Why Eddie Long isn't out of the woods yet

OPINION - So far Eddie Long has sidestepped any legal conviction but something continues to shady about his dealings at New Birth...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

February was an active month for Bishop Eddie Long. Not only did he enter into mediation with the four men — Maurice Robinson, Jamal Parris, Anthony Flagg and Spencer LeGrande — who accused him of sexual misconduct when they were consenting young adults, he announced three Monday prayer sessions for a “men-only” prayer group via YouTube that kicked off February 28. All of this occurred just before the recent announcement, as reported by WAGA-FOX 5 Atlanta, that New Birth was cutting staff pay and shortening the workweek.

On January 31, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reported on a YouTube plea from Long demanding settlement for his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church parishioners who invested with the firm City Capital Corporation in 2010 after the then-CEO Ephren Taylor was given a platform to address interested members. As of today, that video has been removed.

Just when the beleaguered pastor had employed a strategy of silence that appeared to work for him, he appears to be returning to his old, boastful self. With all the communication tools available to him and his staff, why YouTube? Who would advise him to once again don his expensively tailored clothing and speak outside of the congregation not even a good six months since the accusations were made? Is Long that in need of attention? Given all of his woes, would it not be wiser to just wait it out? In January, when the local ABC news affiliate, WSB Channel 2, caught him at a Trumpet Awards event for an interview, Long appeared humbled and even donned an outfit that was considerably more subdued. On the YouTube videos, he’s returned to his old school, pimpalicious attire.

Already information about the private mediation proceedings have leaked. Apparently, Long has not responded with any admission of guilt although each of the young men have described his wrongdoing in emotional and graphic detail. According to Andrea Doneff, an associate professor at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School whom the AJC quoted in its February 11, 2011 story on the mediation, Long’s unresponsiveness is not uncommon. “When she practiced law,” according to the AJC, “she often advised her clients not to expect an admission of guilt.”

Doneff told the AJC that “the main reason people go to mediation is to maintain control over the outcome and to find a resolution that meets everybody’s needs as well as possible.” That’s a far cry from the fight Long promised when he addressed his congregation amid national media cameras in late September. But instead of letting the private mediation pass quietly, Long brings additional attention to himself by starring in YouTube videos. It doesn’t make logistical or strategic sense.

Clearly Long has seen better times. The Dale Russell FOX 5 report regarding the cut staff and rolled back pay disclosed that New Birth brought in $19 million in offerings and tithes last year of which Long received over $1 million. That amount is not so unreasonable based on the overall pot but, as the FOX 5 report pointed out, there was no comment about what Long’s compensation would be in light of the recent staff cutbacks at New Birth. Even trickier will be the question of from which pot will the young men accusing Long of sexual misconduct be settled.

When it comes to controversy, Long appears to be right at home. Although his initial YouTube video requesting a settlement with members of his congregation who invested with Capital City has been removed, Taylor took particular issue with Long’s alleged claim that neither he nor the church received proceeds from the seminars. Taylor claimed that this was untrue in a statement he released in the first week of February. In fact, Taylor appeared confused by the YouTube message since he claimed that Elder Maurice Waddell of New Birth had participated in conference calls regarding the matter.

According to Taylor, as evidence of his good faith, he had worked along with his former company City Capital Corporation to work out a settlement with the New Birth members who invested with the company.

Making matters even worse is the call for “Men Only” worship. Isn’t that sort of action what got Long in hot water in the first place? What credibility does Long have to tell YouTube watchers that “God has put a mandate on me to call men together — the Bible says three times a year shall men come together to praise and bless his name and bring an offering worthy of the Lord. So you’re bringing an offering, we’re praying, and God specifically said pray for this nation in such a time as this”?

Interestingly, in that message, Long mentions an offering, which makes his call appear even more disingenuous. Given the report of hard financial times, with churches and nonprofits experiencing as much as a 40 percent drop in revenue, according to the FOX 5 story, Long’s plea reinforces the assertions by some that he is no more than one of a long line of preachers disguising a scheme to generate cash as God’s calling.

Even before the accusations from the young men, Long had attracted Senate attention regarding church finances when an investigation led by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa included New Birth in a 2007 investigation of six ministries that were permitted tax breaks. Grassley’s and the committee’s concern was that certain tax breaks offered by the IRS for religious institutions were being misused privately.

In January of this year, that report was released and, though Long spoke at the Without Walls International Church in Tampa and was compensated for $7,500 for the fuel for the private jet he used plus hotel expenses and a $15,000 honorarium, the committee, according to a statement released by Long’s representative Art Franklin, a former news personality in Atlanta, cleared Long of wrongdoing.

In the statement, Long said, “From the very beginning of this exhaustive process, I was absolutely confident that a comprehensive investigation would clear me of any wrongdoing.” In addition, Long shared that “I am relieved that after more than three years of intense investigation and countless untrue allegations that Sen. Charles Grassley’s review has found no evidence of wrongdoing.”

So far Eddie Long has sidestepped any legal conviction of wrongdoing but something continues to shady about his dealings at New Birth.