Pastor's Sex Scandal Rocks Black Evangelical Church

At the pulpit this morning, Bishop Eddie Long said he feels "like David against Goliath"

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Bishop Eddie Long, leader of a 25,000-member megachurch in Atlanta, faces accusation of sexual coercion from four men, former parishioners. Long denied the allegations from the pulpit this morning, saying he felt "like David against Goliath...but I've got five rocks and I haven't thrown one yet." The scandal has reverberated in the black church community in which Long stands as a prominent figure. A fierce critic of homosexuality, Long's case has prompted reflections on the conflicted relationship between black church culture, which tends toward theological conservatism, and gays.

  • Long's Stature Makes this a 'Crisis' says Anthea Butler, a professor of religion at UPenn who spoke to the Washington Post. "The only person in the pantheon of black churches who is bigger than this is T.D. Jakes. And Atlanta is the epicenter of black church life. . . . It's going to rock everything at the church, and people will really start to question these ministers." 

  • How Will Black Evangelicals Respond?  Patrik Jonsson of the Christian Science Monitor weighs the impact. "How black evangelicals will respond to the allegations against Long is difficult to tell. Some in the African-American community worry that the allegations will deepen mistrust of homosexuals, especially because of the age of the alleged victims (although no criminal charges have been filed). ... On The Frank and Wanda Morning Show on Atlanta's V-103 station, host Frank Ski, one of Long's parishioners, said much of the reaction has been disbelief. If true, 'it's going to cause a lot of destruction in our community,' a caller told Mr. Ski during the show."
  • Long's 'Homophobic' History  Brentin Mock of the Southern Poverty Law Center condemns Long for his "homophobic" views. "Long is one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement...In the 19th and early 20th centuries, merchants peddled skin-whitening bleach creams to African Americans, suggesting to potential customers they could alleviate the consequences of racism by simply changing their skin color. Programs like 'Out of the Wilderness,' [a program at Long's church] which mainstream psychologists and medical experts reject because they say homosexuality is not a condition that needs a 'cure,' operate on a similar principle. If black gays and lesbians feel emotionally desolate, alienated, or abandoned by their church, Long says, it's not because of bigoted attacks on them but because of their own sexual sin."
  • Why Is the 'Black Church So Hostile to Gay Men and Women?' asks Joshua Alston at Newsweek. Alston is a member of the black gay community in Atlanta. He explains that gay African-Americans are tolerated in churches in an "unspoken agreement." They sing in bands and choirs and can "act as Seraphim, so long as they are willing to shout in agreement as they are being flagellated from the pulpit." His hope is that Long's controversy will spark a wider conversation about these questions: "this is a conversation bigger than this case, this church, or this man. It’s about the black community on the whole and whether or not gay men and lesbians are going to be considered full citizens in it."
  • Anti-Gay View Rooted in Biblical Literalism   Shayne Lee, a professor of sociology who studies black churches, explains at CNN that African-American believers tend to be among the most theologically conservative groups. Many interpret the Bible's prescriptions literally, leading to a view of homosexuality as "an act of depravity and perversion." This tendency makes it "virtually impossible to foster an inclusive embrace or acceptance of homosexuality. As long as African-American Christians adhere to biblical mandates as authoritative prescriptions from God, they won't be easily dissuaded from rejecting same-sex lifestyles as viable alternatives to heterosexual norms." As a result, Lee predicts, Bishop Long will fall unless he can convince followers the accusations are wrong.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.