Bishop Eddie Long | Aggressive Tone in Dealing with Scandalous Allegations

By Christian Boone
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
September 26, 2010

As Bishop Eddie Long vowed to fight allegations that he coerced four teen boys into sexual relationships, his wife, Vanessa Bishop Long, stood quietly by his side.

The "Tammy Wynette" model is a staple of crisis management for the rich and powerful, especially when facing allegations of a sexual nature. Otherwise, Long's aggressive riposte from the pulpit Sunday morning was atypical but not without precedent.

By going on offense, Long's remarks were somewhat reminiscent of then-President Bill Clinton's famous finger wag assuring the country he "did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." First lady Hillary Clinton not only stood by her man, she was one of his staunchest defenders, telling the "Today" show her husband was the victim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

Long, comparing himself to David facing Goliath, struck a similar tone: "There is a giant in front of me. And I'm going to fight and fight vigorously. And I've got five rocks and I haven't thrown one yet."

"It's an interesting turn of phrase when you consider there's a few people taking on the leader of such a powerful institution," crisis communications expert Stephen Brown told the AJC.

B.J. Bernstein, the attorney representing the four young men suing the charismatic Lithonia pastor, used the same analogy last week in portraying her clients as overwhelming underdogs.

Long, "on advice of counsel," did not specifically deny the charges made against him in four civil lawsuits filed this week in DeKalb County, and it's worth noting that he has not been found liable of anything.

Political junkies will recall the case involving former U.S. Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan, who, after being acquitted of larceny and fraud charges in 1987, famously asked, "Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?"

Long made it clear Sunday he will fight to keep his reputation.

"I have never in my life portrayed myself as a perfect man, but I am not the man being portrayed on television," Long said Sunday morning from the pulpit of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. "That's not me. That is not me."

Brown found that comment potentially revealing.

"It seems to be setting the stage that there's something you may not like that's going to come out," said Brown, senior vice president of media strategy at Manning, Selvage & Lee.

It appears his supporters will stand behind their bishop. He was greeted by a prolonged standing ovation Sunday morning, and, as Brown said, he succeeded in galvanizing his base.

"That helped him," Brown told the AJC. "The sheer theatrics of it was impressive and he needed to get out there, to be visible."

Televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, after being exposed consorting with a prostitute, also chose the pulpit to address the charges, which he initially denied.

"I have sinned against you, my Lord," a weepy Swaggart admitted, though he did not say what those sins were. He was eventually defrocked by the Assemblies of God.

Long, by contrast, maintained his composure and assured followers he would remain New Birth's pastor.

"Taking a leave of absence sends a signal," Brown said. "But staying on, business as usual, indicates that everything's under control."

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a champion of conservative family values, surprised observers when he refused to resign after it was learned that he had engaged in an extramarital affair with an Argentinian commodities broker.

In interviews spread over two days with the Associated Press, Sanford confessed he would die "knowing that I had met my soul mate." His wife, who eventually left him, was not present at any of the governor's public mea culpas.

Long has thus far refused any interviews, canceling a scheduled appearance with radio talk show host Tom Joyner last Thursday.

"At some point he needs to sit down and answer the really tough questions," Brown advised. "While it helped him to finally appear [Sunday], he's still left pretty much every question unanswered."

A televised interview with Ted Koppel proved disastrous for Christian broadcasters Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, who went on "Nightline" in 1987 to answer charges of sexual and financial impropriety. A devastating parody followed on that week's "Saturday Night Live" and the couple's empire soon crumbled.

A look at how other well-known pastors and political figures responded to allegations of sexual misconduct:

"My truth is that I am a gay American," said then-New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, faced with the threat of a sexual harassment lawsuit by the state's homeland security adviser. McGreevey confessed to the affair and resigned as governor. He's now studying to become an Episcopal priest.

With his wife in the front seat, Colorado megachurch pastor Ted Haggard stopped his SUV to answer a reporter's questions about a male escort's accusations involving crystal meth and gay sex. Haggard, who had agreed to a leave of absence, admitted buying meth but said he "threw it away." He later acknowledged that he struggled with his sexuality and was relieved of his duties as pastor. Haggard is attempting to start a new church in Colorado Springs.

Two days after reports surfaced that New York governor Eliot Spitzer had patronized a high-priced prostitute, the longtime prosecutor resigned his position. Though he avoided any interviews about the scandal, Spitzer re-emerged as a media pundit and will co-host a new CNN political round-table show to debut in October.

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