The world, it seems, is reeling with emotion and opinions as word of four young men accusing Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, of sexual indiscretion with them has been made public.
People want him to say he didn’t do it, whatever “it” means, and they want this to all go away. It won’t though.
Bishop Long needs prayer and love, if the allegations are true or if they are not. He needs prayer and love if they are true because it means that a wrong has been done that he will have to deal with, and we who are Christian are bound to “strengthen our brother” when we are converted. And he needs prayer and love if they are false because he will be dealing with aftershocks of this situation for a time.
But there is a question that I wrestle with, and wonder how many others wrestle with it:What if they are true? What if Bishop Eddie Long were gay? What difference would it make? Why is it that the Church, is so afraid of the reality of homosexuality and why does the church have its own “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy?
It seems to me, as a Christian minister, that there are far more gay people than the world wants to acknowledge, and it also seems that the people who are the most vocal about being against LGBT people are the ones who are most deeply struggling with their own sexuality. Same sex relationships were not uncommon in the ancient world. Eunuchs were young men who were purposely castrated so they would be acceptable male partners for powerful men. The word “homosexual” didn’t even appear in the Bible until the 20th century…and yet, the church has hidden behind ignorance, preached and allowed hatred of gay people, and generally, been a hindrance and not a help in being a haven where these largely dispossessed individuals could find love and acceptance.
What bothers me about Bishop Long is that he has been so outspoken about his disapproval of gay marriage. It is because of sermons and actions by Christian people and specifically, Christian ministers, that too many gay people stay away from church. It is popular in the Black Church to speak against homosexuality; by contrast, if you are a black church which embraces, accepts and loves gay people, you are likely to be ignored, ostracized or minimized. If he were to be gay, his pain would be all the more exacerbated because his words against homosexuality would be judged to be hypocritical. Hypocrisy is hard for people to accept and digest.
What an amazing ministry his would be (and could be, I suppose) if he had spoken as fiercely for the need of Christians to accept and love all people, gays included. I wonder if his 25,000 members would be double …or, ironically, I wonder if the many gay people who are among his 25,000 members (and there are many) came to him and his ministry precisely because he spoke to their hatred of themselves, would have rejected him had he spoken for their right to the Kingdom of Heaven.
There are so many gay people who are still wrapped in self hatred and denial. They are afraid to “come out” and flock to gay-bashing churches hoping to find acceptance. They want to blend in and become invisible, on the one hand, while on the other, they desperately want the need to hide to go away. There are so many powerful people in high places who are gay but dare not say it. And why? Because society …and the Church … is in “don’t ask, don’t tell” mode. Oppressed people frequently hate themselves, taking on the opinion of the oppressors. Black people, because of racism did it and still do it; women as well undermined themselves and still do to some degree because of sexism. Neither blacks nor women could hide;they were who they were and everyone knew it.
But with gays, it’s been different. They have been able to hide, to disguise who they are and keep their painful secret for years. I will never forget when I preached at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas,Texas, and saw old, very old, gay couples come forward to the altar for communion. How long had they had to hide their true selves and their relationship? Why had I thought, up until then, that all gay people were young? Because in church, being gay was about sex and only young people did sex, I thought. And …we never heard a single sermon about gay people or their situations. In church, it was the silent sin. Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t talk about it.
When Bishop Carlton Pearson visited Columbus, Ohio a few years ago, under fire because of his message of the “Gospel of Inclusion,” no church in the city, including the one that had invited him, would have him. I received a call, the caller almost whispering, asking if “the Bishop could come to our church” because the people of his own denomination were railing against him. The very thought that he could preach such nonsense – that all people had a shot at getting into heaven – was deemed blasphemous. No church of any stature would have him.
Would we… let him come…since he was already in the city?
We put on our sign outside telling people he was to be with us, to teach a Bible study and to preach at a mid week service. His message of God’s love for us all resonated with me; it was what I had always believed. People from the city whom I did not know came, looking almost embarrassed, but they came nonetheless. I could tell from the spirit in the Bible study and in the service that people were receiving well what Bishop Pearson was saying. I received it. At the end of the day, I believed and believe, God’s heart and God’s capacity to love is so much more expansive than humans deem it to be. That’s a good thing.
Because of God’s capacity to love, accept and forgive … Bishop Eddie Long is in good company. The firestorm will blow over. He may lose some members, but even if he does, because of this loving God, he will be OK. Perhaps this will be a teachable moment, where more people in the family that God created will understand that no matter who they are, they are special to God.
Maybe Bishop Eddie Long will be able to preach that message in a way he never has before.
The Gospels are clear about this man Jesus, the Christ, loving and accepting all people, even those who were marginalized. The Church still yet has to ingest and digest this message. Eddie Long will be OK because of this God.
The Church, on the other hand, has a way to go in understanding,accepting and teaching this basic tenet – that God is no respecter of persons.
That is a candid observation.