Sunday, September 26, 2010

Deifying Pastors--A Recipe For Betrayal

                                   Rumor has it Bishop Long may be presiding at his own pastoral funeral this morning.

The following editorial is from the Black e-zine Root.  It contains a universal message about why deifying our pastors is the undoing of our children--especially deifying our male pastors.  When I read this the first time, in some part I couldn't help but substitute Catholic leadership and Catholic laity for Bishop Long and his congregation.  The following was edited for length.

A Sermon for Bishop Eddie Long - 9/23/2010

If we learn nothing else from the biggest and messiest black mega-church scandal ever, it is that truth cannot be silenced, no matter how many refuse to speak it or conspire to hush it up. It will find a way to manifest. It does not need to be spoken to reveal itself. So as the story of Bishop Eddie Long swells from Facebook to CNN, engorged by our lust for fallen giants and monsters, let us not lose our heads. Let us learn the lessons that the legion and their leader willfully chose to ignore. (I have found it very disheartening to read comments from the congregants about Bishop Long that are identical in nature to the rationalized denials used by some Catholics in reference to Catholic leadership. And of course, there is very little compassion or sympathy for the victims.)

While it is a shock, it should be no surprise to anyone who watched. Long's potent combination of charisma, bling and prosperity gospel, in the tradition of Father Divine, helped him amass considerable wealth and celebrity status. Like several of his white counterparts, Long pandered to the anxieties and desires of his flock at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church with a potent blend of social conservatism, materialistic worship and anti-gay rhetoric. (Does this sound familiar?)

Not content to build the largest black congregation in the Southeast, Long sought currency with the political right by advocating for anti-gay marriage legislation through his infamous Reigniting the Legacy march in 2004. In doing so, Long parroted white right-wing misappropriation of Martin Luther King Jr. to deepen political wedges between blacks and the LGBT community. His minstrel antics have drawn stinging denunciations from the likes of Al Sharpton and respected theologians James Cone and the Rev. Irene Monroe. Besides a small demonstration, however, little local public outrage materialized........

For many young people, the reality is that they are sacrificed on the altar built for pastors we have deified. We must dismantle the cult of the clergy and other leadership frameworks that place male leaders above reproach. We must stop regarding our cowardice as loyalty and take the risks to support our young when they are victimized........

One who cannot face aspects of himself that he despises will train that animus on another whom he regards as his opposite. Did he sell out countless individuals in order to throw congregants off the scent of his own hunt, the exploitation of young men? Was there a point when, at first, a few and then many knew what was happening and said nothing? How long will we enable the abuse perpetrated in word and deed by our pastors? When will we dare to speak the ugly, inconvenient truth even when we are afraid? (How long will we place the responsibility for our own salvation, our own actions, and our own thoughts on the shoulders of someone else--and tell our children to do the same?)

This story of this sullied bishop serves overdue notice to Christians across the nation who have bought and sold snake oil presented as holy water. It is a foreclosure warning to every black male pastor who deems the church his castle, and the women, gays and young who build it as no more than chattel to serve his appetites. It is a subpoena, a calling to account for all black men who endorse patriarchy as the most legitimate form of power in our communities. It is a stained diary page brought to light. It is truth. Amen.  (This isn't just a black male problem by any means.)


As I write this Bishop Long is responding to the four law suits currently pending.  He is doing so in front of his flock, from the altar they provided.  In that flock will be young gay men who will be attempting to deal with the fact that their Bishop made a huge part of his reputation and wealth at their expense, while simultaneously using others of them for his own pleasure.  I imagine they will be more than a little confused and angry.  It's hard to reconcile the God of love with the actions of the pastors of lust.  It's even harder when the two ideas have been purposely conflated in this whole business of deifying our pastors.

Also in that flock will be Bishop Long's wife and family.  How does one deal with adultery and betrayal on this scale?  I think we overlook the fact that Jesus never talked about sex.  He talked about adultery.  At it's core adultery is about the betrayal of a vow made before God about fidelity to another human being.  It's a vow about the sacred character of a relationship.  It is a person taking their own soul in their own cupped hands and making a commitment. Betray the vow, open the hands, and where does one begin to find one's soul again? How does anyone trust that person again on any real meaningful level.  The truth is people will trust the betrayer if they can't trust or have never been taught to trust their own inner guidance. 

This phenomenon almost guarantees Bishop Long, like Ted Haggard, will be back.  It's the same kind of thing Pope Benedict and the Vatican are ultimately counting on to keep Catholicism's clerical culture in tact and unreformed.  It's up to us to forgive and forget because our individual salvation and spiritual journey demands we do so.  So we're told over and over and over again.  In the meantime we give tacit license to continue being abused and used.  We are complicit not just in our own abuse, but worse than that, the abuse of other innocents.  And for this we believe we will enter the Kingdom. 

The question is, whose kingdom?  That of the pastor or bishop or pope whose palaces and kingdoms we've bought and paid for.  Or the Kingdom of Jesus who told Satan to shove this same idea of kingship where the sun doesn't shine?  How many more failed pastors and clerics must be exposed before we all stop confusing charisma, clerical bling, and targeted hate for the Kingdom of Jesus?

Update:  In this video of this morning's service, Bishop Long engages in mental reservation, dodges real answers, and defers to the advice of his attorneys.  He vows to fight on and find justice in the court of law.  This quote is as close as he got to dealing with the issue of guilt or innocence:

"There have been allegations and attacks made on me. I have never in my life portrayed myself as a perfect man. But I am NOT the man that's being portrayed on the television. That's not me."

OK he's not the man portrayed on television, but that doesn't say anthing about the man accused in the law suits. True to form there was a section of his sermon in which he stated his church would continue with it's mission,--and shock--he specifically stated the mission in the political arena as this was an election season--which makes me wonder for whom this sermon and it's message was really intended.


  1. Colleen, you're right: definite echoes of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church, especially in the editorial's valuable insight that, "For many young people, the reality is that they are sacrificed on the altar built for pastors we have deified."

    Last night, as I watched the CNN documentary on what the pope knew when, I was not surprised, but still shocked, to hear that when some of the deaf boys raped by Fr. Lawrence Murphy in Milwaukee went to the police, the police took the boys right back to Murphy.

    There has long been a presumption that pastors can't do wrong, and we have sacrificed children to it--"we" being almost every sector of society.

  2. In this society when one idealizes a person, one often become more than disappointed when they find that this person CAN do wrong. This is just really beginning in the Catholic Church as we Witnessed on CNN last night and is shown in the recently published Doyle, Sipe, Wall book. The People of God are beginning to slowly wake up, but we are only on the tip of the iceberg. Idealization often leads to degradation and dishonoring the objects, (people) that were idealized. When we idealize, we make people into unrealistic objects. To be idealized is rarely good if it is done by a thinking person. What will be good for society is the smashing of the Bishops' pedestals, but bad for the current clerical society as we know it. This very idealization that the Bishops wish to keep in place will force a more disruptive change than needs to occur, the bishops are putting themselves in the position of being dishonored and talked about as old men out of contact with reality. dennis

  3. That's an important point that idealization is the objectification of a 'being'. Sometimes those 'beings' don't make good nouns even if part of their 'being' is to convince you they are good nouns.

    We're in the process Bill, of sacrificing the Church to our preseumptions about pastors and their insistence on keeping those persumptions. As Dennis says, the longer this fantasy stays in place the more disruptive it will be when it all comes flying apart.

    The Long story is pointing at some similar truths in the Evangelical Baptist crowd. On the upper levels these pastors, who all tend to be narcissistic and act out sexually, are one big incestuous self appointed and self correcting crowd. Which means nothing gets corrected, but is instead passed on to the next generation of well groomed pastors. Gee, where else do we see this phenomenon?

    The more these guys insist they are different the more they all appear to look the same.

  4. Marie Fortune wrote the best book on clergy abuse. And the thing that stands out for me is that when things like this happen within a congregation, it affects lots and lots of people. It affects the whole church. Many people end up feeling betrayed. Factions arise. The best way to deal with these things is for everything to be out in the open and dealt with openly.

    Within large denominations such programs are possible. And these things are headed off, if possible, ahead of time by educating people. However, its the freelancers, like this pastor, who really go off the rails. No higher authority looking over his shoulder - as bad as some higher authorities can be.

    So there are similarities. But there are also differences. For this time there is no larger institution which should have been monitoring and making sure no one was being preyed upon. This time, the pastor is a law unto himself - within the congregation.

    Thus the need for lawsuits.

    I feel really badly for this congregation, which is going to be hurting in a whole lot of ways. With no means really of a larger institution stepping in to help them deal with all the fallout that is coming their way.

  5. Great article and comparison with the situation within Catholicism. Sadly, I fear that the hierarchy as a whole will not be held accountable as there is too much protection of the status quo at the expense of the lay faithful.

  6. I agree with all the points made on the over-emphasis of pastors being good respectable people who would NEVER do anything like that.

    And I understand how this particular clergyman did not flat out say he's never done any such thing with respect to the 4 lawsuits that have been filed against him. I had CNN on yesterday when much of this was happening. And it looked to me like the so-called journalists were doing a sportscast on this topic. So sad.

    Still it seems to me that there is a huge attitude of 'presumed guilty until proven innocent'. And somehow I'm just not comfortable with this aspect. Through all the scandals within the RCC of this same nature that was the one part that really resonated with me. The Vatican was pointing out over and over again the requirement in fairness for proper investigations and disposition under cannon law. What they had to say about criminal and civil law made no difference to me for the most part as they are subject to those just as any other person in the US.

    Yes, I understand that steps were taken in various ways to prevent the truth from coming out. My question is: Why must it always and forever be either 'innocent until proven guilty' or 'guilty until proven innocent'? Is this too part of man's fallen nature?

    Or is it that I am far more comfortable with the idea of condemning institutions but far more fearful of condemning a person?

  7. "How many more failed pastors and clerics must be exposed before we all stop confusing charisma, clerical bling, and targeted hate for the Kingdom of Jesus?"

    Until we get it right. Until we live in God and rely on God and step inside the Kingdom of Jesus. When we can discern the devil's deceptions and reject them and when we can truly follow Jesus. That's when.

    Unfortunately for some, in order to believe certain things they have to witness it up front and personal. That is when they will believe. When their child is a victim of sexual abuse by a priest, then they might believe. When their grand-child is a victim of sexual abuse by a priest, then they might believe.

    When they take off the blinders, then they might believe. When they stop defending the 'rights' of priest to molest children, that's a step in the right direction. When they hear of allegations of sexual abuse by priests or ministers, they need to get real serious and be willing to hear all the facts of the case before taking a side and/or defending the side of the abuser. They need to listen to those who have been abused. When they give up the false belief that the pastor is God. When they give up the false notion of papal infallibility which is an impossibility in the Kingdom of Jesus.

  8. Veronica there is much more on the internet about Bishop Long, especially on Black sites. I didn't get into much of that information, but it's pretty damning. For a place to start and to get some background information try Religion Dispatches. Much like in Catholicism, this kind of sexual acting out is part of the history of the authority structure of Black Evangelical churches, especially the strain from which Long got his training. The upper echelons answer to no one but themselves and God,and they don't have a pretty history when it comes to the sexual exploitation of their respective flocks.

  9. Got this right Butterfly, as you say the light dawns:

    "When they give up the false belief that the pastor is God. When they give up the false notion of papal infallibility which is an impossibility in the Kingdom of Jesus."

  10. Thanks, Colleen. This was not a story I knew much about and for other than the names, CNN was pretty worthless. Which a person would think - since it was happening in their very own backyard - they could get more hard facts than just the talking heads blowing hot air.

    CNN was only on as background noise. And for the occasional time when they actually do real reporting.

    Nor do I wish to imply an accusation of jumping to conclusions toward your post.