Will a settlement settle the Bishop Eddie Long sex scandal?

OPINION - 'You ain't messin' with me. I shall rise again, and I ain't going through this,' Long thundered at one of his Easter congregations Sunday...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

“This ain’t going to be no bad Friday for me, it’s going to be a Good Friday,” Eddie Long told his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church congregation Palm Friday during an early morning service. That same day, Judge Johnny Panos informed reporters that a settlement in the sex scandal where four young men have accused Long of coercing them into inappropriate sexual acts was within “field goal range.”

Even for those giving Long the benefit of the doubt, the news of his decision to mediate with his accusers in February instead of fighting them as he proclaimed from the pulpit the previous fall when the allegations were made, had to raise an eyebrow. Long’s refusal to step down or at least take a break from the pulpit has ensured continued media scrutiny, making the decision to settle even more suspect.

Those familiar with Long and the church prior to the scandal know the toll the allegations have taken, especially in this economic downturn. Long may appear to walk around as if nothing has happened but everything is not all right and it’s not all scandal-related either. Like most Americans, New Birth was not immune to the harsh effects of the economic downturn.

Two years ago, in 2009, the Easter service was voluntarily down-sized. For at least 15 years prior, the service, hailed by some as “the largest Easter service in Georgia,” was held at the Georgia Dome where the Atlanta Falcons play. Those services attracted upwards of 40,000 worshippers with many politicians, athletes and celebrities in attendance. T.I., Jennifer Hudson and Patti LaBelle were among those who made appearance during those high times, when the Easter service production price tag alone rang in at around $200,000. One can only imagine the overflow of the collection baskets during these services.

“In this time of recession, we had to look at some different ways of doing things,” Long explained at the time. “The unemployment situation, the mortgage situation has definitely affected our members. This money could be better utilized to bless more people, feed more people,” he said. Even then, church revenue was down by 20 percent from the previous year. Needless to say, it can only be assumed that a sex scandal, a gay one at that, only accelerated the downward spiral.

Outreach services were a constant during New Birth’s Easter activities in previous years and those continued this year. Last Wednesday, New Birth held a career fair in addition to continuing with the free health screenings, clothing giveaways and free haircuts, among other services, that Saturday. Perhaps it is possible that Long has not stepped down or taken a break not just out of sheer arrogance. Maybe he truly believes that only he can right this ship.

Still, quietly, fervent New Birth members have stepped away. For some who have shared their thoughts only under anonymity, it’s not the scandal per se that has perturbed them the most. Rather, it is the handling of the situation and Long’s inability to provide clear answers in that regard. These are complex times for sure and a lot is at stake and it’s not all about just saving souls either.

The Stonecrest Mall is extremely close to New Birth and there’s no way a service capable of seating 10,000 people didn’t pack a positive economic wallop. Christians get hungry too and they also purchase clothing and other items. In addition to that, New Birth was a popular place for all kinds of events. Rainforest Films screened their film The Gospel there. Kirk Franklin and other gospel heavyweights regularly performed at New Birth. And some of that is still going on; most recently, a bridal expo was held there.

“You ain’t messin’ with me. I shall rise again, and I ain’t going through this,” Long thundered at one of his Easter congregations Sunday. Given his actions, it’s easy to interpret this message as his strategy throughout this whole ordeal. It’s very clear that Long decided a while ago that he wasn’t “going through this,” which explains his penchant to talk around the situation. Only when his back was up against the wall did he specifically address the allegations and even then it was muddled at best.

If his words, “You have to go down there and let the devil know that what they thought was gonna kill you, didn’t kill you. What they thought was gonna bring terror to you, didn’t bring terror to you, and you made the enemies public spectacle” are truly taken to heart, the only losers remain the young men at the center of this maelstrom. Even if their pockets are lined in the end, their silence has to do more harm than good.

At this point, it looks like New Birth, under Eddie Long’s guidance, is weathering this storm. Just looking at the Easter service YouTube video makes it clear that enough people still believe and others are even still joining. If all the allegations against Long are indeed true, Judas won’t be the only one who betrayed Jesus.