Just about everyone knows about the problems facing Bishop Eddie Long, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Specifically, there are the four young men who allege that the prominent Atlanta-area pastor coerced them into a sexual relationship, and possibly more waiting in the wings. They claim that Long used his status to seduce them with money, clothes, bling, cars, foreign trips, access to celebrities and the like. The men allege that they called Long "dad" or "daddy," which sounds awfully cultish. One of the plaintiffs even claims that he was 14 when his relationship with Long started, which brings up issues of child abuse and statutory rape.
These accusations will be addressed in court, and who knows, maybe there will be a quiet out-of-court settlement. To be sure, this is not the first religious leader to face accusations of sexual and professional misconduct and abuse of authority, nor the last. Similarly, the Bishop is not the first homophobic preacher to be outed as a gay man.
But Bishop Long's sexual orientation ultimately is not the subject of this commentary, although it provides some valuable context. Now, if these accusations are true, then Bishop Long is at least guilty of hypocrisy and self-hatred. And if the charges are not true, he is still an anti-gay minister who has damaged many people. Either way, he is a prosperity preacher who preys on the black community and shames the legacy of the civil rights movement. And that's most of what we need to know.
When the Southern Poverty Law Center decides to write an intelligence report about you, you know you've done something wrong. SPLC calls Bishop Long "one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement." In one sermon, he says to gays and lesbians, "God says you deserve death!" The message of "hate the sin and the sinner" are strong words in a religion that is supposed to teach love, healing and redemption.
Long believes that homosexuality is spiritual abortion, "a manifestation of a fallen man." He believes that if black gays and lesbians feel alienated and abandoned by the black church, the problem is not intolerance against them but their own sins. But before these people go to Hell as he contends they are, Long is trying to cure gays and lesbians (except himself, we can assume). And his church bookstore sells the works of authors such as the homophobic James Dobson of Focus on the Family -- no friend of the black community.
And Long's misappropriation of the King legacy is shameful. Coretta Scott King's funeral was held at New Birth in 2006 rather than at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the King family's church. Civil rights giants Harry Belafonte and then-NAACP-chair Julian Bond were so mortified by this fact that they boycotted the funeral. After all, Mrs. King was a supporter of gay marriage, and she called it a civil rights issue. The late Yolanda King, the oldest child, took after her mother in that regard, but Bernice King, the youngest child in the King family, called Long her "new father" and symbolically passed a torch to him.
To add to the insult, Bernice King and Long participated in a march to Dr. King's gravesite to support a national constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. In 2004, Long and others successfully pushed for a similar amendment to the Georgia state constitution. And it should be noted that Alveda King, Dr. King's niece, is herself a homophobic minister who exploited her uncle's name at Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally, an event replete with aggrieved white supremacists, Obama-haters and gun-enthusiasts. "Homosexuality cannot be elevated to the civil rights issue," Alveda King said in a 1998 speech. "The civil rights movement was born from the Bible. God hates homosexuality."
Bishop Eddie Long is a prosperity-oriented minister, adhering to a theology that essentially says God will financially hook up the believers. Some would call it a false gospel, given Jesus' targeting of the money changers, and his proclamation that it is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Others would call it pimping.
Long's New Birth megachurch has a membership of about 25,000 and sits on 240 acres in the Atlanta suburb of Lithonia, Georgia. The nonprofit religious "charity" he started in 1997 has served him well -- a $1.4-million, 20-acre home with nine bathrooms, a $350,000 Bentley, and a $3 million salary over three years, not to mention all of the expensive jewelry. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) launched an investigation into the finances and tax-exempt status of six megachurches, including New Birth, and Creflo Dollar's World Changers International Church. Due to the recession, New Birth had to cut back on its $250,000 Easter Sunday service last year, and that is not a misprint. Tithes and membership dropped 20 percent, given that it is hard to be about prosperity when you are poor and hurting, and black folks have been hit harder than most in this recession.
And as Wall Street bankers, megachurch preachers and other prosperity pimps live like lottery winners, people in America are suffering. The Census Bureau recently reported that poverty is higher than it was 10 years ago, with nearly 15 percent of Americans in poverty. The gap between rich and poor has tripled in three decades, and is the highest it has been since the 1920s. Meanwhile, unemployment is entrenched and not going anywhere anytime soon.
Surely, Bishop Long and his supporters would maintain that his reputation is being dragged through the mud. But his reputation was already muddied via his homophobia and corrupt bling theology. Rather, Long should worry far more about what Dr. King would say about him.
Although King fought against and even disobeyed unjust laws, Long supports them. Dr. King decried the triple evils of racism, materialism and militarism, and called for a radical revolution of values, from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. Figures such as King and Malcolm X walked the talk by fighting for the people -- and for causes greater than their personal bank account -- through great personal sacrifice and a modest existence. Remember that Dr. King donated all of his $54,000 Nobel Peace Prize money to the civil rights movement. I dare say it would be hard to find many leaders today -- black or otherwise -- who would follow in the footsteps of this great man. How many of them would lift a finger to help the downtrodden?
Meanwhile, Bishop Eddie Long just wants to get paid and beat the case.
David A. Love is the Executive Editor of BlackCommentator.com, and a contributor to The Progressive Media Project and theGrio. He is based in Philadelphia and is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. His blog is davidalove.com.