I guess it has been about 2 years since the Rev. Al Sharpton stood in the pulpit of Tabernacle Baptist church and gave this little gem concerning black clergy and the church:

“They preach homophobia from their pulpits Sunday morning and cruise the parks at night!”

I also remember after that service was over; this statement was stuck in my head.

Talking with some of my colleagues and friends in the black community, I was informed not only was that statement true but also in fact there were any number of black clergy in the city of Atlanta who were an exact fit.  “In fact Pastor Paul, there are some pretty big and powerful preachers in the black church for whom Rev. Sharpton hit the nail on the head.”

I was dumbfounded.

Faith: Homophobia, an efficient killer

I am sometimes naïve when it comes to the real world.  I know a lot of politicians who would sell their own mother if it meant them getting elected and then lie about the sale, but pastors are and should be different, right?

Apparently I am still somewhat of a sexist. Sure there might be the whole hetero-adultery thing going on.  So why would these very conservative preachers really take the risk of doing what they so virulently preach against in such a small, talkative community?

Do they not understand if you beat us up long enough eventually we will expose you for who you really are?

Further, why would this small talkative community simply turn and take on the persona of “don’t ask, don’t tell”?

I have come to believe it is because homophobia is alive and well and more dangerous than ever.

Homophobia”, is the unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality.

Which is why there is nothing worse than to be a homosexual or to practice homosexual behavior and the community seems to hold a different standard for black preachers as compared to white preachers.

One might survive if they use drugs, one might survive if they misuse church funds and they might even survive if they are caught playing with the deacon’s wife. One survives these transgressions because “we all sin and fall short of the glory of God!”

Remember the good Rev. Stanley of Peachtree Baptist? All was forgiven and forgotten.  Those who are part of the United Methodist Church know if a preacher is caught playing around in the congregation come annual conference time the preacher is simply moved to another church.  There is a long list of black preachers who are divorced or were divorced during their time in the pulpit and have survived rather nicely.

Yet, to cross the homosexual line and express homosexual behavior is the sin of all sins. This sin is the worst thing a person can do.   One’s career, calling and respect in the community will be lost if they dare cross this line and get caught.

There is nothing which will get the mainstream news media’s attention faster than a black male preacher who is caught having sex with another man.  They jump on it with all the alleged details and leading statements of how horrific this person is.  In very short order it becomes the subject of national news with powerful people weighing in with their knowledgeable (really lack of facts) opinions and attitudes.

Of course if the accused person is anti-gay and is rather famous for attacking the LGBTQ community, then this just adds fuel to an already hotly burning fire.

Bishop Eddie Long, an ardent opponent of the LGBTQ community even to the extent of having an “ex-gay” kind of ministry as a part of his mega church and who led a huge march against gay marriage, has been accused not by one but four young men of stepping over the line into the sin of sins.

Now, I have to say for the sake of being honest, I have never been particularly impressed by the Bishop.  Having Bentleys parked in one’s driveway, owning one’s own private jet, etc., has never struck me as the ministry of the gospel, but rather a ministry of prosperity and over indulgence.  The church claims 25,000 members! Damn, that is 9,000 more people than the town I grew up in.

If we do the math this also means conservatively speaking there are probably 1,200-plus LGBTQ people associated with this ministry.

Anyway, I digress.  As I mention a few blogs ago the “victims” are already being blasted by the Bishop’s supporters.  They are being called everything in the book and I would imagine before it is all said and done they will be painted as the predators of a powerful preacher. As I said before, this simply is the root of homophobia rising to the surface.

Reports on the story have not said if the young men themselves are gay or not.  Before people write me and say this is not important…yes it is.  Why?

It would change the dynamics of the story from abuse of power to the possibility of a really messed up love triangle. There may be abuse of power but it would be a whole different animal at that point.   A full day before the story broke, I got a heads up from a friend, “BTW, stay tuned, a very prominent local Bishop is about to be outed by his secret lover in a lawsuit.”

Now, please, if the way this story has been covered doesn’t prove how evil, how nasty, how un-repented, how vile and how dangerous homophobia is, then we are asleep.

It is true the Bishop set himself up for a huge fall and made himself a target of people just dying to prove he is the ultimate hypocrite.

Yet, the real problem here, the reason this story is so devastating is because of the homophobia that is intertwined all through it.  This Bishop made a huge mark for himself with a ministry designed to destroy my (our) community.  As a friend Craig Washington wrote in a column for “the Root”:

“Whether or not Long actually committed the acts of which he was recently accused, this much is true: He is assuredly guilty of engendering fear and hatred of LGBT people among thousands. He has convinced countless numbers of gays that they are sinners whose salvation rests on becoming “reconditioned” into heterosexuality. Such toxic teachings reinforce the stigma that compromises HIV-prevention efforts as well as our mental and physical health.”

If the accusations are correct there is a price to pay for such devastating hypocrisy. If the facts turn out to be something else, how will we deal with that?

While it is easy to be critical of how people live their lives, if this turns out to be factual, will anyone ask or see how homophobia drove the Bishop to this moment?  How, even knowing he had a gift to preach, he had to hide who he really was to pursue his career and calling?

Will it ever be discussed in the black congregations their complicity in this drama, because the worst thing their preacher could do was be a homo?  How the black church lives out “don’t ask and don’t tell” to the destruction of its young men every day.

If it turns out these accusations are really about something else, will my community stand and say to Bishop Long, “Hey we are really sorry we jumped the gun, cause you know you are such a jerk when it comes to our issues… well we just wanted you to fall hard… sorry.”

Regardless of the outcome of this story, will we spend some time seeing how the devastating tentacles of homophobia wrapped themselves around the Bishop, the Bishop’s family, his friends, our community and as the outrage was expressed choked out any thought of compassion, understanding and love?

My friends, this is a sad and heartbreaking story because it is really not about Bishop Long.  The moral of this story, no matter how the facts turn out, no matter how the drama unfolds, is about homophobia. It is a killer, it kills those who practice it and it kills those who internalize it.  It sometimes kills those who fight it.

I think that may be why Elder Tony Jones, a very good friend of mine, had this to say on his Facebook status page:  “I reflect on Bishop Eddie Long and this recent matter, I am reminded of this one thing. Regardless to the outcome, unconditional love is still appropriate and necessary.

My prayer is we all take heed; we all take a deep breath and take the Elder’s words to heart.  For if we do, there is an opportunity here to begin to dismantle the destruction of homophobia and begin to heal.


Rev. Paul M. Turner is the Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta. For more information, please visit www.gentlespirit.org or e-mail info@gentlespirit.org.