What bothered me most when the story broke in 2010 that accused Bishop Eddie Long of forcing young men into sexual relationships was his arrogant response and misappropriation of the biblical story of David and Goliath. (1 Samuel 17)
While he was clearly the one in power, with emboldened arrogance rather than contrition or even compassion, he attempted to place himself in the victim’s position, the weaker party under attack. And the most loyal members of his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church congregation wildly supported him there. Quite troubling, but not surprising.
On the occasions when I visited New Birth, I was always struck, saddened and deeply concerned by how that community had created an environment that worshipped Long. I do mean every literal bit of that word, worship. In ethics classes and with so many other opportunities, as we are educated, trained and otherwise prepared for professional ministry, we are warned against ever becoming an idol or a god for the people. I do not doubt that Long moved some mountains for folks, that some can credit him for literally saving their lives – but we are called to worship One that is greater than we are, not one who is just as flawed and susceptible to mistakes.
The thing is, though, given his power and position, Long’s mistakes caused deeper harm with a reach beyond any average parishioner.
Now, he certainly wasn’t the first clergyperson to abuse his power and never apologize for it. Unfortunately, he will not be the last either. And the issues around the allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct do not live outside of the context of the larger issue of the Church’s woefully anemic approach to sexuality and spirituality. When the Church does not educate responsibly, authentically and truthfully around this intersection – along with promoting doctrines and practices that exclude people based on their sexual identities, orientations and behavior – it creates a rich environment for leaders to hide their true selves and harm others, as well as themselves.
Then one day, it all ends in a tragic death, of one kind or another.
So, today the man called by God to preach the Gospel and to heal the souls of his community leaves behind a legacy that is forever compromised by accusations that he settled out of court with a huge sum of money. It’s all quite sad. My heart continues to grieve for all the various kinds of pain folks are feeling now with the news of Long’s death. My prayer is that we may recognize, sense and commune with G~d’s all-knowing, merciful and gracious presence – always, in this and all matters that involve and affect humanity.
The silver lining? Well, the Church could determine that enough is enough. The Church could take this opportunity to address human sexuality with at least some common sense, if not critical and spiritual scriptural (re)interpretation. The Church could renounce its own arrogance, apologize and repent. But it won’t, no more than Long did under pressure and threat to his empire.
Next steps? We, the people, the other church, must continue to create our own safe, relevant and truthful spaces that feed our holistic well-being. The greatest thing about the Gospel is that it is and makes G~d accessible to us all. And there are enlightened faith communities around that will do for us what the Church never will. Such un- or under-traveled paths require a bit more effort and work on our part, but I think G~d is pleased with this reality. I think G~d has been waiting on us to be more (pro)active with our spirituality and relationships with ourselves, G~d and others.
Could this, then, be Bishop Eddie Long’s legacy???
(c) 2017 candi dugas, llc