As is normally the case, tonight’s regularly scheduled post was already prepared (yet another motherhood angst draft completed and in mid-revision) before the BREAKING NEWS bomb was dropped in my inbox all Hiroshima-like this evening. Thanks to cable news networks and the instantaneous nature of the social networks that I subscribe to, my Twitter Timeline, Instant Messengers and emails pretty much imploded my Blackberry amid news of yet another seemingly fallen Good Reverend.
According to CNN.com, two male parishioners have alleged sexual misconduct and coercion by an esteemed Atlanta Pastor:
Two Georgia men have filed a lawsuit claiming that prominent Atlanta, Georgia, pastor Eddie Long coerced them into sex.
The suits, filed Tuesday in DeKalb County, Georgia, allege that Long used his position as a spiritual authority and bishop to coerce young male members and employees of his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church into sex.
“Defendant Long has a pattern and practice of singling out a select group of young male church members and using his authority as Bishop over them to ultimately bring them to a point of engaging in a sexual relationship,” the suits allege.
Long is considered one of the nation’s top black preachers. His church has more 25,000 members, according to the suit, and was the site of Coretta Scott King’s 2006 funeral, attended by then-President George W. Bush and three previous presidents. King was the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The pastor took one plaintiff, Anthony Flagg, 21, on overnight trips to a half-dozen American cities in recent years, Flagg’s suit alleges.
“Long shared a bedroom and engaged in intimate sexual contact with plaintiff Flagg including kissing, massaging, masturbating of plaintiff Flagg by defendant Long and oral sexual contact,” the suit says.
Long took the other plaintiff, Maurice Murray Robinson, 20, to Auckland, New Zealand, in October 2008 for his 18th birthday and engaged in oral sex with him, Robinson’s suit alleges.
“Following the New Zealand Trip, Defendant Long regularly engaged in sexual touching, and other sexual acts with Plaintiff Robinson,” Robinson’s suit alleges.
Long spokesman Art Franklin said Tuesday that “we categorically deny the allegations.”
“It is very unfortunate that someone has taken this course of action,” he said. “Our law firm will be able to respond once attorneys have had an opportunity to review the lawsuit.”
Long frequently denounces homosexual behavior. A 2007 article in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s magazine called him “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement.”
“Everybody knows that a bishop or church pastor … cannot have any sort of sexual relations or sexual relationship with one of your parishioners,” the lawyer, B.J. Bernstein, said at a news conference Tuesday evening. “And even worse to have it with two young men who trusted him and got to know him at a very young age.”
Bernstein said she has alerted federal authorities about the allegations.
In June, Robinson was arrested and charged with burglary in connection with a break-in to Long’s office. An iPhone, iPad and other items — more than $1,300 worth — were taken from the office, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
On Tuesday, Bernstein said the theft was Robinson’s attempt to retaliate against the pastor. She said that once Robinson began telling others about his experience with Long, “he realized he wasn’t the only one.”
“It made [Robinson] angry,” she said.
Both plaintiffs said the pastor, his church and church employees gave them cash and lavish gifts that ranged from cars to college tuition.
The suits also said that Long framed the sexual relationships as religious in nature.
The suits allege that Long chose the plaintiffs to be his “Spiritual Sons,” a program that allegedly includes other young men from the church.
Flagg moved into a home owned by another New Birth pastor when he was a high school junior, according to the suit, where Long would sometimes share a bed with him. Flagg was eventually put on the church’s payroll, his suit alleges, with Long personally delivering his checks.
Flagg’s suit says that Long presided over a spiritual “covenant” ceremony between the two of them.
“It was essentially a marriage ceremony, with candles, exchange of jewelry, and biblical quotes,” Bernstein said Tuesday. “The bishop [told] him I will always have your back and you will always have mine.”
Robinson’s suit alleges that “Defendant Long would use Holy Scripture to discuss and justify the intimate relationship between himself and Plaintiff Robinson.”
The suits are seeking unspecified amounts of punitive damages from Long on various counts, ranging from negligence to breach of fiduciary duty.
Now, I will be the first to admit that although I don’t preach eternally damnation to random strangers and infidels or claim to possess the power to evoke a Fire and Brimstone downpour on all non-believers (you know, that new-age religion that some on The Right and many of those who travel on The Tea Party Express would have you believe that Christianity is all about), as a compassionate church-going, God-loving, Kingdom Striver, these allegations were incredibly disturbing. And not so much because there are implications of gross sexual impropriety committed by a well-known and respected man of the cloth; one of the faces of the black “mega-church” culture, but because people have used this story to further vilify Christianity, “the body” and collective church-going as a whole.
I cannot tell you how many comments I’ve read or responded to today that ranged from joking about whether Bishop Long’s S-Curl and silk too-tight shirts would be charged as accessories to this crime to people accusing the man of pedophilia with adolescent boys. Please understand that I don’t repeat these crass opinions as a way in which to pass judgment. I only mention them to show how easy it was for the world to jump on the “there-goes-another-preacher-spending-my-up-my-tithe-while-creeping-with-the-choir-boy” bandwagon without having heard a single word in the way of Bishop Long’s side of the story. Moreover, I know in media how important it is to get “the jump” on a hot and fresh story (as I can guarantee every blogger and their momma will probably be weighing in on this topic tomorrow morning, if they’ve not already done so) but I have to wonder if CNN.com, with more than 18,000 recommendations of this story via Facebook and it being touted as the most popular article on their website, cared more about the sensation that this story would garner as opposed to reporting on the whole story in its entirety. Now, far be it for me to suggest that Bishop Long’s two accusers in this case are peddling falsehoods; I am not saying that at all. I just think that we should all be careful to consider not only people’s motives in instances like this, but also the source from which such information would come.
What I do know to be true however, is my sincere desire for fact, accuracy and vindication to reign supreme and be made known when this snafu is all said and done. As crazy as this situation is though, it’s bound to get even uglier before it gets resolved. That is all the more reason why (in my opinion) we have to step out of our cloak of judgment and not put our mouth on a situation we are only privy to via second hand revelation.
In the book of 1 Peter, it talks about how the people of God shouldn’t be surprised at being mistreated and made to suffer as a result of doing the Lord’s work (paraphrasing), while on the other hand the book of Matthew addresses the sadness and destruction that people bring upon themselves as a result of the sinful behaviors they allow in their lives. In reading just these two bible passages it is evident that God will not be mocked, and I have a sneaking suspicion that one way or another this incident will be the catalyst for God allowing people to be exposed for who and what they truly are.