Roughly 12,000 people participate of the inauguration ceremony of the Christian Fraternity of Guatemala evangelical church in San Cristobal, municipality of Mixco, south of Guatemala City. (Photo: Orlando Sierra -AFP/Getty Images)
The million dollar question: Should I attend a megachurch? Christians fall on both sides of the debate. Let’s begin with a definition. Most define a megachurch as a congregation with more than 2,000 members. Based on this definition, there are over 1,300 megachurches in America. Megachurch proponents cite the size of the church as a “practice run”, as we are sure to worship with millions of folks in heaven. One cannot overlook the impact of aggregate finances (when used properly) for missions work. On the flip side of the coin, smaller congregations offer intimacy that many believe makes for authentic, real relationships. On top of that, many believe that smaller churches are less political than larger congregations. As a catalyst for reflection, consider the following four reasons that many Christians offer for refusing to step into a megachurch.
Nobody likes a hypocrite. It rubs people the wrong way when someone talks out of both sides of the mouth. Over the past several decades, we’ve seen numerous scandals unfold in the media (including social media). In most instances, the scandals are attributed to pastors of large megachurches. The truth is, media outlets are really not as interested in small-town scandals. When they get wind of a larger, more prominent pastor’s moral failures, they generally prefer these stories (and usually run them into the ground).
Here’s the problem with this approach. We tend to attribute the actions of one person to an entire group. That God entrusted His Church to men and women can be both a blessing and a curse. We are blessed to be vessels of God’s grace, but sometimes those vessels are jacked up, flawed, and fall short of his plan for our lives. Truth be told, for every scandal in a megachurch, there are countless others who operate in integrity and hold themselves accountable. Don’t let the vices of a few cause you to place all others in the same category.
2. Biblically “Un”Sound Teaching
There’s a fine line here. It’s important to affirm revelatory words spoken through God’s Spirit. However, it’s almost always a red flag when passages are out of context. Again, traditional media and social media has (in some instances) caused many to doubt the teachings of many megachurch pastors. I remember clearly a 20/20 story that ran several years back on Fred Price. It purported that one of Price’s sermons bragged about his lavish lifestyle, when in fact it did not. You can see the rebuttal report (which includes the entire sermon) here.
Lamentably, there are pastors who teach wrong doctrine. But it’s unfair to put pastors into a certain category based on a few sermons they preach. If someone preaches on stewardship four weeks a year, does that make him or her a prosperity pastor? Certainly not. One may justly wonder about “Dr.’s” who have not completed required coursework to attain a Doctorate level degree, but it’s a sign of charity to withhold judgment of their preaching/teaching until hearing an entire message or more than one or two sermons.
3. Financial Irresponsibility
Some years ago, the Senate launched an investigation requesting financial information from several prominent televangelists. Last year, the investigation concluded with no definitive findings of wrongdoing and no penalties imposed as a result of the inquiry. It’s not surprising that the results of the investigation didn’t get as much air time as the investigation itself. True enough, financially irresponsibility is reprehensible – especially when it comes to men and women of God. Yet the ultimate question is whether ministers of the Gospel should live lifestyles comparable to Hollywood celebrities? There are at least two sides of the coin here. One side: children have someone other than athletes and musicians to look up to. Other side: Prosperity and ministry are like oil and water. Jesus wasn’t prosperous, so pastors shouldn’t be.
How much is too much in the context of ministry? We reward others based on their talents and abilities. Shouldn’t we compensate men and women of God for faithful work as well? Perhaps we can employ a slightly different approach regarding earning capacity in ministry. Let’s call it the “Paul tentmaker” model. A full discussion of this approach is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that Paul’s occupation (as a tentmaker) sustained him, so he didn’t run into “salary” issues with the various churches he ministered to. Let’s pray that God opens the same door for future leaders in the Church.
4. Sheep herding vs. Shepherding
Numbers matter. Especially when it comes to Church. Some pastors ask each other: “How many you running on Sundays, doc?” The sheep herding mentality. Get ’em in. Get ’em out. This is one of the perceived flaws of the megachurch model. It is not uncommon to hear megachurch members lament about their respective experiences of being “herded in and out to graze”. On the other hand, many megachurches are intentional about shepherding. This might not occur on Sunday mornings, but it does happen in the context of small groups/cell groups. In fact, some of the most enriching relationships in the megachurch context often occur in the small group setting. Every megachurch should remember pastors are called to be shepherds and not sheep herders. There is a difference.
So, to megachurch or not to megachurch? Ultimately the decision is yours. A note of caution: beware of misapplying the aforementioned reasons for refusing to visit a large congregation. Myths and rumors, unfortunately, are pervasive in the body of Christ. Third-party misinformation: “You know _______ has an ATM machine in the lobby for church members.” Sermon titles misapplied: “_______ said you should fall in love with a stripper.” A pastor’s heart misinterpreted: “You know ______ preaches a happy, happy, joy, joy message.” Churches, large and small, are not without flaw. And we are to hold each of them to account for their shortcomings. However, that doesn’t mean we should downright dismiss their effectiveness merely based on size. There’s only one Person who can make that determination. The Chief Cornerstone: Jesus Christ.
Question: Do you attend a megachurch? Why or why not?
ROYAL INTRIGUE: On January 31, the beleaguered Bishop Eddie Long was crowned king in a bizarre "Jewish" ceremony that critics immediately denounced. He later apologized. (Image: YouTube video)
Last week, the scandal-ridden Baptist bishop Eddie Long received a brief moment of good news when a visiting “rabbi” declared Long a Jewish king before the congregation at his Atlanta-area megachurch. A YouTube video of the proceedings quickly went viral, and critics registered disbelief as yet another bizarre chapter was added to the Bishop Long saga.
Long has since apologized for the fiasco, but the sad strangeness of the event lingers.
In the video from the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church service, a previously unidentified Rabbi Ralph Messer outlines the history of what he claims is a Holocaust-era scroll said to be rescued from the Auschwitz and Birkenau extermination camps. “These are only given to cities that need to be released into a new anointing.”
Citing dual citizenship in Israel and presumably the United States, the man “on behalf of the Jewish people, the land of Israel, and the God of Israel” presents Long with the scroll, declaring, “He is a king, God’s blessed him. He’s a humble man but in him is kingship, in him is royalty, in him was the land of Israel.”
A moment later, Bishop Long is raised up in a chair and carried around the pulpit, as Rabbi Messer proclaims:
He now is raised up from a commoner to a kingship. … He ‘s no longer a commoner. He’s not under Earth; he’s raised from Earth into a heavenly realm. He’s raised in a prophetic position. He’s released by God. He’s breaking pagan tradition, breaking areas of God. He’s releasing Atlanta, Georgia. It’s not him, it’s the king in him.
Jewish religious leaders immediately called the display offensive. It “in no way represents any Jewish ritual that I’m familiar with,” Bill Nigut of the Anti-Defamation League told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We do not proclaim individuals to be kings.”
In his apology, Long said it was not “my intent, to participate in any ritual that is offensive in any manner to the Jewish community, or any group.” But he left unanswered questions of how the dubious rabbi wound up at his church in the first place.
While Bishop Long’s situation is extreme, one could argue that grandiose presentations of religious ritual take place every week in many black churches, as all-powerful preachers are afforded the star treatment from their parishioners. However, it is this type of ceremonious display of adoration of pastors and other spiritual leaders that makes it difficult for some to remember that they too are human and subject to the same weaknesses that, without proper accountability and support, can ultimately lead to scandal.
A Long Story
For more than a year, with his wife most recently filing divorce papers, Long found himself at the center of such a scandal where he faced accusations of sexual coercion by four young men. Long settled out of court in May 2011 with a reported $15 million payment to his accusers. Trouble from the case continued throughout the year with lost income to the church, the closing of the church’s private school New Birth Academy, and a lawsuit alleging financial misdealing in investments for a handful of church members.
Known for an extravagant display of wealth, Long was said to have been a purveyor of the oft-criticized “prosperity gospel,” which not only pushed the idea that God’s blessings appeared in the form of expensive cars, clothing, and accessories but also showcased a leader similarly clad and almost worshiped by his or her congregants. National Public Radio reported in 2010 that Long drove a $350,000 Bentley and had purchased a $1.1 million home.
It’s hard to say whether the glitz and the religious superstardom led to Long’s woes. But for one Church of God in Christ pastor, Bishop Roger Jones Sr., that along with unresolved personal issues is exactly what led to his downfall.
Bishop Roger Jones
Jones, now pastor of Greater Holy Temple Ministries in Flint, Michigan, wrote about his experiences with adultery, drug use, isolation, and deceit in his book, When Life Hurts, Dreams Fade, Hope Again. In it, he notes that the clearly immoral behavior he engaged in started with the isolation and built up pride he gained for being highly regarded by those around him.
“The fall I experienced has to do with much of the pomp and splendor and promotions that go along with the politics of power — the franchise, the perks, the accommodations, the limousines, the suites at hotels, the seats you sit in,” he said.
Called to preach at age 18, Jones was a high achiever in ministry and quickly took on the invincibility perpetuated through increasing popularity, continual success, and constant praise. Jones wrote that ministerial success brought financial perks as well.
“I’m wondering how much that affected me, given my humble background as a person who didn’t have much, who then came into a lot of money and power and position and prestige — maybe I allowed all that to push me over the edge. Maybe I was trying to fulfill a sense of insecurity with other things.”
The Pastor’s Split Persona
Dr. Patrick Moon, a psychologist at Cornerstone Counseling Center in Chicago, says that insecurity is likely evident in everyone and that pastors and spiritual leaders are not exempt. According to Moon, who specializes in pastoral counseling and spiritual support, pastors aren’t immune from emulating the group patterns from their families of origin and are often drawn to church organizations that complement those learned behaviors of interaction.
Dysfunctional familial patterns that may have started in a minister’s childhood that haven’t been addressed play a major role in coping with the general isolation and ongoing demands of pastoring.
“A pastor comes from a family system and learns from that family system how to behave,” Moon says. “Sometimes the dysfunction of that family system bleeds over to the church. Unresolved emotions of those family systems transfer to the church.”
It’s for that reason that “pastors and clergy in seminary are recommended to seek their own psychotherapists at times when they’re having trouble.”
When a scandal happens, it’s more than the oft-assumed thought that he or she lacks a moral compass or simply doesn’t believe in the God he or she preaches. There’s definitely more to the story, Moon says.
“A pastor has to create a persona that has to be integrated into the church’s expectations,” and it’s in that integration that the person who emerges publicly may not be who the pastor is. That dichotomy doesn’t necessarily equate to holy vs. spiritual. It could be a matter of mood, Moon says.
“Maybe he wants to have a nice vacation, to go and have a good time, but there’s this wedding on that Saturday, and ‘I have to put up the appearance that I have the energy to do this.’” And unfortunately, “Meeting expectations of the congregation is very difficult, and that leads to isolation.”
It’s in isolation that most people — not just pastors — seek out destructive behaviors. The difference is that the destructive behavior of spiritual leaders can perpetuate the dysfunction and can become detrimental to whole churches and their individual members.
The Pastoral Pedestal
Perhaps what might have started with the biblical standards listed in I Timothy 3 of how a pastor or elder should live — “well thought of, committed to his wife, cool and collected, accessible and hospitable … must handle his own affairs well” (The Message translation) — has become an additional burden of exhibiting perfection. Not only do members expect it, the pastor often believes it, despite the contradiction within his or her own humanity.
Regardless of its origins, being a pastor in most people’s minds means being the holiest person in the room at all times. Already set apart upon installation as pastor, he or she inevitably maintains that social distance throughout his or her pastorate.
And it doesn’t help that, historically, spiritual leaders were advised to avoid close friendships with parishioners to avoid the appearance of favoring some and marginalizing others. A major motivating factor for self-inflicted isolation may be an unwillingness to trust congregants — particularly those who make a point of getting too close too quickly.
This continues the persona of the pastor as king or queen, the person everyone wants to be or be around.
“We grew up in an era with the understanding that the pastor is infallible,” Moon says. “The perception of the pastor is elevated in such a way, he adds, that “a fall may be inevitable.”
Yet despite the responsibility that the congregation may bear in turning their leader into a celebrity, the onus is on the pastor not to believe the hype. Jones said it this way: “If we’re not careful, we become our own little gods — without a capital G — and we expect people to treat us this way.”
But if you’re being hoisted up on a throne Eddie Long-style and literally praised as royalty, how can you not buy in to the idea of being worshiped? How do you go from a sincere desire to serve God and His people to living to serve yourself?
“I think we by and large know what the Christian responsibility is, but it’s the lack of intentionality” that leads to disgrace at the highest level of a church, says the Rev. Kenneth Cole, a minister, theology instructor, and administrator at Washington Bible College in Lanham, Maryland.
Like Moon, Cole acknowledges that pastoring is a difficult job that never stops. And as much as it can build a congregation, it can weaken the minister. “Ministry takes on this burden,” Cole says, “and when you’re a weak man, you’re vulnerable more than ever to temptation.”
But that susceptibility might mask itself in a minister’s successes. Cole calls it flawed thinking to assume invincibility to sin based on ministerial authority. As proof, he cites the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness following God’s approval of His baptism. “After a spiritual high, Christ gives us an example that even when you preach and teach and God uses you in a special way, you are that much more vulnerable.”
Cole observes: “Some of the areas of the temptation lie in the individual areas of vulnerability.”
For example, an individual prone to overeating as a coping mechanism for stress might binge on every food available as a spiritual leader under the weight of several hundred people in a congregation. Of course, it’s usually much more serious than food.
“Demands and stresses would pile up,” Moon says, “and who knows if he uses his spiritual grounding at that moment?”
This time, it could be an extra dessert. Next time, maybe it’s infidelity.
For Jones, it was an affair with a married woman that led to his experimentation with powder cocaine and eventually crack. He writes in his book, “When I began experimenting with drugs in 1987, it was a time in my life when everything seemed to plunge into a downward spiral — an abyss of sin and shame. … I believe I had so many unresolved issues within my personal life that I grew tired of masking them behind a clergyman’s collar and title.”
Alison Gise Johnson
In recognizing the multiple factors at play at the origin of spiritual scandal, we must also weigh what’s considered “good” even among people striving to live holy but subject to the sin of humanity, says Alison Gise Johnson, a Christian ethicist who formerly served at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University.
“All of creation has been designed with potential and promise,” says Gise Johnson, “and that potential is only fulfilled in the context of healthy interdependent relationships. That, therefore, is our plumb line for ‘good.’”
Gise Johnson suggests that the isolation experienced by pastors whose parishioners view them as either “super holy” or “superstars” can work against the good intentions they initially bring to their ministries. Jones, Cole and Moon all acknowledge isolation as a key factor in what leads to a religious leader’s downfall.
“Ministers, like everyone of us,” Gise Johnson says, “will suffer emotional scars that when not addressed pervert one’s potential, causes wounds in others, and compromises the power and peace of being on one accord, whole and holy.”
Lusts of the Flesh
And we’ve seen the perverted potential of religious leaders manifest itself in multiple ways: child molestation, financial fraud, theft, and even tax evasion.
It seems, though, that more often than not, scandals among pastors tend to involve sex. Moon ties this to pastoral isolation, not only with church members but often within the families of pastors and other religious leaders. “First, everyone is a sexual being,” he says. “[Sexual misconduct] is an outward expression of a need and desire to connect.”
Moon says that if a spiritual leader is still working out sexual identity in his or her own mind, those issues are likely to creep up somewhere in that person’s life. Unfortunately, it often comes out in a very public way.
Cole, however, says sexual indiscretion among ministers is sometimes less of a backslide and more of a backflip. “There is a whole lot of immorality in certain circles,” Cole says. “They live a life like it’s okay.”
He says it’s common for younger ministers to see their pastoral idols participate in blatantly sinful activity without consequence. That leads to an idea that similar activities are acceptable. “What’s happened is that they know better, but they’re imitating what they see.”
No one wants to admit that they’re struggling to do right because it feeds the idea of spiritual weakness that contradicts the super-holy image.
According to Bishop Jones, the tragedy is that “there seems to be no place, group, or board that one can go to and be completely honest or transparent; not for leaders in a church.”
Instead, said Jones, the church “often adds to or reiterates the guilt of the problem rather than taking on enough compassion to understand how to provide the comfort and support that is desperately needed.”
Beyond the Super-Pastor
As a society, we’re quick to cast blame, but ultimately who is responsible for pastoring the pastor?
Cole says that despite the culture of some churches, where the pastor is treated as king, spiritual leaders have to be committed to holy living. “We need to be intentional about being pure. We need to get back to church discipline, cleansing, restoration, and repentance.
“I just think by and large that pastors should recognize the roles they play; they’re not superheroes,” Cole says. “All that kind of attention draws people to us and not to Christ.” That realization lies in one’s intention and accountability, he says.
But Gise Johnson says that being accountable on a spiritual leader’s part requires something from the congregation, too. “Often, it is the loss of compassion that makes honesty about one’s struggles difficult,” she says. “Faith communities have to fight unrelentingly to maintain a spirit of compassion and be committed to ‘good.’”
For Moon, it goes beyond simply being good and lies more in being authentic in who they are, in their struggles and in coping with the stress of spiritual leadership. Fortunately, that is already beginning to take place, he says. “From the idea of a ‘super-pastor,’ I think the shift has occurred, particularly with younger clergy, that pastors are trying to be more real.”
Moon says there is hope in pastoral authenticity but that the greater redemption lies in the fabric of all churches. “The church itself has always had the resources within itself to restore people,” he says, noting that handling actual scandal would be best done through a denominational process rather than from within an individual congregation.
What a congregation can do, Gise Johnson says, is forgive. “Without apology and without hesitation, forgiveness has to be offered.”
But Gise Johnson is quick to add that this kind of forgiveness does have conditions.
“It’s the kind of forgiveness that demands that congregations then reorganize themselves to give the offender space away from the responsibilities of leading, so that everyone can begin healing.”
Road to Restoration
With news of his wife’s divorce filing in December, Eddie Long announced that he would take a break from his church to focus on his family, which includes three children. He returned to New Birth a few weeks later and preached the New Year’s Eve service. Now, in the tumultuous wake of his short-lived coronation, it’s unclear whether he’s at the end of troubles or the start of new ones.
Like Gise Johnson, Cole lauds a congregation’s ability to forgive in these kinds of situations. However, he says it can also serve as an Achilles’ heel, allowing spiritual leaders to return with the same structure and attitude that led to immorality in the first place.
While Cole advises a sabbatical from leadership responsibilities to help a pastor and his or her church heal, he’s reluctant to say that’s all that’s necessary. “It may it look like [scandalous behavior] is cool as long as you take a break.”
“We need to see more restoration,” he says, “but I don’t see it happening the way God intended.”
Protesters descended on cities across the country to make their cases for the preservation or elimination of federal programs.
1. In politics, the battle over the federal budget raged all year. Lisa Sharon Harper offered thoughts on a Christian approach to it, others debated whether or not to lift the federal debt ceiling, and former New Jersey Secretary of State Rev. De Forest Soaries offered his thoughts on a potential deal, which some described as a Satan Sandwich. As a government shutdown loomed, a congressional “super-committee” failed to compromise, and the battle rages on.
Sparks flew with Herman Cain on the campaign trail. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
2. The 2012 presidential race heated up and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain briefly emerged as a Republican dark horse. We looked at his viability, asked if his candidacy was good for America, realized he wouldn’t be easily written off, and lamented the scandal about which he may or may not have sung as he exited the race. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann speculated that blacks may have been better off under slavery and Larycia A. Hawkins offered the congresswoman a bit of advice. Texas governor Rick Perry limped along, but it seems his ‘Rainbow Right‘ coalition didn’t help him much, and fleeting front-runners Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were such long shots that they had nary a mention here until now.
3. Meanwhile, the Tea Party partied on and we talked to African Americans about the movement. First singer, author, and activist Loyd Marcus assured us that there are black Tea Partiers, then Tea Party activist Jesse Lee Peterson threatened to protest the NAACP’s annual convention and Hilary O. Shelton responded. Finally, LaVonne Neff reminded us that Tea Partiers need government programs too.
The Occupy Movement spread across the country.
4. From the other end of the political spectrum, the “Occupy” movement emerged and encamped across the country, but we asked: Is it too white and is it time for churches to take up the cause?
5. According to members of the Religion Newswriters Association, the biggest religion story of the year was the faith response to the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Here at UrbanFaith, Todd Burke pondered what the terrorist’s death says about America.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested and sentenced to death in Iran because of his Christian beliefs.
In international news, 1.) dictators Kim Jong-Il and Moammar Gadhafi died. UrbanFaith editorial director Ed Gilbreath provocatively asked if Ghadhafi was a martyr and Helen Lee, daughter of a North Korean refugee, shared her thoughts on what it means to love an enemy like Jong-Il. 2.) The Arab Spring captured our attention and historian Kurt Werthmuller offered lessons from the revolution. We covered 3.) various crisis in Africa, including those in Somalia, Uganda, Malawi, and Sudan, and 4.) we wondered if race played a role in the London riots that preceded the European financial crisis. Finally, 5.) DeVona Alleyne reminded us that real persecution is that which is faced by believers like Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death for his faith.
CULTURE & SOCIETY
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened in August.
On the cultural front, 1.) the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial finally opened, though not without controversy and not without delay. 2.) Historian Charles Marsh reflected on the death of Civil Rights icon and pastor Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. 3.) Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs’ also died this year and Jelani Greenridge meditated on the entrepreneur’s wisdom. 4.) The nation solemnly observed the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and dedicated a memorial at the World Trade Center site, as the war in Iraq that those attacks spurred finally came to an end. 5.) The 150th anniversary of Civil War went largely unnoticed, but not by us. And sadly, 6.) legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired amidst a scandal over assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged pedophilia. Wil LaViest, Julian DeShazier, and I responded to the horrific news.
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
After 25 years Oprah Winfrey says goodbye to her talk show.
1.) In arts and entertainment, Oprah Winfrey ended her talk show after 25 years and we revisited the “Church of Oprah.” No need to fear a loss of black media power, however because 2.) Forbes named Tyler Perry the richest man in Hollywood. We covered elements of his media empire here, here, here, and here. 3.) The Help opened in cinemas amidst plenty of debate about its merits or lack thereof. 4.) Controversial Gospel music crossover success stories like that of Tonéx got Jelani Greenridge thinking and we mourned the death of cross-over artist Jessy Dixon. 5.) Lastly, BET’s successful relaunch of The Game deserves a mention, even though our commentator didn’t care much for the values of the show (or lack thereof).
CHURCH & FAITH
Bishop Eddie Long and Rev. Bernice King before she left his church.
In church and faith news, 1.) Bishop Eddie Long agreed to a financial settlement with four young men who accused him of sexual misconduct, Bernice King left his church in the aftermath, questions continued to swirl about the allegations, but Long didn’t step down from the pulpit until his wife filed for divorce this month. In better news, 2.) The Hartford Institute for Religion Research reported that the black church is bucking a wider trend toward congregational decline, and 3.) the Southern Baptists got serious about diversity with the election of Rev. Fred Luter as their first African American vice president. We also reported on other denominations that are pursuing diversity. 4.) Pastor Rob Bell stirred up a theological hornet’s nest with his latest book and conservative authors responded. 5.) Finally, Rev. Zachery Tims met an untimely death in a New York City hotel room.
What do you think?
What stories did we miss? Which ones will you remember? What do you think will top the news in 2012?
CLOUD OF SPECULATION: Bishop Eddie Long addresses his congregation at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta. (Newscom photo)
After Bishop Eddie Long’s decision to settle lawsuits against him out of court, questions have emerged about his motivations, namely: did he settle because the allegations of sexual misconduct with four young male parishioners of his church were true?
But rather than offering answers to his congregation, Long has announced plans to expand his ministry. The Christian Post reported that Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church is starting a new church in Birmingham, Ala., in addition to other locations in Lithonia, Ga., Charlotte, N.C., Oakland, Calif. and soon Denver. Long asked congregants for $500 to $1,000 donations.
Since the settlement, many Christians around the web have shared their thoughts and feelings. While refraining from calling him guilty or innocent, most denounced Long’s failure to be transparent. Some of the commentators used to attend New Birth. Here’s a sampling of the discussion.
Roland S. Martin, a journalist who used to attend New Birth, wrote an editorial for CNN on Saturday declaring that Long could not be let off so easily.
In it, Martin said he was “one of the committed Christians who poured a seed into [Long’s] ministry.” Martin attended New Birth Missionary Baptist Church for three months in 2000 and continued to support Long’s ministry afterward. He said he has quoted Long’s sermons, donated to his church, bought and read his books and sermon tapes, and written about his outreach to black men in his book.
Martin argued that people who supported Long’s ministry over the years deserve an explanation.
“After his refusal to address the issue publicly, openly and truthfully, I don’t see how any pastor could participate in a conference with Long on the rostrum,” Martin wrote. “I don’t see how any gospel musician could go to his church and stand in the pulpit with him to sell their CDs. As a churchgoing man, there is no way I could sit under the spiritual leadership of any pastor who was unwilling to stand before his congregation and address the issue head on.”
Another former attendee of New Birth, licensed attorney John Richards, shared both legal and spiritual perspectives on Long’s settlement on his Brother Preacher blog.
Richards said he went to New Birth in college more than 10 years ago, writing that the ministry and people there “were very instrumental in my formative years as a young man who had re-dedicated himself to Christ.” Although Richards wrote that he appreciated his experience at New Birth, he said the recent controversy had saddened him.
In his legal analysis, Richards discussed the different reasons why Long might choose to settle out of court, from avoiding negative media attention to protecting the other defendants (New Birth and LongFellows Youth Academy) from liability.
In his spiritual analysis, Richards offered a more personal take.
“I believe there were some very bad decisions made and, to some degree, there was a lack of accountability,” Richards wrote. “This is a sad, sad situation. I’m continuing to pray for all parties involved. In the end, this may have been a blessings (sic), because the trial would have been quite ugly and may have done more harm than good.”
Religion writer the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds told the AFRO the settlement looks like a cover-up to her, although she said there’s no way to know the truth.
“It looks like he did what the Catholic Church has been doing for decades,” she told the AFRO. “I thought that [Long’s initial statements] meant he would go to court and fight in court.”
The writer of The Church Lady Blogs also argued that Long did not keep his promise to fight the allegations.
“He did not act in the same manner by which David did when he was faced with Goliath, not only did he not throw five stones, he did not even pick up and throw one stone!” she wrote.
Scholar Boyce Watkins also criticized Long’s failure to keep his promise on ThyBlackMan.com, a blog that seeks to bring black men together as brothers in Christ.
“Let’s be clear: Settling a case does not imply guilt,” Watkins wrote. “But Bishop Long’s promise to his congregation that the truth would eventually be exposed is contradicted heavily by the fact that he has shared almost nothing.”
In the Florida Courier, guest columnist Morris W. O’Kelly cited Scripture while asking Long a series of questions.
“How will I know when to stop mentally subtitling all of your sermons as ‘Do as God Says … Not as I Do and Have Done?’ ” Mo’Kelly wrote.
Mo’Kelly had previously warned of the consequences a private settlement would have in March: “Being able to ask your spiritual leader about the mysteries of the Bible but not about the realities of the allegations can and will prove problematic for some members.”
Will Long’s lack of transparency hurt his congregation? Can his new churches in Birmingham and Denver succeed in spite of the recent controversy? Share your comments and opinions below.
BEFORE THE STORM: Bishop Eddie Long and Rev. Bernice King. (Newscom)
This week’s news that Reverend Bernice King would leave her leadership post at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta led to immediate speculation about the nature of her departure. But both King and Bishop Eddie Long, New Birth’s senior pastor, denied this week that she resigned as an elder because of the controversy surrounding Long’s and New Birth’s financial settlement with four men who accused Long of sexual coercion. Both said King left because she sensed a calling to start her own ministry.
In a statement published on New Birth’s website, Long said he and King had been in “discussion and prayer” for some time about her decision and that “New Birth is planning a wonderful and fitting farewell tribute in honor of Reverend King.”
The announcement was delayed until after Memorial Day “because we felt it was appropriate to first honor the service men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service of our great Nation,” said Long.
“I heard I resigned. I was a little confused about that, because I’ve never been on staff. I’ve never been an employee of New Birth. I didn’t step down because I didn’t step up,” King told Rhodell Lewis of Atlanta’s Praise 102.5.
“Elder is a title they use in their church as Ebenezer [Baptist Church] would use Reverend. They’re the same, so if you leave a Baptist church, they don’t say you stepped down as reverend,” said King. “I’m just no longer a member of New Birth.”
King, the youngest child of Martin Luther King Jr., said her sole function was to occasionally preach, but she also described herself as a leader in the church and said there is an appropriate way for leaders to leave. She wrestled with the decision for two years, she said, and met with Long in early April to tell him that May 29 would be her last Sunday worshiping at New Birth.
King was “tremendously blessed” by the ministry of Long in the eight years, eight months she attended the church, she said, and thanked him and the congregation for its love and support through several difficult situations she endured.
Those trials included the illness and then death of her mother, Coretta Scott King, the death of her sister Yolanda King, a legal conflict with her brother Dexter King over their parents’ estate, and another with the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, from which she resigned as president in January.
“I know that I have a pastoral calling on my life and I have to accept it,” said King.
“I’m going to launch a ministry. I’m not calling it a church right now because I believe that Christ builds his church. …What God is showing me doesn’t look like what people are accustomed to,” she said. “We must raise up true disciples of the kingdom of God so the kingdoms of this world came become the kingdoms of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. That is my mandate as I go forward.”
Though King has refused to comment on the controversy that has engulfed Bishop Long and New Birth since last fall, others are projecting that her departure will lead to a further implosion at the church.