By Daryl Gale
The only thing that seems certain in the ugly scandal surrounding Atlanta megachurch leader Bishop Eddie Long is that it will doubtless get uglier.
Bishop Long, pastor of the 25,000 member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church has been accused by four young men of the grossest sort of sexual impropriety – using his position as pastor and mentor to manipulate and seduce the teens into sexual trysts.
Long is by no means the first pastor to be accused of sexual wrongdoing, and won’t be the last. It has become a far too common occurrence in modern society, but the circumstances surrounding this case have made it the subject of nationwide gossip and whispered speculation.
Those whispers have traveled the 650 miles from Atlanta to Philadelphia, where African American religious leaders have urged their congregants to pray for all involved, and caution against a rush to judgment.
Bishop Audrey Bronson, President of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, says the matter should be settled in a court of law, not the court of public opinion.
“Every week, we preach forgiveness for repentant sinners and redemption for those who acknowledge their sins,” Bronson says. “We should pray, not only for Bishop Long and his family, but for the young men who are his accusers. If he’s guilty of these things, those young men are in desperate need of guidance, counseling and God’s grace. If he is not, then these young men are certainly troubled, and still in need of grace and prayer.”
Bronson also says that ministers are prime targets for abuse allegations, given their close relationship to the members of their flock, and should be cautious not to put themselves in questionable or compromising situations. That sentiment was echoed by Reverend Terrence Griffith, popular and charismatic pastor of First African Baptist Church in South Philadelphia.
“Sadly, it may come to a point where ministers have to keep video records of their private dealings with parishioners,” says Griffith. “I hope not, but it may come to that.”
Griffith says he spoke to his congregation Sunday about the Long scandal, and he also cautioned his flock to reserve their judgment until all the facts are in.
“The church does not, and should not, deal in rumors,” Griffith says. “At this point, we don’t know if the allegations are true or false. What we do know is that Bishop Long deserves due process, and his church deserves to know the truth. The question I asked myself, and we should all ask ourselves, is if we were in Bishop Long’s position, how would we want to be treated?” he asks. “I think we would want justice, and we would want to be treated fairly.”
Griffith says he’s happy Long addressed the matter in his Sunday sermon, but was a bit disappointed by Long’s tone.
“If I were him, I would have unequivocally denied the allegations and then asked the church to pray for the accusers,” he says. “I think he should have taken a more humble approach, rather than beat the drums of war with talk about David versus Goliath and having five rocks to throw. This should have been an opportunity to send a message of prayer, not retaliation.”