Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bishop Eddie Long: Victim, Hypocrite or Both in Sex Scandal?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

There mega-church black minister Bishop Eddie Long was in January 2004 with the Rev. Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in tow, leading a spirited march of thousands to the Atlanta gravesite of Dr. King. Long and the demonstrators marched to denounce gay marriage. The choice of King’s site to make the hell fire and damnation point that gay marriage was sinful, degenerate, and against every Biblical precept was painful and insulting to see. The not so subtle implication was that King might well have stood with her and them in their gay bashing protest. Given King’s relentless and uncompromising battle against discrimination during his life, this was beyond pure poppycock; it was well, insulting and painful to see.

But even though Long sullied King's name and legacy to torpedo gay rights, the Bishop seemingly was not a hypocrite when it came to denouncing gays. He was one of the biggest, best known, and virulent black evangelical attackers of gay marriage. Long had prominently touted then President George W. Bush's federal amendment banning gay marriage on his church Web site. Long’s anti-gay phobia was so virulent that then NAACP president Julian Bond publicly declared he would not attend the funeral service of Coretta Scott King at Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Why, because as Bond flatly said "I knew her attitude toward gay and lesbian rights. And I just couldn't imagine that she'd want to be in that church with a minister who was a raving homophobe. He obviously couldn’t see himself there either.

For a brief moment, Long seemed to relent some from his sledgehammer bible quoting attacks on gays when he agreed to meet with Soulforce, a gay Christian lobby organization, at his church in 2008. Long’s epiphany went no further than the one meeting and a pithy statement from him that there were “things about homosexuality that he needs to learn”

The question then is the accusations from the lengthening list of teen and young male adults who claim that Long bought and paid for their sexual favors true? They may well be phony as a nine dollar bill, a shakedown, or a dirty put up job to smear a prominent black minister that many blacks regard as a leader and advocate. But even if that turns out to be the case, there’s another more compelling question. Did Long’s long, open and relentless crusade against homosexuals tag he and many other anti-gay prominent black church leaders as narrow, bigoted, and hypocritical in championing the very discrimination that King and the civil rights movement waged a titanic battle against?

A big warning sign that the gay rights issue would inflame, polarize, and even energize blacks within and without the black pulpit came in 1997 when the Green Bay Packers perennial all-pro defensive end Reggie White, an ordained minister, touched off a firestorm of protest from gay groups with a rambling, hour- long talk to the Wisconsin legislature in which he took a huge swipe at gay rights and gay marriage. He later barnstormed through several Mid-Western cities pushing the anti-gay gospel at pro-family rallies.

Before his untimely death in 2005, White apologized for his anti-gay remarks, but he was unrepentant in his view about homosexuality. He was a conservative black minister and homosexuality, as with Long, still violated his biblical conception of the proper roles for men and women. In defying the canons of political correctness, White became the first celebrity black evangelical to say publicly what many black religious leaders said and believed privately. Few blacks joined in the loud chorus that condemned his remarks.

The same year the conservative Virginia based Alliance for Marriage corralled a handful of top black preachers to plop their name on the Alliance’s letterhead and tout the Alliance’s anti-gay rights agenda. The year before White’s outburst, and the Alliance's rope in of black ministers like Long, a Pew Poll measured black attitudes toward gay marriage and found that blacks by an overwhelming margin opposed it. A CNN poll eight years later showed that anti-gay attitudes among blacks had not changed much since then. The substantial backing black voters gave California’s anti-gay marriage measure, Proposition 8 and anti-gay marriage initiatives in other states, was ample proof of that

Gay rights, and especially gay marriage, advocates have had a big uphill battle to convince blacks that tolerance didn’t begin and end with race alone. The Democrats and civil rights groups had no real defense against the anti-gay phobia among black Christian groups and blacks that weren’t of the faith but still loathed gay marriage.

For years Long was a leader of the anti-gay pack. When confronted with the charge of sex pandering, he loudly declares he did nothing wrong, and is willing to confront his accusers to show them to be the liars and con artists they are. Long may just be right. The fact that the charges were leveled at him, a man of the pulpit who turned gay bashing into a growth industry in the pulpit, doesn’t make him a hypocrite. But it doesn’t make him a victim either.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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