First thing’s first. Despite the title, I know it was cancer that killed Bishop Eddie Long, the former pastor of Atlanta megachurch, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. That’s what’s been reported, so that’s what I believe. And yet, I believe that a cancer of the soul took him out long before this cancer of the body.
But why blame the Christian Church? He lived his life. He made his choices. Nobody’s to blame but him, right? That’s very right; but it’s also very wrong. We were not created to be islands unto ourselves. In fact, when there were only 4 people on the whole planet, and one sarcastically asked if he was his brother’s keeper, the implied answer was, “Yes!”
So, when someone has been as broken and messed up as this world-renowned bishop, it begs the question of how he got to that place. If there’s a link between our mental/emotional health and our physical health (which both Scripture and secular science agree on—see 3Jn. 1:2), then I submit that although he’s definitely responsible for his own choices, the Christian Church isn’t getting off scot-free altogether!
Eddie Long has, for quite a while, been disliked by many in the gay Christian community because of rather nasty things he’s said about gay people down through the years. Considering how many anti-gay pastors there are out there, it makes you wonder why this was such a big issue. It’s probably because many people knew that Bishop Long was, himself, gay. That made his anti-gay rhetoric more hypocritical than just ignorant; and there’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a gay person attack other gay people in order to save face and bolster his own perceived heterosexuality.
The proverbial crap really hit the fan back in 2010, when three (3) young men accused him of using his position to manipulate them into having sexual relationships with him. While there was no claim of illegality (e.g. child molestation)—the sexual aspect of their relationships didn’t allegedly begin until after they were past the age of consent in Georgia—there was still a great deal of criticism lobbed at Bishop Long for not only being gay (allegedly), but of misusing his position to exploit these vulnerable young men.
As if the allegations weren’t bad enough, Bishop Long’s response just made matters worse. I remember seeing a clip of him addressing the allegations at his church the following Sunday. He made the analogy that he was David and was going up against “Goliath” with 3 smooth stones (I guess one stone for each of his accusers, to match the stones David had). His church, as typical Black churches do, roared in applause; however, I didn’t see at all how this analogy was fitting. Even if he was innocent of the allegations, three young men hardly seemed like a Goliath compared to this multi-millionaire who pastored one of the largest churches in the city. It smacked of arrogance to me, whether he was innocent or not; and to be honest, that only reinforced the opinion I had of Bishop Long ever since I first saw his broadcast on television. That’s right… Allegations or not, I never much cared for the Bishop (just being honest).
After he settled out of court with his accusers (which does not mean he was guilty, by the way), he kinda faded away from the limelight, reemerging after it was obvious that his health was failing. But rather than just saying that this was the case, he created a ridiculous video of himself working out in a gym, talking about his new healthy vegan life.
Don’t get me wrong. He was under no obligation to tell anyone that he was sick; but the truth is that when you’re in spiritual leadership, it’s important to be honest about such things. We ask people to open up and solicit prayer when they’re sick. Why shouldn’t we do the same? Instead, he pretty obviously lied, which made it seem like he was covering up something. This, of course, fueled typical childish “Christian” rumors that he was dying of AIDS. (Get that… It’s 2017 and people still think a person dies of AIDS.) So, transparency just would’ve been more appropriate, especially considering people’s preexisting frustration with his perceived penchant for covering things up.
So far, it seems like I’m spending all my time indicting Bishop Long, but really, I just needed to give the back story. I can’t assume that everyone even knows who he is. But, where does the Church come in? To be honest, I think that the person that Bishop Long portrayed himself to be was a beast of the church’s making. For clarity, let me enumerate specifically what I’m talking about:
- The Closet. I won’t presume to say that Eddie Long was gay. While it’s my personal belief, the fact is, I don’t know this to be true, and I won’t put stock in other people’s claims. But if he was, I think that his story is indicative of the serious harm that a closeted life can do to a person. Maybe he wouldn’t have allegedly had inappropriate liaisons with those young men had he had an outlet for his sexual expression. Being sexually repressed can lead to very bad behavior, as we’ve seen with the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal. Paul taught in 1Co. 7:9 that sex within marriage was intended to, among other things, provide sexual fulfillment. But in order for that to happen, the person we’re married to must be a “suitable companion” (Gen. 2:18). So, for Bishop Long to possibly have been a gay man married to a woman, that was, indeed, a form of sexual repression that was unhealthy for him. I believe it contributed to the scandal happening in the first place.
The easy answer is to just not be in the closet. Well, that sounds great; but having lived on both sides of that closet door, and having been a gay man married to a woman and pastoring a church, I can say that that’s easier said than done. It takes enormous courage, strength, and a willingness to lose it all to come out of that closet. And if a person believes that being gay is a sin (as I did in the past), there really is no reason to put it all on the line if you plan on being delivered at some point anyway. Of course, if a person wasn’t given good reason to believe that his blood, sweat, and tears building a ministry would be for naught should he come out, the story might play out quite differently than it so often does—than it possibly did in Bishop Long’s case. So while it was his choice to live a sexually repressed life, the Church is responsible for the culture it has created that would make it so nearly impossibly difficult for a gay servant of God to live in the truth of their orientation without fearing it will destroy their ministry.
- Bad Theology. Words are insufficient to convey how damaging bad theology is, especially when it comes to a matter that’s as intrinsic to a person’s makeup as their sexuality. It would be different if people’s ignorance was sincere; but in so very many cases, it’s not. Their ignorance is based on their theological laziness. We don’t know how, and don’t care to know how to openly dig into the Scriptures for ourselves. It’s so much easier to just let the pastor do the thinking for us, or to just take Scripture at face value—the absolute worst thing you can do. And, of course, there’s the added layer of personal bigotry and prejudice that infests so much of the Church. The sad truth is, sincerity just isn’t the hallmark of the Christian journey, unless we’re being told what we already believe—which, by definition, doesn’t really qualify as sincere at all.
- Judgmentalism. It never ceases to amaze me when a person who sins has the audacity to condemn or otherwise sit in judgment against someone else who sins. Jesus explicitly told us to judge not, lest we be judged by the same standard we set for others; and yet, you have people like Kim Burrell (who is only a recent symptom of a pervasive problem in the Church) who literally thrive off of prophesying people’s deaths, putting them in hell, and engaging in all sorts of other “stone-throwing” efforts in the name of “love.” Yep, that’s how we justify it. Forget what Jesus said. “Love” won’t let me be silent! How reprobate must one be to take the highest virtue of our faith—the very fundamental essence of who God is (love)—and use it to justify doing exactly what He told us we were not qualified to do: judge one another? Modern Christians love to scoff and sneer at the Pharisees and Jews of old, but I’ll give them this. When Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” they had enough integrity and honesty with themselves to throw down their stones and leave. Today’s Church would’ve proceeded to murder that “whoring woman” without giving it a second thought. Why? Because “love” requires me to not condone sin. And yet, the very one who defended her is supposedly our Lord. How immeasurably far we have fallen!
- Unforgiveness. If the allegations against Bishop Long were true, what would you have but a human being who had the audacity to actually prove that he was a human being. Personally, I am of the school of thought that a pastor who falls into sin owes an apology to the people he sinned against, and to God, not to his congregation. Disappointing someone, or failing to live up to their expectations is not a crime, even for spiritual leaders. Failing to live up to the false standard that the Church sets for pastors is, likewise, not a sin against the flock. And yet, the Church acts like it was sinned against, and is in need of an apology. Sure, an apology demonstrates contriteness and humility; but first, we don’t even know that the accusations were true, and second, why apologize just to save face when, in truth, an apology to the church isn’t warranted. David was king of all Israel, and yet, when he grievously sinned, his repentance was toward God. In Ps. 51:4, he said to the Lord, “Against you and you only have I sinned.” Maybe the Church can learn something about that, and quit walking in unforgiveness, when we weren’t even sinned against!
- Images and Masks. With as much fervor as modern Christians disavow Halloween, you’d think we had a problem wearing masks. Sadly, that’s not true at all. We just don’t want to do it on October 31. But come Sunday, you best believe we’ll be wearing a mask that would win us an award for the best costume! You see, today’s Church has been built on a foundation of false self-images and projections. It’s a twisted masquerade wherein everybody puts forward the person they want the Church to see, all the while the real person is broken and hurting, yet hidden away. Why do we do this? Because we don’t want to be on the receiving end of the very judgments and criticisms that we so relentlessly lob against others. We wear a mask because we’re afraid; and yet, we terrify others into wearing their own.
One of the highest realities in both secular and non-Christian religious philosophies is: know thyself. But, I want to do you one better. “Let other people know the real you.” Why is that better? Because what good does it do to know yourself when you’re the only one who you’ll allow to know you? The Church was intended to be an interpersonal, interdependent organism—a single body of Christ with many parts (members). But how effective is a heart that won’t pump blood to the tongue, or a foot that won’t walk you to the item that the hand needs to pick up? As a body needs all of its parts working together in order to function at its best, so the Body of Christ needs the same. But that explains why we’re so broken. Our parts are too busy presenting themselves as anything but what they really are. The eye is pretending to be an ear, the ear is pretending to be a leg, and the arms, well, they’re acting like they’re not even part of the Body. And it’s all for the sake of looking the part. Pride. Haughtiness. Fear. Self-Righteousness. I can’t imagine how much this breaks the heart of a God who desires so much better for His people.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what’s wrong with the Church, but I think it shows how easily people like Eddie Long are made. We’ve created this toxic culture in the Church, and then turn around and attack those who succumb to it. But who can thrive under this kind of pressure? Who can struggle with the issues Bishop Long did—things we may never even know about—and stay healthy? You know, AIDS doesn’t actually kill people. AIDS-related illnesses kill people. There’s a difference. In the same way, I think that although Bishop Long’s cancer took him out, there’s still a deeper truth that we need to understand. The cancer of his soul, brought on by a Church culture that has made many people emotionally and spiritually sick, did significant damage before his body ever took ill!
Eddie Long, with all his faults, was a child of God. He was our brother. And he served his King for decades, positively impacting countless lives. Yes, he sinned. Whether these particular allegations are true or not, I promise you—he sinned! And yes, there were reasons not to like him. I had my very own. But when you pause and think about it, even the undesirable characteristics came from somewhere, probably from a past filled with hurts and disappointments—things that the so-called hospital of the Church should have healed, but utterly failed to. So rather than shooting our own wounded, why not exercise compassion instead? How much more effectively could he have fought against the cancer in his body had his soul not been so plagued and burdened with things that the Church had the power to cure, but couldn’t find it in itself to do?
And here’s the saddest fact. There are countless more Eddie Longs out there. They’re pastoring your churches, singing next to you in the choir, serving communion to your family, shoveling the snow on your church’s parking lot… They’re all around you. They’re broken. They’re hurting. They’re wounded. And some are past the ability to cry out for help. The mask has become their prison. We claim to be so spiritual, but are we spiritual enough to see through their veil of religiosity? Can we see past the clever facade, not so that we can “call them out,” or humiliate and shame them in the name of “love,” but so that we can run and grab them and hug them so tightly that they can feel our heart beating in sync with theirs? Can we remind them that they’re a part of our body and we need them? Will we throw down the stones and pick up real love, or prophesy the next Eddie Long to hell like we did this one?
Let’s eradicate the cancer of people’s souls so that we can pray out the cancer of their bodies. We can do so much better than we have. And we must do better! It’s time for those rivers of living water to finally flow…
(In case you haven’t realized it, this post isn’t really about Eddie Long, so much as it’s about all of us! Don’t miss the forest for the tree.)
So, what do you think about this? Comment below and let me know…