Bishop Eddie Long should step down.
In recent weeks and months, I have had much to say about withholding judgment in the wake of alleged sexual improprieties with young men in his church. Even as Long stood before his congregation and defiantly vowed to fight the civil charges, I remained cautious. I urged restraint in the face of the salacious details that emerged. I, too, needed a healthy dose of patience.
My mother and family live in South DeKalb County, Georgia where New Birth Baptist Church is located. I still own a house there. So this crisis, literally hit home.
Now, as the case has been settled for $24.8 million, there is no way to discern the truth. The fight the pastor promised to wage, the proverbial five rocks Long said were lodged in his pocket, never materialized. Instead, he called a rain day and forfeited his chance to prove his innocence. This I know for sure. The money paid for settlement and the purported gifts to the boys came from the community. It came from secretaries, sheet metal workers, janitors, corporate managers, cashiers and others who can ill afford to pay for someone else’s folly.
Make no mistake. Jury or not, I believe he is guilty. However, forgiveness is what my faith commands. But, “Forgiveness is the foundation of Christianity, not a loophole or ‘get out of jail free card,’ ” as one Facebook friend said in an especially poignant commentary.
Forgiveness does not mean there is no worldly debt to pay. If that were so, every jailhouse across the land would be empty. Forgiveness also does not mean you will maintain your position, especially one of authority. And bishop, by its very definition, means to have authority.
I sometimes disagree with Pastor Rick Warren’s politics, but he had it right when he said that you cannot settle sexual allegations on Friday and preach in the pulpit on Sunday. Sometimes leading means walking away. Long owes as much to his congregation.
So when Creflo Dollar stepped into his pulpit last Sunday to defend Long and demand that congregants return to support their pastor, I was immediately angered. He told them plainly that they were wrong to abandon a man who had done so much for them. I mean what’s a little sexual impropriety when he provided a food bank and energy assistance to so many?
World Changers Ministries, the mega-church Dollar founded in a school cafeteria with a hand full of members, is one of the most powerful in the region. Together with New Birth, they are among the largest congregations in the county.
Among his most unfortunate remarks, Dollar compared Long’s transgressions to a car wreck. Only, he said, Long has insurance. He’s right about that. Long does have insurance. It comes in the form of both divine mercy and the pocketbooks and wallets of the people who sit in his pews. It is their ten percent tithe that is buying fuel for private jets and Maybachs. In these economic times, that alone is enough to stun the senses.
But what I found most offensive was Dollar’s demand that anyone sitting in his church that could not be there for him in a similar time of need, when he might have his own rear end collision, should leave. He referred to them pejoratively as “Negroes”. I cringed as rows upon rows of people clapped and laughed.
What Dollar and Long seem to have conveniently forgotten is that they, in their humanness, are not the “church”. They are earthly stewards, not gods among men. Frail, fallible and human. While Long and Dollar are preaching about forgiveness and loyalty, someone should slip them a note about stewardship.
The bible has much to say about judgment, but it also speaks to atonement and Long should pay with his position. This church, New Birth, should be given an opportunity to heal under a new steward. They cannot do that with Long in the pulpit and they certainly cannot do it with Dollar doubling down on a lie.
Long has his is own devils to deal with and Christians among us should pray for his personal healing. God made some unexpected choices, but even Moses spent 40 years in the desert. Long could use some time in the wilderness. If Dollar isn’t careful, he might need to go with him.