Another sex scandal dominates Godbeat

LITHONIA, GA - SEPTEMBER 26: A billboard featuring Bishop Eddie Long welcomes church members as they arrive for services at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church September 26, 2010 in Lithonia, Georgia. Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church gave a sermon to his parishioners concerning recent lawsuits during two Sunday services. Long faces allegations of sexual coersion of male church members when they were teenagers. During the sermon, Long promised to fight the charges and return to lead his congregation next Sunday.  (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

CNN.com published 10 — count ‘em, 10 — articles or video clips yesterday about Bishop Eddie Long. If you don’t know who Long is, then you’re like the almost all Americans were one week ago, before the media blitz began with revelations that four young men at Long’s Atlanta-area megachurch were filing lawsuits claiming the minister molested them.

CNN is based in Atlanta, and one of their religion reporters, then on the Godbeat for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, wrote one of my favorite all-time religion stories when he exposed how Long was getting rich off the charity checkbook. Thus, it’s no surprise that CNN has been all over this story.

What’s odd is the media storm that has followed.

Despite all the blustering about Long being one of America’s most-recognizable pastors, I can assure you that even a room full of Christian reporters would have had a difficult time last week identifying Long (or, being that he is a Baptist, exactly what kind of a bishop he is).

And so I can only attribute the explosion interest to two things: First, it was CNN, the Cable News Network, that broke this story, not a regional newspaper — we all know no one reads those. The Associated Press has also been all over the story — one GetReligionista wondered if the AP, motivated by its recent feud with CNN, decided to try to stay ahead of its rival — and this, in turn, likely convinced the major metros that a very big story was going down and that they better get on top of it.

Second, the MSM loves apparent hypocrisy.

The latter is clear from the context given a lot of the stories, including the money quote in the New York Times’ front-page story today. This was the first quote to appear in that article:

“When this comes out, it gives at least the perception of hypocrisy — it’s like red meat to a lion, everyone’s pouncing on this story,” said the Rev. Timothy McDonald III, a friend of Bishop Long who heads the First Iconium Baptist Church. “This is the issue: how can you be against homosexuality and you are allegedly participating in it? That is the epitome of hypocrisy.”

I appreciate, at least, that the chosen quote says “perception of hypocrisy.” It hints that maybe the reporter was looking for more analysis than accusation. But this CNN.com story doesn’t:

The lawsuits accuse Long of using his power and influence within the 25,000-member church to lure young male church members into sexual relationships. The suits allege that the relationships, which began when the men were in their teens, lasted over many months.

Long took the young men — all of them teens at the time — on trips, including to Kenya, according to the suits. Long allegedly paid for their hotel rooms, and gave the young men gifts, including a car, cash and jewelry — all in exchange for sexual favors such as massaging, masturbation and oral sex.

The accusations were particularly controversial because Long, who is married, has preached passionately against homosexuality over the years.

Obviously, it’s that last line that gets me. Controversial is such a poorly chosen word. If Long did what he is accused of doing, there is nothing controversial about it. Diabolical, certainly. But not controversial.

More importantly, though, such acts become no more heinous just because they are seen as hypocritical. And, to be sure, a male pastor having extramarital sex — period — is also hypocritical. Even if he’s unmarried and the affair is with an adult woman. The sad reality is not that such socially accepted behavior doesn’t occur, but that it doesn’t spark outrage.

That in no way minimizes the severity of what Long is accused of. Sexual abuse is real, and it so often involves subjugation and manipulation by authority figures. The Catholic Church and Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community have probably received the most media attention, likely because they are less decentralized than the countless Protestant churches spread across the country.

Further, the reporting on Long has conflated homosexuality with pedophilia. (I haven’t seen the age of the accusers reported, but stories have referred to them as “young men” and “former members of a youth group.”) Politically active Christian ministers tend to take a side on same-sex marriage, but I’ve never heard of anyone not named Paul Shanley standing up for child molestation. Speeches like the one in this “South Park” clip just aren’t convincing.

As for the appetite for hypocrisy, I understand that if the accusations are true, Long is not who he has claimed to be. But the real question is: Who cares?

Before last week no one, other than the 20,000-plus members of his church, had heard of long. He’s not a household name like Rick Warren or Joel Osteen or T.D. Jakes. He’s not even Ted Haggard — at least Long better hope not.

To be sure, I’m not a fan of Bishop Long, who has long been living the ministerial high life, and unapologetically so. I mentioned this in a January post about the dangerous gospel of wealth, but it’s worth repeating again. In 2005, John Blake, now at CNN, investigated Long and his charity’s tax records and reported for the AJC that between 1997 and 2000 Long had received $3.07 million in salary and benefits, including a $1.4 million mansion and a $350,000 Bentley.

Yeah, that’s a lot of bread.

More amazing was Long’s response to Blake:

“We’re not just a church, we’re an international corporation,” Long said. “We’re not just a bumbling bunch of preachers who can’t talk and all we’re doing is baptizing babies. I deal with the White House. I deal with Tony Blair. I deal with presidents around this world. I pastor a multimillion-dollar congregation.

“You’ve got to put me on a different scale than the little black preacher sitting over there that’s supposed to be just getting by because the people are suffering.”

Nice guy. Hard not to take his side. Is it any surprise he had to launch a PR campaign after Blake’s story ran?

Still, this is not the biggest bit of religion news going on right now, and I’d rather it wasn’t absorbing so much attention.

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  • Bible Belt Blogger

    I think it’s good for journalism — and for the American church — that this story is center stage.

  • Peggy

    How does this go with the media meme that if only Roman Catholic priests could marry, children would not be molested and other sexual escapades would not occur?

  • http://jeffthebaptist.blogspot.com Jeff the Baptist

    Long’s church is part of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship which broke off from the National Baptist Convention USA in the mid 90s. Long was among the first 12 bishops established by the founder Paul S. Morton.

    Not sure of the details of church governance, but theology seems charismatic.

  • Dave

    That in no way minimizes the severity of what Long is accused of.

    Then why probe the MSM’s entrails for motivation in covering it? Why split hairs between “controversial” and “diabolical?” If this coverage proved anything about MSM motives it’s that, contrary to the opinions of some commenters, it’s not just after the Catholic Church.

    I read a report — sorry, didn’t note the source — that the young men were 17 and 18. The age of consent in Georgia is 16.

    Long is beyond hypocrisy. He gave the youths anti-gay indoctrination. He just had to observe how they responded thereto to identify likely “recruits” for his purposes. The man is a master manipulator.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    Thanks, Jeff. Not sure why I haven’t seen that mentioned in coverage. Maybe I just overlooked it.

  • Deona

    If church people choose to follow the bishop .it’s there choices.they can quit when they choose to.people do what they want to and when they want to. Society is a big click in some form of another.but u get to choose the click.

  • Frank

    Peggy,
    It plays better with the “Lots of homophobes are chicken hawks” meme, which is a perfect model for the Catholic Church.

    I went to Jesuit High School in New Orleans. The priest most responsible for anti-gay witch hunts among students and faculty loved wrestling with thirteen-year-old boys. Perhaps, he adopted a morally superior attitude because if you’re having gay sex with a thirteen-year-old, most people will assume you’re the active partner.

    I hope this helps.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    I have been surprised by the level of coverage this has received and find the AP/CNN war a compelling theory — along with the media’s obsession with hypocrisy if and only if it involves social conservatives and sex.

    But I’m also surprised by how many reports are glossing over the “prosperity gospel” issue — Long is one of the pastor’s being investigated by Sen. Chuch Grassley, right? Why isn’t that mentioned more?

  • http://www.thebigdaddyweave.com Big Daddy Weave

    The AJC mentioned Long’s connection to the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship yesterday. http://tiny.cc/jku9g

    My understanding is that FGBCF has an episcopal polity. While Baptist is in their name, most historians that I’m familiar with generally describe FGBCF as “multidenominational” but with its origins in the African-American Baptist tradition.

  • Jeffrey

    When the most segregated time in America is Sunday morning, it’s not surprised that white religion reporters wouldn’t know about Eddie Long. But his status in the African American community as a rival to T.D. Jakes and having his church host Coretta Scott King’s funeral is legendary.

    So he is a big deal for people who follow the prosperity gospel and are familiar with the African American mega churches. You are probably right that this scandal is occurring in CNN’s backyard, but just because you’ve never heard of him doesn’t mean he isn’t a big deal.

  • http://www.muchmorethanwords.com gfe

    A quick question (and I’m not presupposing what the answer is, because I don’t know): How well-known would Long have been two weeks ago if he were white?

    I pay pretty close attention to religion news, and I hadn’t heard of him either. But I have heard of various other magapreachers who seem to have no more of a following than what Long has had. I’m wondering if a black preacher might be seen as having less influence outside of his community than a white preacher might, and therefore get less coverage before a scandal breaks.

  • Pastor Jody Pistore

    God will judge all mankind including this bishop and his onlookers.

  • Jerry

    along with the media’s obsession with hypocrisy if and only if it involves social conservatives and sex

    . Mollie, I guess you’re too young to know about the media firestorm over President Clinton’s sex scandal. In that case, the right delighted in keeping the story alive just as today the left delights in promoting stories about hypocrisy on the right. Thus is the game of power and self-righteousness played.

  • Leah

    I live in Atlanta, and I can tell you that Eddie Long is incredibly influential, both in terms of religion and politics. His mix of the prosperity gospel, social conservatism, and community outreach combined with a hip hop aesthetic has had a profound impact on the development and meaning of the black church. He also tries to portray himself as the natural heir to the black church tradition, ably helped by the fact that Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. is an elder at New Birth. Many of the old guard civil rights churchmen (e.g., John Lewis, Andrew Young, Joseph E. Lowrey) dislike him because they believe his prosperity gospel is a perversion of the black church, and also for his stance on homosexuality. Long also esposes “muscular Christianity” and particularly tries to attract black men to the church and reclaim their traditional roles as husbands and fathers. Really, I cannot emphasis how much of a scandal this is in black Atlanta and in the black community as a whole. It’s really surprising to me to hear that there are people who haven’t heard of Eddie Long.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Jerry,

    I remember the media firestorm over Clinton. I don’t remember it being about hypocrisy.

  • Jeffrey

    While the story is about social cons behaving badly/hypocrisy, it’s also about sexual abuse, homophobia in the African American community, and incredibly compelling person at the center of the story. That sound like a good story to me even if “a room full of Christian reporters would have had a difficult time last week identifying Long.” That may say more about the reporters than the significance of the story.

  • http://na glorybe1929

    This Bishop Long thing,is like the “baby of a knat” compared to the Roman Catholic Church and it’s sickening ways. They have always stolen money from their own bank(the peoples money) so that they can have a life style like they want, whether it’s the the pedophiles or the gays. They want to do what they want and when they want it. Especially when they want to sexually abuse the innocent children in their care,the handicapped and marginalized.

    This scandal was brought to light in 2001 on the internet and has been going on for millenium(s) Why not get the WORLD Court involved in prosecuting the RCC for Crimes Against Humanity,so we can end this reign of terror by a FAUX CHURCH run by Devils.

  • iMANI

    As an African American Catholic, zI find glorybez remarks insulting and grossly inaccurate..Many of these comments lack familiarity with black church, including the black churcn within the Catholic Church..Many of us would leave mass to go and hear his sermons on the Word Channel or the TBN Network. I knew little of his politics…
    The black community and black church are reeling at the
    prospect of the allegations and painful revelations..as they are. We reserve judgment until all the truth is revealed..having gone through this and continuing to go through this, thre is a zero tolerance policy…for all abusers who have been found to be abusing..
    I pray for the Justice of God to be revealed.

  • Jerry

    Mollie,

    It would take too many hours to research many media sites but I did a little very rough data mining doing a web and news search for a noun and the word hypocrisy (democratic hypocrisy/republican hypocrisy). Of course I recognize that this is a very crude yardstick since hits would be matched that were about other topic, but it matches my preconception for whatever that’s worth. And I think on the whole the errors would be on the same order of magnitude and tend to cancel out.

    word: web search/news search
    democrat: 1,700,000/738
    democratic: 2,290,000/592
    liberal: 293,000/412

    republican: 2,400,000/622
    conservative: 266,000/376

    christian: 2,370,000/255
    muslim: 1,290,000/228
    jewish: 1,090,000/109
    catholic: 1,160,000/151
    protestant: 2,270,000/30

    bush: 2,240,000/news scan not done
    clinton: 1,470,000/news scan not done

  • John D

    Brad,

    Though CNN may not have covered the ages of the young men involved, I have seen in other sources that all the young men were above Georgia’s age of consent (which is 16). Under Georgia law, this doesn’t count as pedophilia (just as it would not if he had sex with a 16-year old girl).

  • John M.

    @glorybe

    Wow, that rant sounded like it came from “Jack Chick’s Greatest Hits”.

    Switch to decaf, sweet heart.

  • Passing By

    Paul Shanley is not the only person to advocate sex with children. This, by the way, from a fellow who wants the pope on trial for child molestation. Does that qualify as hypocrisy?

    Since I don’t see anything about criminal charges (but may have missed something), I’m assuming the young men were of legal age. It would really be helpful if the reporters actually stated their ages at the time of the events. Throwing in child abuse terms like “molested” isn’t helpful, in my opinion.

    Another question: was Bp. Long in on the big conference call with the president? I admit I only skimmed the CNN articles, though.

  • Bram

    One thing I’m not in the least surprised to see the media neglect to point out is that Long is a political liberal, a Democrat, and a major supporter — both financially and rhetorically — of Barack Obama, his presidency, and presidential campaign. If Long were a political conservative, a Republican, and a major supporter of Sarah Palin and/or the Tea Party movement, you can bet your bottom dollar that the media would let you know.

  • Bram

    It would also be good to see the media note that if the Democratic party discounted every vote that it ever receives from voters who share Eddie Long’s “homophobic” views, then Barack Obama would not be president today.

  • Passing By

    Meant to say:

    Mr. Greenberg, I think you are correct to mention the “prosperity gospel” connection. Living close to the neighborhood of Robert Tilton (remember him?), I’m aware of the license that “name it and claim it” gives to the Word of Faith believer. Sexual misbehavior isn’t an inevitable outcome of that theology, but the underlying value system does encourage you to think you should get anything you want.

  • http://gospelgal.blogspot.com LaTonya

    Brad,

    I second what Jeffrey and Leah said. Your gauge is off — Long has long been a household name in many African-American church circles, on a national scale. This is almost as significant as if Jakes had been embroiled in a similar controversy.

  • patti morey

    This scandal has been totally fabricated by a wealthy white men’s club. The snobby & deprecating tone of the article in the NY Times supports this totally. They reported that the bishop lived in a million dollar home – so what? Many homes cost a million dollars, and they’re not very fancy either. Also, they mentioned that the bishop’s Federal Income Tax records indicate he received various expensive gifts – what they didn’t mention was what is obvious: that he reported those gifts on his Federal Income Tax Return and paid taxes on them. I’m wondering what the four men have been promised or threatened with in order to allege what they have. Because, they are and were grown men. What is their problem?

  • patti morey

    hope it’s ok to elaborate. Too often in our country when a black citizen attains prominence, they are brought low by some despicable accusation. It is terrible and it is wrong and it has got to stop. When Tiger Woods’ car struck a telephone pole, weren’t you wondering why the heck the police would bother to take 250 photos of that, at the time? And, Michael Jackson. And, the glove that didn’t fit… It’s just really very irritating.

  • Stoo

    Passing by

    In the article you link Tatchell is pretty clearly talking about teenagers having sex with each other, and what he sees as the futility of criminalising it. He suggests lowering the age to 14, providing the other partner is no more than 2-3 years over that themself. So I don’t think you have a great case for pushing the hypocrisy button there.

  • Frank

    Patti,
    You’ve injected racism into this discussion. The real bigot in this news article is Eddie Long. He called for the death of gays. Not even using the n-word sinks to the level of incitement to murder.

    Your post shows more about your own bigotry than anyone else’s.

  • Frank

    Patti’s “they were legal” defense brings up one small point.

    If anyone imagined that clerical counseling had any real effect, then clergy who become sexually involved with people they are counseling would be held to the same standards as psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers who abuse their relationships with clients.

    Instead when these relationships are abused, we get defenses like “Priests are independent contractors” from the U.S. Council of Catholic bishops and “They were legal” from the “faithful.”

  • Passing By

    No, Stoo, he suggests an alternative plan which might involve a minimal age difference. The rest is strictly about age of consent, which in my state, means that an 18 year old can have sex with anyone; under 18, the three year rule kicks in. I am not aware of any minimum age for prosecution of consensual sex in this country, assuming it’s not forced and the three year rule is followed. Do they really prosecute 15 year olds in England for consensual sex?

    Perhaps it’s just a difference in culture and language.

  • Dave

    Mollie, the hypocrisy in the Clinton impeachment was in some accusers’ own infidelities, as revealed by a press that was vigilant at leat to that degree.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Dave,

    This is totally off topic, but my own view (stolen from a former professor of mine) is that we would be lucky if all politicians could be distracted with sex, money, drugs, etc. — that way they would legislate less.

  • Dave

    LOL! Problem is, it’s really easy to exchange favorable legislation for sex, money, drugs, etc…

  • John Pack Lambert

    Is the issue “if Long was white” or “if Long was the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church”.

    How about if Long was an Episcopal Bishop. Oh, it would be all hused up, and he would continue in office like the leader of the Navajo Land Episcopal Jurisdiction did in the 1990s.

    Anyway, racial division in worship is more a phenomenon in Protestant Churches than American religion overall.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Dave,
    Clinto was impeached for purjury. I have yet to see any of his impeachers accused of that crime.

  • Dave

    John, let’s not respool the “it’s not the sex, it’s the perjury” routine. That was old when it was new.

  • Felicia

    As others have noted, Eddie Long is huge in the black community. The only person that may be bigger is TD Jakes. He also has influence over 200 churches across the country- pastors agree to tithe to him and see him as their spiritual covering. Churches in other countries such as Destiny Church in New Zealand (whose pastor even formed a political party) also consider him their spiritual authority. The fact that white religion reporters do not know this is frustrating to me. He is probably impacting hundreds of thousands of churchgoers whether their pastors are in his Father’s House network or not (I would say in a negative way).

  • Felicia

    Also in response to Bram’s comments, while Long supports Obama, he also supported Bush in 2004 so I don’t think he could be painted as a strong political liberal.

  • meriwether

    True people of God pray and don’t be part of the judging.Pray that God gets the glory no matter what.


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