The case against Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, GA, has been settled, according to reports.
Few details of the settlement are available, but the lawsuits will reportedly be dismissed Friday, with prejudice — barring the four from filing any future complaints against Long. It is unclear as to the amount of the settlement, even though blogs like BlackMediaScoop report a settlement for $15 million.
The impact of the scandal that broke last September has yet to be seen. From early on, Long pledged he would fight the allegations. However, settlement mediation began several months later. As lawyers worked to come to an agreement, New Birth laid-off two fulltime employees and reduced salaries by 10 percent, reported the Atlanta Journal Constitution. They credited the need for the changes to their response to the economical climate.
And as news spreads about the settlement, it is not yet known what long term affects will be felt at the church, but one thing is for sure there will be some sort of impact felt.
Renae Walker has such fond memories of growing up as a member Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Chapel Hill Harvester Church in Decatur. Born in Boston and raised in Atlanta, the 34-year-old said she was 8 years old when her family began attending the Pentecostal church. The year was 1985.
“It was a mega church, but not the kind of mega church that we think of nowadays. Today when we think of mega church we think of the New Births and Potter Houses, but our church was one of a kind,” she said. “It was integrated; 50/50, black and white. At that time you did not see things like that. Most churches were made of one ethnicity.”
It was during one of the church’s summer camps where she learned to swim. Some of her family members attended the academy that at one time sat on the grounds of the church. And her grandmother, Walker said, idolized Bishop Earl Paulk, founder of the church who passed in 2009.
Walker was a teenager when the first scandal hit the church. Paulk was accused of having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a few women in the church and other members were also accused of playing a role in the manipulation of the women.
Walker took it hard, and she was not the only one. “I remember my grandmother saying, ‘I cannot believe this. We have to keep praying for bishop.’ The entire family took it hard.”
Members started leaving the church.
“There used to be a time when the parking lot was always full. That wasn’t the case anymore. Numbers started to dwindle,” she said.
When Paulk confessed, Walker said the family took it personally. They were hurt. They were disappointed. Looking back on the experience, Walker said she could see how they worshiped the man rather than worshiped God.
When a scandal hits a church, it is normal for members to take it personally, said Monica Coleman, Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions at Claremont School of Theology.
“The effect is more emotional than logical,” she said. “Members look at the situation as something that is happening to their church. For many of them, the church is their family church. They feel an intimate connection to the church, the building, the denomination even. And when a scandal of any kind happens, it hurts them personally.”
The impact is heavy and diverse, and the response is as well, said Coleman. Some will leave the church. Some will even leave Christianity all together. Others will stay but will refuse to tithe or be involved in any of the ministries.
“It says a lot though when a member decides to stay at a church, but chooses to not tithe,” she said. “It is a kind of civil disobedience and a rather sophisticated move. It sends a message to the institution and leadership of what is expected of them.”
For some, tithing is how a member expresses their voice and their power. While the church teaches that tithing is tied to salvation, Coleman has a differing view. She and her husband tithe in areas where they want to support the mission and the purpose of the entity. That may be the arts community, a church, etc.
“Most church members think in the same manner,” she said. “They are consumers.”
Long’s legal issues are just one of many scandals we have witnessed as of recently. There have been a handful of memorable church scandals over the past 10 years.
We all remember the fall from grace of Evangelical preacher, Ted Haggard when news broke of his encounter with a male massage therapist and escort. Then there were also the accusations and convictions of Catholic Church priests for molesting young boys.
Even the federal government has had its turn in investigating churches, like Long’s. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), ranking member of the Committee on Finance, led an investigation against Long, as well as Joyce Meyers of Joyce Meyer Ministries, Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church, Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International/Creflo Dollar Ministries and other churches for tax issues. The churches were later cleared.
Walker has a sister who attends New Birth. She left Cathedral following the sexual scandal of Paulk. She did not feel comfortable there anymore.
“It is hitting her hard, but she does not like to talk about it,” Walker said.
Her sister’s attendance has not changed though. She is very active in the church. She attends Bible study every week, is a member of a number of ministries at the church and attends service every Sunday.
“It is personal for her. She does not worship Long, but does support him,” Walker said.
Walker did leave Cathedral temporarily, but returned some years later. The experience has also had a different kind of impact on her. It has taught her a very important lesson around acceptance.
“People really believe once a pastor or bishop does something wrong they cannot further support them. I look at man as man. They have temptations, they have mistakes, they are not God,” she said. “If my dad does something wrong, he does not stop being my dad. The same should go for churches.”
Reports by the Atlanta Journal Constitution contributed to this report.