On Sunday New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta announced that its leader, controversial Bishop Eddie Long had died. The 25,000-member congregation took to its website to release a statement on Long’s passing, which reportedly took place after a “private fight with an aggressive form of cancer.”
Long’s death garnered very mixed emotions. The 63-year-old faith leader, who is expected to be buried next Wednesday, was both mourned and shunned. People took to social media to express their sadness and condolences to Long’s family, who are undoubtedly grieving at the loss of their beloved patriarch. The posts of angst were sprinkled with posts of celebration, anger at Long’s lack of conviction to atone for his alleged “sins” and a calling out of church members who are eager and willing to provide what critics called a “blind eye” when it came to their beloved faith leader.
We all have to face our final day. We all have done things we aren’t proud of. Dragging a man after he has died is never cool! ???? #EddieLong
— Dr. Sauce (@pro_handsomefit) January 15, 2017
Y’all defending Eddie long is the exact reason why people leave church. Stop defending rapists and molesters
— jdm (@Fetus_larry16) January 15, 2017
Was the Bishop called home for living a lie and misleading the masses? #eddielong
— STAR (@troitorain) January 15, 2017
I hope Eddie Long’s death will start the convo about predators in church & how the church silences/ignores their victims.
— ElitistBlackWoman (@CaramelAtheist) January 15, 2017
In 2010, four young men came forward and accused Long of coercing them into having sexual relations with him. A lawsuit was filed, and claimed the bishop engaged in sexual acts with each of the men on separate occasions. The accusers, Anthony Flagg, Maurice Robinson, Jamal Parris and Spencer LeGrande, reportedly buried the matter for an undisclosed amount in a settlement one year later. Centino Kemp, a fifth accuser, came forward as the lawsuit was entering the mediation process. He, too, settled for an undisclosed amount soon after.
In an exclusive interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, LeGrande and Parris both said they met Long when they were teens—15 and 14 respectively. They said he took them on trips and served as a father figure for the young men—something they both desired. When the young men turned 17, they said he attempted what he was accused of in the lawsuit.
“I didn’t have a dad my whole life,” LeGrande said. “Just to have a man love me for who I was … I had to love him back.”
Bishop Eddie Long was never convicted for what would’ve undoubtedly been inappropriate relations with young men who were barely of age to consent. He never did any time behind bars and he was not required to be listed as a sex offender. While we cannot outwardly convict someone, we equally cannot ignore a burning issue that the Black church has been silent about: that men who are in positions of power appear to have their “sins” forgiven.
The world provides us with a number of examples of men—and women—who are famous and/or in positions of power being forgiven and defended for unacceptable acts. From R. Kelly to Bill Cosby to a variety of Catholic church clergy members accused of robbing young children of their innocence, fame and power allows you a certain exclusion from the condemnation faced by ordinary people. When you are well-liked, your flaws will be ignored, and many will feel you shouldn’t be taken to task. Perception is and always will be greater than reality, but some flaws and actions shouldn’t be overlooked in the name of love.
I don’t know if Bishop Eddie Long took advantage of those young men. I do not know if the allegations that he was in the closet —yet publicly condemned homosexuality—are true. What I do know is the church has a long history of sweeping “sins” from those of power under the rug, while taking the common man to task instead of affording him the “guilty until proven innocent” card. But if this is the case regarding Long, the congregation should be more ashamed than he should be.