Bishop Eddie Long, the prosperous prophet of the Gospel of Prosperity, and pastor of a 25,0000 member mega-church near Atlanta, has been charged with the sexual coercion of several teenage boys whom he recruited into leadership in the Youth Ministry.
Three of these young men, 17-18 years old at the time but now in their early 20s, have filed lawsuits describing him as a sexual predator and claiming that the bishop pushed them into sex, lavished them with expensive gifts, and sent them suggestive photos of himself in a "muscle shirt" in the bathroom.
He is known throughout the country as the leading "anti-homosexuality pastor" and once led a march of thousands through Atlanta in protest of gays and lesbians and marriage equality, saying, "homosexuality is a spiritual abortion."
Indeed, it has been widely reported that, at Coretta Scott King's funeral in 2006, which was held at his church, some civil rights leaders refused to attend because Long is so anti-gay.
The bishop drives a Bentley, wears expensive suits, and has his own private jet, which one of the boys claims was used to fly him from LA to Trinidad to NYC, while Long abused him sexually.
Attorneys for Long have adamantly deny the charges. However, addressing a New Birth Missionary Baptist Church sanctuary packed with thousands on Sunday, the bishop declined to discuss specifics of lawsuits filed against him – or, interestingly enough, to flatly deny the accusations. But he drew thunderous applause when he told his church that while he's not perfect, the picture painted by the allegations is far from accurate.
"I'm not a perfect man," he said. An interesting turn of phrase - one that would ring familiar on the ears of many in that congregation. To my ears, which have been listening to this kind of rhetoric for more years than I'd like to admit, it sounds like "code" for something.
The word on the street is that many knew the bishop was "on the down low" but kept silent.
In his book, "On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of 'Straight' Black Men Who Sleep with Men", written in 2004, author J.L. King describes his own experience and those of other Black men who live what he calls "a discreet sexual life style" of having sexual relationships with women, often within marriage and an otherwise "normal family life" while also secretly engaging in sex with other men in gyms, bathhouses and parks.
The term springs out of the urban landscape, predominantly among young African American men who have sex with men and women but do not identify as bisexual.
A 2003 New York Times Magazine cover story on the Down Low phenomenon explains that the black community sees "homosexuality as a white man's perversion." It then goes on to describe the Down Low culture as follows:
“Rejecting a gay culture they perceive as white and effeminate, many black men have settled on a new identity, with its own vocabulary and customs and its own name: Down Low. There have always been men – black and white – who have had secret sexual lives with men. But the creation of an organized, underground subculture largely made up of black men who otherwise live straight lives is a phenomenon of the last decade... Most date or marry women and engage sexually with men they meet only in anonymous settings like bathhouses and parks or through the Internet. Many of these men are young and from the inner city, where they live in a hypermasculine thug culture. Other DL men form romantic relationships with men and may even be peripheral participants in mainstream gay culture, all unknown to their colleagues and families. Most DL men identify themselves not as gay or bisexual but first and foremost as black. To them, as to many blacks, that equates to being inherently masculine.
I don't know about you, but, looking at this image, the word, "hypermasculine" certainly comes immediately to my mind. It's clearly not an image of any bishop I've ever known in the church - but that may say more about my own inexperience than anything else.
There are, reportedly, "hundreds" of young men in Long's Youth Ministry. At first, only two came forward. They were joined by a third. I understand that a fourth lawsuit has been filed. I suspect there will be more before this is all over.
While I abhor and detest the sexual exploitation of children and young people in any situation any where, and I am sickened unto death by yet another exposure of yet another trusted church leader who has engaged in this heinous practice, I find myself strangely grateful for the hypocrisy of Bishop Eddie Long.
Well, let me be more specific: It's about time it got exposed. I'm grateful for that.
And, I'm quite certain, he's not the only one - Black or White - whose duplicity about human sexuality fuels the anti-homosexuality fervor which keeps in place immoral policies like DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) and blocks the civil rights of others in things like Marriage Equality.
I think the case exposed by Anderson Cooper - of Michigan’s Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell who is harassing the new student body president of the University of Michigan, Chris Armstrong, a college student, because he’s gay - is yet another example. It may be "immaturity" as Shirvell's boss says, but watching the video, I suspect there's something more.
It's also behind the suicide of Rutgers University Tyler Clementi after his roommate secretly filmed him during a "sexual encounter" in his dorm room and posted it live on the Internet
My hope - my prayer - is that as this legal case of sexual coercion makes its way through the courts, these young men do not succumb to being "bought out" in an out-of-court monetary settlement. That would only give credence to the counter-allegation of Long's attorneys that these allegations are a baseless adolescent prank designed to bring down the powerful Bishop Long and gain personal financial benefit.
Further, I hope - I pray - that, because of cases like this, we can begin to talk about the full range of human sexuality - not just focus on homosexuality - and begin to learn to accept it as a Divine Gift as expressed in a variety of ways in a plethora of social contexts.
Let's applaud people like Bishop Carlton Pearson who addresses Gays in the Black Church as a reality to be embraced and not condemned as an abomination.
Let's call an abomination an abomination. The abuse of power in sexual relationships - sexual coercion, assault and rape, pornography, prostitution, sex slavery, and sex with a child - is an abomination in the sight of God and all of God's creation.
So, too, are the duplicity and deceit which are prospered in the service of our miseducation and misunderstanding about - and therefore, the misuse of - physical expressions of intimacy and love.
Until we can receive, accept and celebrate the divine gift of human sexuality, we hold the potential to abuse it. We'll continue to tangle ourselves in an intricate web of deceit and duplicity - like the 'down low' - making scapegoats of some and victims of others.
"Once you become a public figure, you can't hide anymore," J.L. King once told JET magazine. "Once you accept who you are, you are no longer lying and hiding who you are. I want Brothers to know they don't have to continue to hurt and to hurt others."
My hope - my prayer - is that, once you become a Christian, you don't need to hide any more. Once you accept who you are as a beloved child of God who has been given the Divine gift of sexuality which is part of the totality of your humanity, you no longer need to lie and hide who you are.
Because, not only do you hurt others; ultimately, you hurt yourself as well.
As Audre Lorde, once said, in her essay "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action," from her book, "Sister Outsider":
I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.
Your silence will not protect you.Somebody send this message to Bishop Long, and tell him that, in fact, he's hurting himself, his family, his church, his community, those young boys, as well as the Sacred Heart of the Jesus he professes to love and serve.
Somebody remind him that "confession is good for the soul" - not only his, but that of his church - and, specifically, the souls of the young boys whom he allegedly coerced into sex.
Somebody point him to Matthew 18:15-17 where Jesus talks about how to handle sin in the church, but especially Matthew 18:18: "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on hearth will be loosed in heaven."
Here's what Sister Audre says after she tells us in that same essay about the Transformation of Silence:
I've been thinking about silence lately. How we use silence to protect ourselves. How we use silence to maintain the status quo. How we use silence to express indifference. How we use silence because it's easier than taking a risk. How silence becomes just another expression of laziness.No. No, I think not.
I have always interpreted silence as indifference or disdain. It is the fastest, surest way to get me to retreat. In my family of origin, silence was punishment. Being ostracized from the group is how we were forced back into line.
It stops everything cold. It chills the soul. It destroys relationships. It serves no purpose. It allows things to go on that should never go on.
In a more benign sense, silence is what destroys relationships. Things unsaid. And as we use silence in our private interactions, it extrapolates out to the larger world and becomes a way of life.
Not speaking. Not asking. Passivity that comes not from peace but from simple indifference and laziness.
I don't get involved in American politics. Period. But I have definitely seen how silence contributes to the continuation of the path that country is on, and how, just as was predicted by those much wiser than me, it allows the oligarchy (yes, I'll use that word) to gain more and more control over the private lives of citizens. At what point do I use the "f-word" (fascism) which requires a silenced population? I feel safe and accurate to use it now.
Am I the only one who sees it?"
Somebody give the Sister Outsider an 'Amen'.