The man who brags about meeting with popes and prime ministers was barely audible during his cameo appearance at a sham press conference Sept. 26, disingenuously claiming, “I been at this church for 23 years and this is the first time I realized we are as important as we are to get this much attention.”

How easily he engages in mind games.

“I am going to fight, fight very vigorously against these charges,” Long softly said during the 90-second press conference, then fled without taking questions from reporters.

Obviously his lawyer’s advice trumps God’s command not to deceive others with “empty words,” although it’s hard to conceive how Long’s legal armor could be compromised by him saying that he does not perform oral sex on pubescent boys.

Long’s defense of his name and character to the media and his congregation was hardly vigorous. A man charismatic enough to dupe thousands into believing that he is a prophet was surprisingly worse at crisis management than BP executives — remaining conspicuously silent for days, canceling interviews and choreographing the most advantageous setting to state his case, then bracing his faithful for unsettling revelations and offering such prophetic insight as, “We are all subject to face distasteful and painful situations.”

“I have never in my life portrayed myself as a perfect man,” Long warned. “But I am not the man that’s being portrayed on television.”

The silence has broken

Bishop Long served-up his specialty — spiritual junk food — which his self-identified children gobbled with glee. New Birth members seem to be the only people clinging to the hope that their leader’s addiction to form-fitting muscle shirts isn’t indicative of deeper homoerotic traits.

Fair or not, a remarkable aspect of this scandal was how the burden of proof instantly settled on Long. Such accusations against any number of megachurch leaders or celebrities might have been dismissed as extortion attempts, but the suggestion that Long used gifts and biblical favor to ply young men into sex was too similar to what has been whispered about and winked at for years for people to grant Long a presumption of innocence.

“I would have beat me to work [to refute the charges],” nationally syndicated radio host Tom Joyner said the first morning after the lawsuits surfaced. “I would have been in my studio before I got here.”

Even other big wigs in the prayer-for-profit industry are unwilling to risk expressing outright disbelief.

“Either way it goes, have mercy,” megachurch Bishop T.D. Jakes implored his flock Sept. 26. “Whatever way it goes, have mercy.”

Radical possibilities

I do not begrudge Bishop Long for his conflicted spirit, and I wish that everyone could receive raucous support while they endured “the most difficult time in [their] entire life.” While there are troubling aspects to the delirious devotion bestowed upon Long by New Birth disciples, such a lazy pursuit of authenticity and righteousness, the display of loyalty was inspiring.

Maybe Long’s congregants will remember that the man to whom they’ve surrendered their understanding of the world and humanity was once a first grader and a high school freshman, and is as capable as everyone else of doing wrong, of being wrong. Maybe they will recognize, as even Long’s critics must recognize, that the things that keep Long from being a “perfect man” do not negate the abundant qualities that make him an excellent man.

Maybe Bishop Long, as he is alleged to have done with his male paramours, will begin to use scripture to celebrate same-sex love instead of as a whip to convince gay people that they are unworthy of salvation.

Maybe more Christians will have the courageous humility to go to God — as they have done with slavery, and the Sabbath, and the role of women, and the ability to eat bacon or shellfish, or mingle wool and linen — and ask him to clarify his will so that they can be faithful but not hateful, worldly but not wicked.

Such a conversation is urgently needed in the black church, and I can’t imagine a more transformative figure, in a more ideal city, to verbalize The Great Unspoken.

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