Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The whole Long, tragic affair

By now, the ongoing story of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church Bishop Eddie Long has spread like wildfire across the Internet and mainstream media. The founder and senior pastor of New Birth has preached that homosexuality is deserving of death, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights organization, has characterized Bishop Long as "one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement". For twenty-five and more years, as Long built New Birth from a 300-member community church into the 25,000-member megachurch it is today, he has used hate as the mortar that holds the church's bricks together, fear as its rafters, and homophobia as its altar.

Almost predictably for a man who'd used such open and frank evil (to paraphrase Whitley Streiber), it seemed inevitable that Long would one day be exposed as the very thing he'd railed against from his pulpit all of his career. In the picture above, right out of A4A or BGC, is a very different Eddie Long from the much-lionized, public face of one of the most influential televangelists in America. As lawsuits from young, male parishioners of New Birth pile up, all charging the Bishop with using his wealth, position, and power to have sexual relationships with them, it's easy to say this is just another case of a hypocrite trying to hide his true self from the world by damning others like him. But church-sanctioned homophobia is a much deeper, more intractable problem than merely that of a self-loathing preacher. To start off with, Bishop Long doesn't run the church by himself. New Birth has a Board Of Directors, as any church of its size ought to. In a large corporation, one of the responsibilities of the Board is to perform oversight of the organization and its executives. As Senior Pastor, Bishop Long ostensibly served at the pleasure of the Board. I cannot fathom how the Board of Directors could have permitted Long to preach evil--in the form of constantly condemning gays and lesbians--unless the Board condoned and approved such vitriolic rantings. In other words, the entire management structure at New Birth aided and abetted Long in the damage he did throughout his eccelesiastical career.

Look at 13-year-old Asher Brown. He's a young man who was bullied to the point of suicide, after the constant abuse he suffered over being gay. He went home yesterday, picked up a gun, and shot himself in the head. This is the kind of damage people like Bishop Long do, when, as authority figures, they give their charges permission to hate. Parishioners at New Birth hear Long tell them that gays are immoral, abominable, and should be killed. How many of them then take that as God's official blessing to go out and harass, beat, or even kill gays and lesbians? How many get driven to such deep depression upon hearing that God hates them for what they are? How much blood stains Long's hands, and those of every single Board member who knew what Long was preaching, yet did not put a stop to it. The Rev. Irene Monroe, in a challenging thesis on homophobia in churches such as Long's, also makes the point that the hatred clergypersons like Long advocate, will return to visit them personally. Much as the revelations of Long's activities with vulnerable, fatherless young men of New Birth are teaching us, those who ask the most severe treatment for gays and lesbians often feel such punishments are for lesser souls than themselves, that their advocacy of hate is merely a smokescreen for their own frighful insecurities.

Here are Long's wages of hate. For filling his congregation with the spirit of intolerance, he is rewarded with wealth, privilege, and social status, which he then used to satisfy his true self--a frightened, closeted gay man, always watchful lest his "abominable nature" be shown to the world in detail. Perhaps it's true that Bishop Long is, himself, a victim of our homophobic society and culture, that he made, as many do, a decision to be on the "down-low", for the sake of his career and perqs. But to be closeted is one thing. To preach death to people just like yourself, and to compound that atrocity by seeking out the most vulnerable of your flock, and craftily waiting, grooming these young men all the while, and as soon as they reach the age of consent, pouncing on them with every resounce available to you, is truly beneath contempt. Even if all these young parishioners were gay, even if they accepted Long's gifts, trips, and all the other enticements with which Long drew them into his web, none of this relieves Long from his obligation as a church leader and an adult, to refrain from ANY inappropriate activities with them. All these men are now corrupted in their sexual thinking, because their encounters with Long occurred in a situation arising out of a gross imbalance of power.

If Long had his dalliances with older men, men in their thirties or so, who weren't barely out of childhood or adolescence (Long himself is 57), I might be inclined to say he was just another sad example of a man so fearfully filled with self-hate that a "down low" affair might be understandable. But the depth and scope of what Long has done here, is so beyond that, it staggers me. When the lawsuits go to court (if they ever do--I think these cases will all end in settlements, complete with gag orders), no person will be able to truly judge Bishop Long. No court of public opinion can adequately try him. for preaching the Devil's word--hatred--from his pulpit, while himself being an object of that same homophobia that pervades so many churches, Long will have to come before God's bar, and to God explain himself.

Friday, September 3, 2010