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And The Walls Come Tumba’ling Down: The Religious Politics of Eddie Long

Hot off the press from tonight, the latest in news to affect the institutional Black Church, both old and new, has been the lawsuit against Bishop Eddie Long of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church of Lithonia, Georgia.

This seems to be yet another brick chipped away in already bruised and battered institutional Black Church.  First Professor Eddie Glaude earlier this year essentially said the Black Church was dead.  Then Steve Harvey rallied the black female church crowd with Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man and then Deborrah Cooper came back told black women that the black church was keeping them single.  Not to mention the death of gospel legend Walter Hawkins, and the recent death that has shaken the black Pentecostal crowd of Bishop Kenneth Moales.  Then this with Eddie Long has cause somewhat of a wall to ” come a’ tumbalin’ down.”

This is the same pastor who was the subject of U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley-R, Iowa and his tax investigation a few years ago.  This is the same pastor who was the subject of Jonathan Walton’s Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism the story of black televangelists in this country.  This is also the same pastor who in 2004 marched down AuburnStreet in an effort to support George W. Bush and the Defense of Marriage Act and decried homosexuality.

And I found out through Twitter, of course.

So as I type both #EddieLong and #EddieLongsaid are high trending topics.

Naturally, if this is true, this brings forth a plethora of issues concerning clergy and the members at churches.  And this truly isn’t just a case concerning black churches.  From the Earl Paulk situation at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, to Ted Haggard out in Colorado, to the Roman Catholic Church dealing with their priest abuse scandals being a global problem this is a situation that goes across the board.  This isn’t even a situation dealing with homosexuality versus heterosexuality, but a case of properly addressing sexuality within the walls of the church.

Without going too deep on sexuality, we need to admit that the church probably could do a lot better with addressing sexuality with its members.  It’s still a problem even amongst the most conservative groups for married couples to even talk about sex out in the open; many still act as if it’s something dirty and taboo.  Let alone among more liberal groups, the general failure to understand sex between two consenting adults.

But, I guess that would require your average person to understand the difference between sex, sexuality and sexual intercourse.

Even in what our society considers the optimal way of having sex–between a man and a woman who are married–I know married couples who still blanche when they read the biblical passages of Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) and their sexually charged passages.  And our churches don’t even want to entertain the idea of young teens having sex, unmarried persons having sex, and many churches still shun gay couples who are in committed relationships.  This in the face of many churches being predominantly populated by women who often arrive at church with their children and no husbands or having never been married (because of course the black church is keeping black women single), and God-knows how many other sexual church stereotypes being fulfilled.

And we remain silent in the church.

However, my issue with Eddie Long isn’t a sexuality issue.  As far as I’m concerned and information disseminated, I, along with most everyone else aren’t qualified to speak on it.  My issue truly is a theological one. As Walton pointed out in his book, Long ascribes to this “kingdom business” (Walton 129-131).   While it sounds good, churchy even, as far as I can see it, this theological train of thought is warmed-over ecclesiastical patriarchy straight out of the Roman Catholic church.  Well, Walton places it much more within the Victorian era as far as familial and patriarchal values (171).

I think the patriarchal system of theology allows this to happen with clergy and their followers.

When the man is the head, it’s anything goes.  Be it in the family or in the church.  The man acts as the mouthpiece for God be it good or bad or indifferent.  The same way parishioners take their frustrations with God out on figureheads of the church from the Pope, to Bishops, to pastors, to priests or even other lay leaders, is the same way parishioners are able to believe that their clergy can do no wrong. As far as this situation is concerned with Long, the hierarchy allowed Long to get close to these young men.  While of course on the surface, this seems normal and maybe even encouraged because no one automatically assumes the worse, but this is when clergy are NOT supposed to take advantage of the situation.  Long is well known for having his “spiritual sons” in the ministry with Long as their “spiritual Father.”  However, there have been many instances that have been reported that this particular relationship has been exploited for the benefit of Long.  Since I don’t dabble in rumors, I’m not here to say that this is verifiably true or not, just merely pointing to the fact that such situations create an atmosphere for nefarious activities to take place.

Warped socio- and politico-religious teaching is also at play surrounding this news about Long. There seems to be three camps at play here: 1) Christians who support Eddie Long, namely his parishioners, fellow inner circle clergy of course, and other random lay people and outside clergy who have been affected by his ministry in one way or the other; 2) Christians  who view Eddie Long as a homophobe, a “prosperity gospel” preacher, those who don’t like megachurches in general, and just an overall charlatan pimping his congregation; 3) non-church goers who may or may not fall into the “spiritual, but not religious” category, who generally have an overall disdain for preachers and most church-goers, and this latest incident acts as a catchall for ALL clergy across the board and does nothing more but entrench their beliefs about “those hypocrites” who go to church in the first place.

Those in the first camp are of this idea that in a time like this Christians should be “covering the man of God.”  At first, this sounds right, particularly as a soon to be clergy member or at least someone with one foot in parish ministry, but further thought renders it moot.  At what level do we need to expose bad behavior?  This “touch not my anointed, and do my prophet no harm” mentality gives clergy a carte blanche with the people.  And we need to be honest that this line of thinking only extends to certain clergy members.  Let’s be honest, this notion of “covering the man of God” barely extended to Jamal Bryant ofEmpowerment Temple AME Church and his sexual dalliances with his members and this same section of the neo-Pentecostal black church that is calling for the “covering” of Eddie Long were certainly no where to be found when Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ and his church members were going through the wringer submitting to public protests on the church property, news vans parked outside, metal detectors because of bomb threats and news reporters getting the Sunday bulletin and calling up members on the sick-and-shut-in list trying to conduct interviews.

It seems to me that the black church has attached mega-ministry with spirituality and the evidence of God’s “anointing.”  That is to say, it’s easier to support someone in a mega-ministry or who we see on television whom we don’t know, versus the pastor up the street in our community whom we’ve interacted with on occasion–but they don’t have a mega-ministry.  Ricky L. Jones in his book What’s Wrong With Obamamania? Black America, Black Leadership and the Death of Political Imagination said

The black community, maybe more than any other, is affectively linked to churches and their pastors to the degree that criticism of either (no matter how rational) is often viewed as nothing short of an attack on God.  Such loyalty may be degenerative as well as generative in that it has opened the door equally wide for the entree of many of the race’s greatest freedom fighters, as well as some of its most infamous demagogues.  Unfortunately, black ministers (be that emancipators or collaborators in oppression) are often protected from secular intellectual confrontation by the almost certain ire of their flocks, which is heaped upon any critic who questions their leaders’ decisions and/or motivations. [Emphasis mine]

The second group believes this supports their idea that the biggest homophobes are closet homosexuals.  I think that’s bad logic, but that’s just me.  Anything short of the alleged pictures and emails that the plaintiffs’ lawyer B.J. Bernstein claims she has, I’m really not ready to go so far as to believe that there was a sexual relationship at play, but again, that’s just me.  But this second group also has major aught with Long for where he has come down on the side of social and political issues.  These people are full of lay people who are still connected to the traditional denominational churches, on which they pride themselves.  Clergy of other churches love to talk bad against Long for his perceived bad theology concerning “kingdom business” and of course they are convinced he’s pimping the people out of their money.

I mean, honestly, I agree with some of that.

I do honestly think it’s unconscionable to own a private jet, live in a multi-million dollar mansion, own Bentley’s and Rolls Royce’s and members of your church are taking public transportation to get to church on Sundays.  But that’s just me. And that’s a charge I level with any mega-ministry.  I think pastors would do a lot better for the larger community if they took that money and funneled it into church owned businesses that employed members of the church as well as the community from clothing stores, restaurants, and other ventures.  I fail to see the future worth in buying up land to erect monuments to ourselves that do nothing but provide more parking for our larger and larger edifices, and provide space to hold various and sundry worship conferences–all creating a traffic jam on Sundays for other persons who don’t go to that church!

The third camp of people are the ones with whom I take what they have to say with a grain of salt.  While they are entitled to their opinion, of course, in all fairness, in the back of my head I somehow don’t consider them qualified to speak on such issues.  Admittedly it may be my own arrogance at play, but its almost equivalent to discussing the evils of the hip-hop culture in the inner city, but you live in some suburban enclave and you just found out that Black History month was in February just in 2010! *

These are the people who are the outsiders looking in on the situation.  Some of them have been hurt by the church in the past and don’t want to have anything to do with it–and I fully understand.  Others have just merely grown tired of the church foolishness over the years and slowly backed away–and I fully understand.  Then there are those who suffer from the I’m-the-only-enlightened-one syndrome thinking that they’re more evolved because they don’t go to church (anymore).  Sorry, but its really hard for me to have a conversation with some of these people, because they look down on me for having a faith system in which I believe.  These are the people who have a tendency to stereotype all of the ills of religion on me without giving me a chance to talk.

********************************

What really is bothering me, and has been for some time is the level of misinformation and stereotypes that people are interpreting religious information.  It seems as if people automatically fail to think critically it’s either “all church folk are hypocrites” or “you aint gonna talk about my pastor and my Jesus” type of people. No one takes the time to understand the nuances of theological rhetoric, the biblical canon, denominational history, or even general church history.  Folks act as if mega-ministries are the devil–right along with storefront churches.

It’s just really appalling to me.

As this situation with Eddie Long progresses I encourage all of my readers to keep an open mind and let the facts present themselves; ultimately, to let truth itself be our guide. Understanding truth, and the ethics of truth isn’t an easy task however.  The ethics of truth mean understanding the impact of the truth.  In this light, we must be fair to Eddie Long and fair to ourselves.  Yes, we need to call a spade a spade, but we ought not jump to conclusions either.

Let me be clear, I am not coming out in full support of Bishop Eddie Long through what I’m sure will be a public relations nightmare for both he and his church, nor am I casting aspersion on a situation that we only know about through mainstream media and only from the plaintiffs’ point of view.  I am just merely saying that in this case, I’m quite sure the truth will come out, and both parties will be set free.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL


* A mixture of two true stories. I was once told by a white suburbanite that hip hop was from the prison culture and my cousin who works for a downtown hospital informed me that one of her Indian co-worker who was born in raised in NW Chicago suburbs didn’t know when Black History month was.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Here's a link with Prof. Jonathan Walton discussing the Eddie Long situation that was dropped on September 22d.]
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20 thoughts on “And The Walls Come Tumba’ling Down: The Religious Politics of Eddie Long

  1. Good post sir. I agree with everything you’ve said (especially as it relates to the pervasive proliferation of inaccurate information concerning religious happenings and the lack of critical analysis of popular religious events).

    But I wonder if in fact the truth will come to the light as you say. I’m not so sure. Having watched events like this unfold, I suspect Long, if guilty, will settle out of court and ignore and deny all allegations and rumors until the story fades. If this happens, truth will be irrelevant and monetary gain will win, in which case both parties will remain in bondage and possibly never be free.

    However, I hope your right that freedom will be the end result of these tumbling walls.

  2. I do agree that this is as usual a great post. i am saddened by the allegations and i must say that you are right in stating that we(meaning the black church) must begin to openly dialogue on the topic of sexuality in our congregations. i also further believe that we must do something to shake the very foundation of doctrine and hol our leadership to a high standard of ethics. if they are preaching against something and then it is found they are practicing the very same thing, then they should have their hats handed to them and be shown the door. i am one who is a firm beleiver in the one without sin casting the first stone, but we have to make the consequences of dangerous action be felt and understood once and for all. peace

    • @ Reginald

      I didn’t want to make the post too long, but I truly wanted to discuss the idea of when is it time to cover your leader versus when is it time to expose them.

  3. Faith is the substance of things hoped for…

    No one is perfect, all have not been true to their own core beliefs about themselves and others.

    We all struggle with trying to live up to black and white platitudes without acknowledging that operating in gray is the day-to-day reality that is our own (and others) particular spiritual journey.

    Pretty much, the truth is that it is rarely this or that, it’s mostly this and that. It is usually not either or, but both and.

    It takes a whole lot of ‘doing the right thing’ even when it’s difficult to do so.

    Free will lends joy and sorrow to the journey. Repentance and forgiveness are ours to seek and to give.

    Thanks for the article that challenges us to encourage critical thought when dealing with unmerited power and wealth over the vulnerable who seek salvation from the spiritual/emotional demons encountered in this world.

    Keep writing and sharing your uppity journey.

  4. Josh, I agree we should wait for the facts to unfold….however I also believe Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely – This event …no matter what the outcome, is by no means….The death of the Black Church. God didn’t need Moses for the Hebrews to invade the Promise Land; God did not need David for Israel to become a sovereign nation; and The Black Church does not need Eddie Long or any other high profile pastor to be effective in our communities. Speaking as the pastor of a medium size Methodist Church in Gainesville, Florida,the news about Eddie Long is not as important as who is going to sing solo or lead the congregation prayer at this Sunday’s worship service. While Bishop Long’s situation may be the buzz in the lofty Black Theological circles, most of my folk view this like the molestations that occur in the Catholic Church. The point is the local church is in fact local….and that is where we encounter God. If Bishop Long is cleared…the power of the Black Church will not be bolstered and if these charges are found to be true…The Black Church will not be diminished in its influence and mission in the community in which it is located. Blessing My Brother and keep up the good work!

    • @ Rev. Alan

      It’s good to hear from you bro!! Hope everything’s going well with the missus!!

      But yes, I think by in large most people attach the black church with large mega ministries and feel that “you seen one, you seen ‘em all” and that’s NOT true. Even moreso, they think that all pastors are trying to get megachurches–NOT TRUE. I couldn’t agree more with you saying that most of our churches are LOCAL. At all costs, remaining local means remaining relevant to the community in which they are located. I’ve noticed that usually when megachurches are located in the heart of the city, they still maintain their “local” feel because they HAVE to interact with the community they are around. When churches locate to the suburbs with their “campuses” is when sometimes you see a change occur.

  5. Bravo! I could not agree more with your analysis– particularly as it relates to our tepid approach to understanding biology and human sexuality. And as you also noted, there are a number of systemic problems with the megachurch model and the power structures therein. Thank you for breaking it down so honestly. Blessings to you.

  6. Well, time will tell. The old adage, “what’s done in the dark, will come to light” and “only time will tell” must be used in this case. He mybe guilty or he may be innocent. When it hits it will rock the world. Another one bites the dust also comes to mind when reflecting on Dr. Jamal Bryant’ World War Me and his debut in the darkness. What it ought to inform fire-breathing preachers is to care for yourself and follow Jesus all the way.

  7. Big man, big fall. I posted the pic he took of himself in his lavish bathroom wearing a red muscle shirt dubbed “Reddie” Eddie LOL.

    Hell, I think Jesus was gay. Only he did not have to pay for it or coerce anybody.

  8. Great post. I especially #cosign the portion about the picking and choosing of whom to “cover”. Another interesting point that I saw on Twitter this morning is that people are choosing to side with the leader or the flock (as these guys are/were members of the church). And there are those who think by “covering” their minister, they are remaining neutral, but to be neutral is to not take any sides, accuser or accused (as I said in my blog post yesterday). There are so many relevant issues to analyze here. Thanks for your perspective.

  9. Uppity,

    To my mind, there are at least six factors afoot in this whole Eddie Long stuff.

    1) The Theology of the inviolate pastor (aka “Touch not mine anointed)–which is heightened when a Baptist takes to himself the very UN-Baptist title of Bishop.

    2) The Sexualization of the pulpit (Let’s not even get into the muscle-shirts or the sermon about God’s sperm)

    3) Deuteronomistic theology used to justify prosperity: Deuteronomists do argue that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. Thus, Eddie’s wealth serves to underscore his blessing and thus his inviolate status

    4) biblical models of patriarchal kinship: the “spiritual sons” language allows pastors to take on the ultra-powerful position of the ancient father, who had the power of life and death over his sons and daughters and demanded absolute allegiance. By using the Bible to develop “spiritual sons” the absolute power of the pastor is underscored

    5) the psychology of the abuse victim–part of which is the shame about being abused and the terror of being found out and being blamed for one’s own abuse. This is particularly the case, because the abuse in question is male-on-male abuse and coercion, which leads to shame in the black community because of…

    6) homophobia and the hypersexualization of the black man. Because “manhood” is defined as being a “dog,” someone going around sexing-up women, then when one is the sexual receiver in a male-male relationship, one is seen as anything other than a man.

    All of these are problems we need to unravel, if we’re ever going to be able to see clearly that the situation with Eddie Long is not about being gay but about being a sexual predator.

    • Uppity Prof
      Can you please explain a little more about point #1? On another blog about this situation, someone was discussing the Baptist/bishop aspect…basically saying that this role was only (or should only) be used in the Catholic, Anglican, or Orthodox church. This person cited Timothy in their explanation. I’ll admit that I’m not well versed in the history of titles in particular churches, but I was never under the impression that the role of bishop was exclusive to certain groups.

  10. If the allegations are true, I hope the Church can hold it together. I’ve been through the break up of a church and the pain is incredible.

  11. I am not concerned about Eddie Long, and whether or not he fleeced his flock, of is engaged in homosexual affairs; I am, however, concerned about the thousands of people who in some way thought that he was infallible; a man of god; someone to be looked up to, worshiped and followed; someone who was either holy or spiritual. His erroneous behaviors have or should have no bearing on our lives, except as a cautionary tale to be told when someone thinks they are too big to fail; or when they get the vapors and somehow believe that they are beyond reproach.

    There is only one perfect person, and he ascended 2000+ years ago. We are hard pressed to keep up with our own weaknesses, foibles, sins. The criminal behavior, if proven, must be dealt with. The sexual issues are repugnant and needs to be addressed; and our churches are not the forum in which to handle them.

    The bottom line is that there is only one real leader of the church and worship — God the Living Spirit Almighty. If we all put our faith and trust in him, not Long, we’d be in much better shape, mentally, spiritually, and physically.
    Quite frankly, in the world of so many other important issues, Long is not something that I’d spend a lot of my mental capacity dealing with. We have a Black president who is under siege by the white mainstream media who needs and deserves the focus we are wasting on this issue. Let’s stop letting trivia pull us away from what we need to focus on — saving ourselves and each other and succeeding as a people into the next century.

    Stay bless

  12. Well this is a very thoughtful prose and I am able to feel most of it. I think the false doctrine and patriarchal divination view is truly a trick of the enemy. Now why is it that anytime a black male want’s to promote being a patriarch it’s bad. This nation wishes to immasculate black men. I mean Long may have is perspective of preaching, but so does James Cohn, and Jerimiah Wright (I love all 3) 1 may say how can I support Black liberation theology and Long. Why not take a man who has built this samson image up and say hey you know the strong black guy is gay!!! Well as a member for 10 years I can say that, Long has preached about empowerment of a people. Teaching us to support our own business’s and to invest in africa. Now to most theologians or even John Hagee that may not be what God is about. but I was a gang-banger and it saved my life. I’m not some closet spritual son, but I do feel that ethically Long may have done some thing financially that we need to look at but, we will get our look because this entire plot and story is for the government to attack large churches and the religions in this land, from the islamic center, to Jerimah Wright. Socialism wishes to oppress innovation and spirituality.(16th century Reign of Terror) It’s not a sum zero game because his church is huge and mine isn’t should I say he’s a fasle teacher? its the same in Sports this society is a bunch of whimps, every one gets a fair chance, yadda, yadda, to hell with that. In america its makers and takers, We all know it. But back on this theology thing because lets look at us worshiping this faith which I believe to be the true faith, but our white master gave us this faith so is it truly a proper doctrine. is that the same doctrine that said we would be seperate but equal slavery didn’t end in 1864 it ended 38-42 years ago. or that faith wouldnt let Paul Allen worship the so-called same god in all white church. It’s funny how when our own people get jammed up we quick to destroy them. I will never forgive furer Obama for how he didn’t take up for Jermiah Wright and if you supported the witch hunt of that great man, then a curse be upon who ever is not with Jermiah Wright. Well i have given a bunch of intermittent thoughts but all in all, Long is a victim of arrogance, more than anything, if he likes dudes then thats on him.

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