The Black Church’s pink elephant exploded on a massive scale when the alleged sexual misdeeds of prominent African American pastor Eddie Long and his refusal to address the allegations rose to the forefront of current events. The public’s outcry was minimal as was outrage in Christiandom at large.
That’s sad because the Long ordeal could have been the perfect segue way to discussions on several issues concerning the church, including the possible correlation between down low culture in the church and the AIDS crisis predominantly affecting African Americans, clergy abuse, brainwashed Believers and so many other ways the church is suffering; but to date, other than the open rebuke from Bishop Paul S. Morton, few church leaders have attempted to at minimum, address accountability in this Long dilemma or publicly denounce his nonchalance.
However, I have contemplated why other Black church leaders have not been more vocal about an issue of this magnitude?
My theory: Giving scandal the silent treatment, allowing immorality and debauchery to permeate its pulpits, being socially abstinent towards AIDS education, preference for behind-closed-doors operations, homophobia, outright fear of the outcome and “praying the gay away” have become the status quo for many Black churches. (And yes, I have duly noted that this matter may have to pick a number and wait in the line of issues “God’s House” already handles.)
I’m not saying The Black Church has altogether abandoned its moral obligation to respond to social vices.
It just seems as if the highest ranking church leaders are involved in the most despicable acts and the higher the position, the louder they’ve been about the matters in which they find themselves entangled, yet the more silent their followers are when their follies are exposed. (For example, Long who marched against gays and Ted Haggard the Colorado pastor that was outed in a gay tryst – spoke strongly against the lifestyle.)
Christians depending on church “leaders” (straight or gay) to corporately acknowledge and address this pink elephant in a godly, responsible manner is risky business.
Case in point: In an Essence magazine article printed in 2007, a closeted gay pastor stated that he did not disclose his sexual orientation to his church because they were not “ready.”
The fact that African American women currently represent the majority of new HIV infections and AIDS diagnoses among women (Kaiser Family Foundation) and a married, highly influential, suspected gay pastor has circumvented a gay sex scandal involving minors without a twinge of accountability– ready or not — this conversation should jump to the front of The Church’s line of competing priorities.
Still, I doubt that will happen across the board any time soon.
When I first heard of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership’s critical call to action to engage Black churches in an AIDS prevention initiative around the same time Long decided to settle the sexual misconduct law suit out of court, I thought: If the church continues to address the AIDS crisis in the capricious, laissez faire manner it has handled church scandals, we’re in deep trouble.
Bishop Eddie Long is not solely responsible for the culture of secrets and lies that has deflowered the church.
But down-low church leaders placing individuals’ lives and health in danger by concealing their sexual preference is a boondoggle of the highest order.
Just to think that there could be a correlation between the deceptive sex practices of reputable clergymen and the AIDS crisis African Americans now face as a community is alarming.
As of June 5 of 2011, the day the Center for Disease Control documented the first case of AIDS, the incurable disease has dwelt among us now for thirty years.
In the early years of the 30-year-old disease and the not so distant past, dialogue about HIV/AIDS was peripheral at best. Instilling fear and encouraging secrecy, some preachers taught that contracting AIDS was a judgment from God against homosexual males — end of conversation. Currently, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, African American women represent the majority of new HIV infections and AIDS diagnoses among women. In 2009 Black women accounted for an alarming 64% of estimated AIDS diagnoses among women, ages 13 and older and overall the numbers among Blacks with AIDS are climbing.
As the group that potentially is the hardest hit by the deception and the core of The Black Church, Black women should be first responders in this social emergency.
I want to be in the building on the day Pastor’s Aid, the mother’s of the church, ushers and deaconesses get the revelation that the salacious sexual deeds of their pastors (whether with men, women or both) could be a contributing factor in the slow death of millions of Black women and just like incarceration, and black-on-black crime, may be assisting in the decay of the Black Family. The day the sisters of the church break the reigns of religious patriarchy that has traditionally bound their tongues-the day they squelch the spirit of do-nothingness and fight for their families will be that great getting up morning for this particular community crisis.
Passive Christianity has a price tag and in this context people are paying with their lives. Evangelism pays a price too. The lack of confrontation over such matters sends a socially and spiritually ambivalent massage that is a blow to the Body of Christ which jeopardizes Christians’ ability to effectively witness to non-Believers.
A collective call for Long to apologize and step down, as news man Roland Martin suggested, would have been the felicitous reaction. Instead, idling spectators both in and out of the church limited their input to informal platforms like blogs and radio call-ins, some for fear of contracting Ostracized Christian Syndrome (i.e., OCS-when the church family disassociates with you if you say or do something that appears disloyal to the pastor).
Much of the conversation hinged on the amount Georgia-based pastor paid to abort the ensuing embarrassment and potentially devastating outcome of the law suit. But, the real cost of this allegedly closeted gay pastor’s silence on the Black Community/Black Church is greater than any financial pay-out could possibly remedy.
Months after the case settled, an Atlanta news station exposed a fifth accuser, Long remains the Bishop of New Birth Cathedral in Lithonia GA and adding insult to injury, he has opened another church in Alabama after the fall out.
What’s even more deplorable, is that fellow mega-church pastor Creflo Dollar came to Long’s defense calling him a “anointed,” friend”, and urged the embattled Bishop’s scattered flock to return to New Birth, while missing and incredible teachable moment to address what the Bible says about how to respond to impropriety and accountability in leadership to a captive audience of mentally and spiritually maimed.
But wait, it gets worst! Now the defendants have allegedly breached confidentiality and Long wants his money back according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. And back to the pulpit he goes unchecked.
This reaction ultimately says more about the state of Christianity than it does about the Longs and Haggards of the world. Indeed, Christianity itself is in crisis. (See The Barna Group for data about Christianity in America.)
How bad must the current state of affairs get before The Black Church recognizes what’s at stake? How mammoth must the crisis be before the collective outrage of the Body of Christ demand change, healing, and accountability?
Sirens are going off in my head at the thought of the Long scandal being drug back into the media and I just don’t believe I’m alone in bemoaning this shame. Unfortunately, these matters won’t dissipate with the next news cycle. They’ve got to be dealt with by those who are impacted in the right way and the members of The Body have to be accountable to holiness and righteousness and stop waiting for church leaders to take action. It is critical that someone says or does something to restore the church to the safe haven it once was.
Single Black women who look to the men of the church to co-parent their sons, (like the mothers of Long’s victims as The View’s Sherry Sheperd aptly observed) should not have to worry about the pastor or other male church members exploiting their sons. Nor should they have to compete for a partner or husband with men-seeking-men who attend the same conferences, concerts and other church functions. But the reality is that homosexuality is rampant in The Black Church and either of these concerns are valid.
If religious doctrine did not stifle women’s voices in church I’m convinced they would implore “invisible” homosexual, gay, or bi-sexual clergyman who often teach that being transparent is the best way to heal to be clear about their sexual preferences.
It’s not going to be an easy revelation; it’s not a paper or plastic decision. I get that. A well of hurt and rejection may erupt from openly addressing these issues, but if you are closeted Black male find the courage to take off the mask and come out, come out, wherever you are!
Otherwise, as long as down-low church leading two lives, the Black Church/Black family is ransom for their deception.
Mona Austin is Washington, DC area based journalist who blogs secular and non-secular items for EURweb, Essence and other media outlets. Contact her via [email protected].