Wednesday, September 22, 2010

And Another Scandal

This time it's a Protestant. Or, really, what here in Central Europe people call a "Neo-Protestant," meaning somebody whose church life bears a family resemblance to those of the Reformation, but didn't take part in it. Useful phrase, about which we will write much, much more some other time.

But you didn't click for a discursus on ecclesiastical terminology, did you? So on to the scandal.

Bishop Eddie Long is the pastor of a big church in Georgia. And we mean big-big, as in 30,000 members. If he were a Lutheran, that wouldn't be a parish, it would be a denomination. (And Long himself says, "We're not just a church, we're an international corporation.")

He's been touched by controversy once or twice before. In 2005, a newspaper article accused him of mishandling charitable donations, basically by using them to pay for his salary, house and Bentley, rather than actually helping people who needed charity. (Mind you, Long preaches the so-called "prosperity gospel," so we're not sure that in his mind stealing money from poor people is even unethical. It may be a sign of divine favor.) In addition, there's the gay thing. As blogger Rod 2.0 puts it:
Long is among the most vocal critics of gay rights and same-sex marriage in the black church. In December 2004, a month after voters approved an amendment to the Georgia state Constitution that banned gay marriage, Long led a 25,000 person march against gay rights and marriage equality. [Note: He led the march after he'd won. Isn't that just poor sportsmanship?]
But then, yesterday, anti-gay crusader Eddie Long was accused of coercing sex from teen-aged "men" in his congregation. (Here's a CNN rundown.) Needless to say, his lawyers have already accused the two young people of a "shakedown for money." And who knows, at this early stage of the game?

Still, the story raises a couple of points worth talking about. One is the relative intolerance of homosexuality in African-American churches compared to those of European Americans. This is easy to exaggerate, but in our own experience it does seem to be true, at least to some degree. So even if these stories do prove to be false, they will also be exceptionally destructive.

The other point, though, is more interesting. Scanning the intertubes, we learned that in 2008, Long met with some of the SoulForce people. It was a long meeting, and we don't know much about it, but afterward, one of the SoulForce reps said:
Not only was [Long] open with regards to talks about homosexuality, he was able to say that there are some things that he does not know, and some things that he has to learn,
Huh. That invites some jokes, we suppose, but never mind. (Okay, fine: "A lot to learn," and he's studying hard. Sorry.) What interests us is that, if you dig into the really vile stuff -- and we did -- you can find several anti-gay sites attacking Long for this display of charity and diplomacy. And when the wing-nut sites attack, they really attack:

If you are a member of Eddie Lee Long’s assembly, a member of any assembly that claims him as your leader, associate with Eddie Lee Long in any manner, watch his TV broadcasts, or listen to his radio broadcasts, NOW IS THE TIME TO TOTALLY SEPARATE YOURSELF FROM EDDIE LEE LONG AND NOT LOOK BACK!!!

He has not only gone against scripture in meeting with promoters of abomination, who teach of a false jesus that endorses sin. ... He’s led teachers of homosexual doctrines to feel they have something valuable to help him with and his people are considering allowing homosexuals to teach classes in their doctrine of abomination to his assembly members.

(We like the lower-case "scripture" and "jesus." Adds a kind of E.E. Cummings spin, dunnit?)

Another attack, though, is even more interesting. A blog called Gay Christian Movement Watch led with the curious header "Looks like Eddie Long just got pregnant. Only nine months to go and we know who the baby's daddy is." We're not at all sure what this is supposed to mean, and the related links are now dead, but we suspect it is a veiled suggestion that a meeting with SoulForce was meant to presage a major re-orientation of Long's discourse about sexuality. If so, a commenter called "EnochWalked" caught the ball and went deep:
I have a hunch that there is someone(s) in leadership at New Birth that is on the downlow or in the closet–or Soulforce is BLACKMAILING New Birth because they have some strong incriminating evidence against New Birth leadership that they threaten to expose?
Sure, it's crazy paranoid wingnut stuff. The thing is, he may have been right.

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