’Bishop’ Eddie Long Has Long Been in Bed - With Georgia Democrats
Megachurch leader Eddie Long has been an outspoken foe of marriage equality for gay and lesbian families and a proponent of so-called "reparative therapy," which promises to "convert" gays into heterosexuals. He’s also been a benefactor to the Republican Party.
But Long has also been a supporter of Democratic political candidates, reported Georgia Politics on Sept. 22. Indeed, Long had been scheduled to appear at a Sept. 23 fundraiser with a Democratic candidate for governor, Roy Barnes, when news of lawsuits filed against Long by three young men who say that the cleric coerced them into gay sex erupted. Barnes scrubbed the event, the Associated Press reported on Sept. 22, but his campaign would not confirm that the cancellation was due to the accusations leveled against Long.
"Roy is the only candidate in this race who has consistently been a friend to our community. He is the only one I trust to guide our state in a better direction," Long said of the candidate in July. In addition to his vocal support, Long and his wife also contributed a total of more than $11,000 to Barnes’ campaign, the site reported. Long had also contributed to other Democratic politicians over the years, including a 2002 contribution of $1,000 to former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland.
A Georgia Politics Unfiltered story filed the following day sported a photo of Long and former President George W. Bush. The headline read, "Will the Eddie Long Scandal Cost Barnes Support in the GLBT Community?" The article noted that Barnes had secured the support not only of Long, but also of gay publication The Georgia Voice.
The article also recalled that six years ago, Long was at the head of an Atlanta march against marriage equality. "In a tight election, where every vote will count, will Barnes’ association with Bishop Eddie Long--hardly a friend to the gay community--cost him support among GLBT voters?" the article wondered.
In any event, Long continued to enjoy the support of his congregation at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta. Appearing before the congregation for Sunday worship on Sept. 26, Long declared himself to be a "David" beset by "Goliaths," but swore that he had "five rocks" with which defend himself, "and I haven’t thrown one yet."
Though Long did not specifically deny the charges of having abused his spiritual authority to seduce the young men--who were of legal age at the time the alleged sexual encounters took place--he did declare that the portrait being painted of him in the media was not an accurate representation, telling his congregation that, "I am not the man that’s being portrayed on the television. That’s not me. That is not me."
The megachurch, which can seat 10,000, was filled for both Sunday worship services, the Associated Press reported on Sept. 27. Congregants expressed faith in their pastor, with one megachurch member telling the press, "We know and we love Bishop. We love our place of worship."
Another congregant said of Long’s address, ""It was simple. It was direct. He’s standing in the scriptures. That’s what we would expect from our minister."
One voiced of dissent was heard during the 11 a.m. service, when a young man called out, "We want to know the truth, man!" He was shown the door in short order and the service continued.
Black GLBTS of Faith: A Conversation Renewed
The accusations have sparked renewed conversation around the issue of gay African Americans and their place in black churches. "Gay men and lesbians have always been present in the black church, actively engaged at that," noted Joshua Alton in a Sept. 23 Newsweek.com article. "The prevalence of gay men in black church choirs and bands, for example, is accepted but not widely discussed. The unspoken agreement is that gay men get to act as Seraphim, so long as they are willing to shout in agreement as they are being flagellated from the pulpit. It’s an indignity some gay men subject themselves to each and every Sunday. Why should they have to live this way?"
But there are questions that lay beyond the ages of the parties who were purportedly involved, or even their genders: issues such as the contrast between the sexual mores espoused publicly by a man of the cloth and his own private conduct, and the question of whether pressuring another person for sex from a position of authority is ever defensible.
Still, the primary focus of the story, as Alston pointed out, is the gay element. "Long’s predicament is bringing back to the surface the endless debate over whether or not homosexuality is fundamentally moral or acceptable, a debate that preachers like Long have prolonged with their bigoted teachings," Alston wrote, going on to wonder whether the suit would spark dialogue about the place of black GLBT people of faith within the church, or whether the larger issues would be ignored. Wrote Alston, "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."
Alston recalled how another black pastor in Atlanta, Dennis Meredith, had gone from espousing anti-gay views to "preaching acceptance" once his own son came out as gay. Some parishioners left, rather than hear a message of love and acceptance for gays; they were replaced, however, by new congregants looking for a church that would accept and affirm them.
The issue of homophobia in black churches has been an ongoing topic of discussion among GLBT people of faith and of color. A meeting in the spring of 2009 brought leaders and students together at Howard University for a discussion of the phenomenon. One gay Howard divinity student, Dustin Baker, noted, "It’s a hard statement to say, but the reality is oppressed people do oppress people. At one point in time, the black church was an oppressed group of people...and at times we oppress individuals, especially people of same-gender-loving communities." Baker had worked with gay youth and lost two teens with whom he had worked to suicide.
Sharon Letterman of the People for the American Way was also at the meeting, and told the group, "Amongst the African-American community, sexuality is not a conversation. It’s not just homosexuality," Letterman specified; "sexuality is not a conversation." Letterman went on to say, "We have allowed a subculture to be created within our community because we won’t have this conversation."
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Samuel, from Victory for the World, a church in Stone Mountain, Ga., noted that Biblical injunctions against gays had been cited by anti-LGBT pastors, but uttered a note of caution. "Certain text in the Bible, as we know, had been used to support slavery in America for over 200 years," Samuel pointed out. "Certain texts have been used to justify patriarchy and sexism," added Samuel. "We have toxic text in the Bible that needs to be interpreted in the light of the truth, and... from the light and lenses of the all-inclusive love of Jesus."