A delay in reporting can be serendipitous at times. Take the case of "Bishop" Eddie Long and his alleged gift-and-tryst escapades: I found out about it only 15 minutes after the initial AP story broke and was ready to do a BREAKING news flash for my blog when something personal arose and I'm just now getting back to the keyboard 24 hours later.
I was glad for the delay. This story's more entertaining than Ted Haggard's, and twice as important. The story has fleshed out considerably during the last 24 hours and it presents a clearer picture of what went on at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta.
In a lawsuit, two men in their 20s now are saying the bishop, Eddie Long, took them on trips, gave them gifts, bought them a car, gave them cash, gave them jewelry, all as a ploy to have sex with them. And they say it was the church's money that he was giving to them.
(hat tip: Pam's House Blend)
And the scandal was giving ... and giving ... to the Bishop:
On the surface, this story is simply one of seduction with money and gifts. It's rather ordinary, and would only stand out in the news because of Long's name and because it involved homosexual undertones. The part that gets really interesting is this:
Eventually, it turned into such a relationship that the bishop had a ceremony with Anthony Flag called a covenant. Within that covenant, it was essentially a marriage ceremony where there were candles, exchange of jewelry and biblical quotes given, in order for Anthony to know and for the bishop to tell him, I will always have your back and you will always have mine. He would use biblical stories to talk about how important it was to follow your leader and your master and let him know that the acts he was engaged in were not necessarily meaning that he was a homosexual or that either of them was. But rather, the pastor, Bishop Long, was releasing his passion and his love for Anthony. (Italics, my own)
Considering his vicious attacks on same-sex marriage, this "covenant" now puts Long in the category of uber-hypocrite. Yes, "Bishop" Eddie Long is now in the Strom Thurmond-Ted Haggard big league: fostering disdain for one group of people while secretly having sex with them. Long's outspoken animosity towards gays has been prevalent for years.
Long has called for a national ban on same-sex marriage and his church counsels gay members to become straight. In 2004, he led a march with Bernice King to her father's Atlanta grave to support a national constitutional amendment to protect marriage "between one man and one woman."
Irony Alert! One of Long's book titles: What A Man Wants - What A Woman Needs.
All hypocrisy aside (which is tough to do, considering it takes a mental bulldozer to push it!), one of the main points of this scandal is that Long has used his titles to place him in authority, respect and even awe. He might have saved money by riding on his elevated credentials alone, but he chose to ply his sexual interests with gifts essentially bought by the church.
"Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm" (Psalm 105:15)
In the last twenty-five years, Long has built up a ministry with a little charisma, some bling and a whole lotta unfounded "respect". Like loaves and fishes, the church's membership multiplied exponentially, from 300 to 30,000. And Long's arm of authority clutched at 8 board memberships (one for Emory University), and numerous awards including honors from Center for Disease Control and the National HIV/AIDS Partnership for his work in fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS (WIKIPEDIA)
(Aside: For those twenty-five years, the hypocrisy never stopped; e.g., his "work in fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS" still toed the Southern Baptist Convention line in pointedly NOT ministering to gays. This is something I've had personal experience with: as a volunteer for the AIDS Emergency Fund, I saw the result of Long's "faith-based" work, and it wasn't pretty. Let's just say that the people who came to San Francisco, were hoping that it would be better than the hell Southern Baptists were making for them while they were SICK AND DYING!! Check it out. And while you're at it, see if you can find Rick Warren's name in any list of faith-based AIDS agencies. I'm just sayin').
"Dr." "Rev." and "Bishop" are among the most automatically revered titles a person can have in America. Eddie Long uses them with abandon: the "Dr." comes from a degree in Pastoral Ministry from the International College of Excellence. (Unfortunately, The ICE was founded by Robb Thompson, whose own "doctorate" is questionable - televangelists take care of their own, it seems). The title of "Bishop", however, is even sketchier: since the Southern Baptist Convention supposedly has no hierarchy other than deacon and pastor, it's hard to find out WHO made him "Bishop." If James Manning of ATLAH Ministries* could give himself a doctorate, why not a title of "Bishop" for Long? In addition: the title of "Bishop" connotes authority of a group of ministers and churches. Which local churches have given pastoral sway to Long?
This entire scenario may yet prove to people that in the realm of American religion, titles are almost worthless and scrutiny is very important. The idea that one can't question "a man of God," no longer holds true. America should have learned its lesson with Bakker, Swaggart, Haggard, Rekers, and all the Catholic clergy with "Fr." or "Rev." in front of their names. If Terry Jones had not an "Rev." or "Dr." (he used both) in front of his name, he might have burned a thousand Qurans with only his flock of 50 in attendance.
But the trust in titles, the unearned respect to "men of God," is too difficult to erase. Watch the HERE video featuring unbelieving church members when questioned about Long. (NOTE: all videos of news coverage have been DISABLED for embedding and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church's website has been taken down. The ABC News item also includes pictures that Long sent to the two young men - pictures taken in his bathroom, and of course, of his muscles)
So my last question about all of this: who's to blame for this scandal? Of course, Long probably bears the brunt of it all, and the charges against him might even be a bit exaggerated. But the real blame goes to his congregation, those poor church members seemingly kept in the dark. Yes, the blame rests upon them because they had been warned about Long and the way his wealth was questioned.** Unrelated? Not really: if they had done some due diligence on his finances, they might have uncovered the "gifts" and the incomes he gave to the young men.
It's time for people of faith not to place too much "faith" in titles. Rooting through your pastor's past and finances is not a sin. Asking him to be accountable isn't either.
* "Dr." "Rev." James Manning is the head of the Harlem congregation who hoped Pres. Obama would die. He often calls Obama, "The Long-legged Mack Daddy." He became "born again" while serving a prison term for armed burglary. The "Seminary" he founded has one project called The Witch Doctor Project Exposing the Magnificent Seven - Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Bill Clinton, T.D. Jakes, Louis Farrakan, Don King, and Cornell West, the American witch doctors.
** Click here for a copy of the letter sent to "Bishop" Eddie Long from Senator Chuck Grassley inquiring about Long's finances.