There’s a lot of discussion these days on the controversy surrounding Bishop Eddie Long, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, who has been accused in a series of civil lawsuits of sexual misconduct with young male parishioners. Although Bishop Long — revered husband and father of four — vowed from the pulpit to thousands of supportive congregants that he would contest the accusations, his battle seems lost before it could ever possibly be won.
According to court papers, Bishop Long engaged in private ceremonies to consecrate his “Spiritual Sons” where via candlelight, they exchanged vows while Long covenanted that he — spiritual Father — would protect them forever. Long’s Longfellow Youth Academy supposedly trained young men to love, lead and proceed on their “masculine journey” through commitment, leadership and integrity, but it sounds more like a inner sanctum created to satisfy Long’s fleshly desires. Long’s spandex-wearing photographs, emailed to his accusers’ cell phones, would probably be Exhibit A in establishing the type of misconduct punishable by criminal laws in states that have discerned the need to protect congregants from their own clergy’s antics.
Unfortunately, allegations of clergy sexual misconduct are not new. The potential for abuse of power and betrayal of trust is so prevalent that a “mega church” would be foolish not to create adequate safeguards — like educating clergy and congregation on the law, raising awareness of potential for abuse; providing mechanisms for reporting misconduct, including the investigation of complaints and sufficient response mechanisms; as well as dedicating therapeutic systems to re-build trust in the event of malfeasance. Otherwise, the church inadvertently sanctions the hatred, violence, abuse, and destruction it should exist to condemn. Jamal Parris’ complaint against Long, New Birth and Longfellow lists the people at the church who knew that he shared a bedroom with the Bishop.
The unraveling of Bishop Long is not just about problems inherent in black churches. It is about the responsibility of churches, clergy, congregants, and people everywhere to get their houses in order. There is a reason why the states of Minnesota, Alaska, Colorado, North Dakota, Texas, and Utah have criminals statutes to prevent clergy from engaging in sexual acts while giving spiritual counsel. These rules are not limited to black folks, they are for clergy of all colors and all faiths because of an ongoing abuse of authority. When God’s shepherd is shrouded with both the glorification of his pastoral position and the celebrity of his church, there is an even greater potential for not only his abuse, but also his flock’s acquiescence. Sadly, most of us are star-struck. Self-proclaimed Christians seem to ignore most of the commandments, even the one where God says have no other idols before me.
This case is hardly just about gay rights. In 2004, Long led a march to Martin Luther King Jr.’s grave site in support of a Georgia constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Like many “Christians,” he speaks out against homosexuality — completely dismissing the fact that Jesus said love one another. But gay rights pertains to sex between consenting adults. This isn’t a case where Bishop Long simply engaged in a sexual relationship with a consenting male companion from — let’s say another church. Long’s hand-picked disciples from the Longfellow Youth Academy could hardly be said to “consent.” Many courts do not even allow “consent” as a defense to what is clearly a breach of “the punctilio of an honor the most sensitive” — the fiduciary duty of a church to protect the pastor’s flock from everyone, even himself.
This case is much deeper than sex. Sadly, it is about greed and grandiose power gone astray in what supposedly began as a spiritual ascension of faith. If the allegations are true, Eddie Long is a mirror of what goes wrong with each and every one of us when we stop being true to God. I would not be surprised if he, too, was the subject of abuse — years before he ascended to the throne. It may be that his entire life has been one of pain that he never adequately dealt with and instead inflicted upon others. When we say we believe in God but our practice is inconsistent, we are bound to come face to face with our own demons, eventually. I don’t say this while sitting on some self-proclaimed high horse either. I don’t believe that anyone in the flesh is capable of casting stones at a sinner.
In the 69th Psalm, the Psalmist said “O God, You know my foolishness; and my sins are not hidden from You. . . . Shame has covered my face. I have become a stranger to my brothers, and an alien to my mother’s children; because zeal for Your house has eaten me up.”
Jesus demonstrated this holy zeal when He cleaned out the temple. John, Chapter 2 says Jesus found those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business there — and he made a whip of cords. He drove all of them out of the temple, overturned the tables, and screamed “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then, His disciples remembered what the Psalmist said, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” God’s cleansing power goes deep into the veins and the inner parts for true confession.
Jesus knew the Holy Ghost so well that he said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:13-22) We think that Jesus is talking about the church, but he was talking about the temple of his body. He was saying his body vessel of muscle and bones and nerves and skin is just an outer garment. His persona, position and title was just the human temple. He existed for the greater mission of being resurrected in the Spirit. He came to teach us that we, too, are governed by a Holy Ghost power that is greater than what you see in the flesh — a presence so powerful that it is in us — a Spirit of Truth to teach us all things, as our counselor, our teacher, and our guide.
Jesus came to show us that Zeal — the pure presence of God — holds us accountable for our stuff regardless of where we are on the path or what we have manifested for ourselves — whether we have a mega church or an infant church; whether we just go the park and have silent walk on Sundays; whether we practice yoga on a mat or run in the street; whether we sleep in or have brunch — it doesn’t matter. We are accountable for our behavior — for anything that we do that is inconsistent with Spirit.
We try to fool ourselves, but the truth is that no matter how holy you profess to be — abuse and God don’t live in the same house. Hatred and God don’t live in the same house. Hatred includes homophobia, sexism, racism — and all of the other -isms. Lies and God don’t live in the same house. Cheating and God don’t live in the same house. Jealousy and God don’t live in the same house. Resentment and God don’t live in the same house. Idols and God don’t live in the same house.
When we find these things present in our consciousness, we have to step up to the plate and correct our wrong. It doesn’t matter whether we are Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Taoist , Muslim, Nondenominational, or Atheist — the zeal of God’s house will “eat up” anything that is not in alignment with Spirit. We cannot hide from it — under neither the masquerade of redeemed saint nor the cloak of skeptical nonbeliever. We will always be held accountable.
Spiritual leaders need to get their houses in order. Teachers need to get their houses in order. Politicians need to get their lives in order. Corporate executives need to get their lives in order. Churches and their parishioners need to get their lives in order. We all need to clean out our temples so well that we become so honest and forthright — that only God remains.
I always try to see a blessing in the appearance of destruction, knowing that the lesson of redemption is not just for the accused, it holds truth for us all. Here, one blessing is a reminder of the cleansing power of God.
We need to do our own self-inventory and make sure that we are acting with commitment, leadership and integrity. We need to be honest with ourselves. There may be some lies that we don’t want to come terms with. There may even be some bones that we need to shake out of our closets. We have to stop trying to fool ourselves. Our loved ones and friends need to stop trying to look the other way. We need to stop trying to hold onto the past. We have to stop giving our power to people or relationships or situations that are toxic. We can no longer get stuck in the mire of bad habits, abusive appetites, or somebody else’s stuff. We need to clean out the contradictions that undermine our faith; and we need to remain vigilant to destroy any ousted enemy that tries to sneak back through our thoughts, words or deeds.
Otherwise, we may not find ourselves on CNN or the Tom Joiner Radio Show defending our dirty laundry, but we will wake up one morning and our mess will be piled so high that we can’t even step over it. We will be forced to finally see what’s there, and hopefully we will come face to face — not with our demons — but with our everlasting love for God — an earth-shattering zeal lashing out from the universal ethers — to do nothing more than get our house in order.
Reverend Cecilia Loving
About SPIRITMUV: Spiritmuv® is a trans-denominational church, which means that it transcends the confines of religion and teaches unconditional love for one another regardless of race, creed, culture, or religion. At the heart of its teachings is what Jesus taught — that we love one another, as well as the community that Mahatma Ghandi inspired when he said, “I am a Christian and a Muslim and a Hindu and a Jew.” Reverend Cecilia Loving is the founder and creator of Spiritmuv, which was formed in 2007. Services are held for an hour every Sunday, from 2:30 P.M. to 3:30 P.M. at the Unity Center of NYC, located at 213 West 58th Street.
Rev. Loving, author of Prayers for Those Standing in the Edge of Greatness, is the sole owner, creator and administrator of God is a Brown Girl Too®, which holds annual retreats and workshops. The next God is a Brown Girl Too Retreat will be held April 1-3, 2011, at the Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center.
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GOD IS A BROWN GIRL TOO®
“CREATING BEYOND THE BOX OF CONVENTIONALITY ” RETREAT
will take place in the Spring of 2011
from April 1 at 5:00 P.M. through April 3 at 1:00 P.M.
Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to enjoy the peace, serenity and creative consciousness of a like-minded group of women of color at the Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center, located at 299 North Highland Avenue, in Ossining, New York. All rooms are single and surrounded by the loving prayers of the Dominican Sisters who own the facility.
The cost of the entire weekend, including rooms, workshops and three delicious meals per day, is only $450.00. There is a $100 discount for senior citizens, so seniors pay $350.00.
Registration has already begun at http://www.godisabrowngirltoo.com/or you can mail payment directly to God is a Brown Girl Too, 376 President Street Unit 2H, Brooklyn, New York 11231. But act fast because rooms are selling and there are now only 11 rooms left.