issues. Someone like that really needs treatment and needs to be on the [analyst's] couch.
Joel Dreyfuss is The Root's managing editor. Follow him on Twitter.