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You Shall Know the Truth . . .

Sep 25, 2010 — Categories: ,

Bishop Eddie Long is a national Christian leader, preacher and pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, a megachurch in Lithonia, Georgia, outside Atlanta. He is now facing three civil actions from two young male members of his church alleging that he coerced and manipulated them into sexual activity with him. He denies the allegations. His church members are stunned, and many are coming to his defense. The allegations made by the two men fit the classic pattern of clergy misconduct involving sexual abuse.

Bishop Eddie Long is a national Christian leader, preacher and pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, a megachurch in Lithonia, Georgia, outside Atlanta.

He is now facing three civil actions from two young male members of his church alleging that he coerced and manipulated them into sexual activity with him. He denies the allegations. His church members are stunned, and many are coming to his defense.

The allegations made by the two men fit the classic pattern of clergy misconduct involving sexual abuse: a charismatic faith leader using theological justifications, attention and gifts (cars, trips, jewelry, etc.) to take advantage of these young adults. Although the media are “shocked and appalled,” it is just because they haven’t been paying attention to all the previous high profile cases of clergy misconduct. It’s the same old story.

Pastor Long will have his day in court and, I expect, his day in the media to respond to the allegations. And we will watch the story unfold.

If the allegations are true, we need to be clear that the issue here is sexual abuse by clergy of congregants, regardless of their gender. Congregants, especially youth and young adults (these men were 14 years old when they began coming to this church), are vulnerable to their spiritual leader. He or she is in a position to use the power and authority of the office to lead congregants down a path that is ultimately harmful to them. Ethically, this is a misuse of power and an exploitation of congregants.

“Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep.” Ezekiel 34:2-3

The prophet Ezekiel calls out the shepherds who prey on the sheep instead of caring for them and protecting them. This is the issue for clergy who coerce and manipulate their congregants in order to meet their own needs. As a clergy colleague of mine often says, “You shall know the truth . . . and the truth will make you flinch . . . before it sets you free.”

Sadly, too many congregations know this story and are still living with the consequences of secrecy, deception and misuse of power by their spiritual leader. As I have worked with congregations in the aftermath of betrayals by clergy, the most painful consequence is watching members struggle with the contradiction they feel between their experience of their beloved pastor who may have actually saved their lives and these allegations that they cannot bear to believe. Both experiences may be true; both aspects of Pastor Long may be real. Too often congregants confuse the message with the messenger, and if the messenger betrays their trust, they fear having to let go of the message too.

My prayer for the people of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church is that they will remember the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

I also pray that the truth will set them free.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

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Bishop Long allegations

Posted by Julie Owens at Sep 27, 2010 03:08 PM
Thank you for saying what I have been thinking. If these allegations are true (and they sound 'classic', with all the expected elements, as you point out) my concern is that the fact that all parties involved are male will overshadow the fact that this is ABUSE, pure and simple.

Vatican's guilt

Posted by Debra Michels at Sep 27, 2010 03:09 PM
Has Reverend Marie written about the Vatican's guilt about how the priest abuse revelations have been handled? I watched CNN's show called "What the Pope Knew" last night and found myself getting rather upset - as though the whole organization is criminal - obstructing justice, other things (I'm not a lawyer).

I wish there were a book detailing the path to recovery so that people could find their way and not feel quite so much fear and bewilderment.

response to Vatican's Guilt

Posted by Linda Gaines at Sep 27, 2010 04:14 PM
Yes, Marie Fortune has written much on the issue in the Roman church and addressed the Pope on abuse issues and secrecy.
Faith Trust has many resources on recovery and what church bodies and indiviuals can do when faced with clergy misconduct. They have been working on these issues for decades.

re. Ezekiel, & flinching

Posted by k at Sep 28, 2010 03:37 PM
Nicely written essay. I love the 'flinch' comment. I also appreciate the message/messenger clarification being made. Too many congregations' members regularly demonstrate that they are churches built on a personality. We humans still forget instantly that church is not for entertainment -- sexually, or socially.

I am sure I have heard the Ezekiel passage before, but I wonder that it has been so long since I last heard it -- that I can't even remember.... It certainly confronts problems I see in many churches & church budgets. In fact, the situations Ezekiel addresses are so frequent that I'm amazed I almost never hear the Ezekiel passage used to challenge those problems. I appreciate someone having enough perspective to bring it to the fore.

Bishop Long

Posted by Wayne A Blassingame at Oct 13, 2010 12:32 PM
Thank you for that spiritual commentary or theological reflection,it again showed how christ is in all things we encounter on our journey through life. Its not easy being a Christian for the Devil is always busy.