We all know the series of events by now, between Sept. 21-24, four men — Anthony Flagg, 21; Maurice Robinson, 20; Jamal Parris, 23; and Spencer LeGrande, 22 — filed lawsuits in DeKalb County, Ga., accusing Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of the 25,000 member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta of lavishing gifts and money on them to coerce them into sexual acts starting when they were teenagers.
So here we have another homophobic religious leader possibly caught with his pants down (so to speak). You cannot help but think of Rev. George Alan Rekers, Yasser Mohamed Shahade, Rev. Ted Haggard, and dozens of Roman Catholic priests who have been in similar situations. However, Bishop Long’s situation is different. The HYPERLINK “http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2007/spring/face-right/bishop-eddie-long” \t “_blank” Southern Poverty Law Center calls the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church leader “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement” and noted that he has referred to homosexuality and lesbianism as “spiritual abortions.” Bishop Long has been in many ways the poster child for those in the black community who champion the cause of homophobia.
Bishop Long remains innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, so we have to extend to him this courtesy. He has not admitted to having sexual relationships with his four accusers, but then again he didn’t deny having sex with them either. One would suppose that a minister who makes millions of dollars a year would have the benefit of excellent legal counsel, so admitting anything anywhere would not have been a wise course of action.
There are those in the African-American community who have demonized Bishop Long’s accusers as young men who have been taking advantage of a mentor and are out for financial gain. Many in the black LGBT community are pleased with this turn of events and joined with others in the broader LGBT community in hoping that Bishop Long’s homophobic “reign of terror” will finally come to an end. However, either view is rather simplistic as there are deeper issues and perhaps even consequences at play here that need to be examined much more closely.
There are millions of African-American evangelical Christians who share Bishop Long’s view of those who are LGBT. Bishop Long has not been operating in a vacuum while building the largest church in the state of Georgia. He knew exactly what he was doing when he started a program in his church titled “Out of the Wilderness” that claims to help cure its participants of homosexuality. Bishop Long decided long ago to ride the back of the homophobia tiger to greater fame and fortune. He and other ministers like him made this choice to tap into the fears and in some cases, the ignorance of their congregations in order to build themselves up at the expense of thousands of oppressed LGBT men and women who for the most part are not going to stand up in their church to defend themselves for various reasons.
Many of Bishop Long’s congregation and defenders will never accept that these accusations could be true even if he is found guilty in a court of law. In their eye, he is the victim because he stood up and defended marriage as a right that only heterosexuals can enjoy, and they believe that he is standing on the Bible every time he condemns homosexuals.
In many ways, this situation is tragic for the four young men, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and the African-American community. The homophobia runs so deep in the black church and the black community that it has caused many oppressed men and women to become oppressors. The black church community in many ways has become a hiding place for people who, for whatever reason, cannot come to terms with their homosexuality.
There are a number of ministers who preach the evils of homosexuality while enjoying the pleasures of the flesh with someone of the same gender behind closed doors. What should be an opportunity for honest dialogue about homosexuality and homophobia in the black community has quickly become yet another opportunity for people to become further entrenched in the narrow view of the worth of millions of black LGBT men and women who are family members, neighbors and members of their churches.
Perhaps the lesson for all of us is, “what would Jesus do.” And perhaps the lesson for Bishop Eddie Long would be, “He who rides the back of the tiger, ends up inside.”