"Men can look attractive when they're dirty."
-- Eddie Long, in his book, I Don't Want Delilah, I Need You!
I don't know Atlanta's self-styled "Bishop" Eddie Long. He may or may not be guilty of having molested a number of young men in his congregation.
That said: there are things about Mr. Long's address Sunday morning that, as someone all too familiar with certain fundamentalist ministers and their sexual shenanigans, give me pause.
The venue. This morning, Mr. Long converted his pulpit -- ostensibly, where people come to hear God's word -- into a very public platform for his personal cause. From a certain perspective, this was an extremely savvy choice. By appearing in the pulpit, he was able to position himself as a Man of God, surround himself with cheering supporters, and silence any and all voices but his own.
The lack of concern for his accusers. There was no mention made of the young men who claim to have been abused. There was no call for prayer on their behalf, no concern expressed for them, or their plight, or their pain. There was, however, a veiled threat: Mr. Long, styling himself as David the Giant Slayer, reminded the audience that he "had five rocks" and that he hadn't even "thrown one yet."
The lack of a clear, unequivocal denial. Mr. Long did not, at any point in today's address, deny the young men's accusations or say that they were untrue. This is, he says, "a difficult time" and a "bad situation." He has "been accused," and he is "under attack." He is "not a perfect man," but is "not the man that's being portrayed on the television." That's not the same as saying, "I didn't do this."
The claims of righteousness. Quoting Psalms 34:19, Mr. Long notes "many are the afflictions of the righteous." Quoting Isaiah 43, he claims God's promise of deliverance from floods and fires for himself. Throughout the speech, he refers to "the righteous" and, by repeated use of "we" and "us," underscores his assertion that he is in that group.
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I spent far too much of my life in fundamentalist churches where the ministers were generally held accountable to no one.
- After hurling baseless accusations at a teenage boy from the pulpit, one minister refused to apologize, admitted no wrong, and held his head high.
- Another, even as he carried on an extramarital affair with his own first cousin, proclaimed himself a victim and viciously attacked anyone bold enough to challenge his pretense of righteousness.
- Yet another, even as he stole money from the church treasury and demanded that couples confess to him the most intimate details of their sex lives, claimed to be carrying out orders handed down by God.
To a man, these rascals lambasted their accusers from a public pulpit, had no concern for the people they were destroying, never admitted their guilt, and styled themselves as righteous men -- victims under attack.
So, for me, this morning's address -- meant, I believe, to inspire confidence in Mr. Long-- prompted feelings of deja-vu instead.
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Personal to Mr. Long: You live in a million-dollar mansion. You drive a $350,000 car. You have the support of tens of thousands of adoring fans. You own a broadcasting empire you can use to tell your side of this story, day in and day out, to the mainstream media and the public at large.
Whether you are guilty or innocent: asking us to see you as lonesome little David and your teenage accusers as the giant Goliath is, I think, asking a bit too much.