The Scandal Is about More Than Bishop Eddie Long

By Josef Sorett
The Root
October 5, 2010

Bishop Eddie Long embraces a supporter at the New Faith Missionary Baptist Church

Roughly 20 years ago, Cornel West -- in his best-selling book Race Matters -- argued that "it is virtually impossible to talk candidly about race without talking about sex." So it remains today: When we chatter about sex, race is always already on the table.

At the center of the Bishop Eddie Long story is a civil suit against a preacher alleged to have violated the sacred trust between pastor and congregation. Long stands accused of coercing sexual favors from several young male mentees -- this after currying favor with them by using perks from his multimillion-dollar spiritual empire, which has more than 25,000 members.

The exposure of Long's alleged same-sex erotic activities has occasioned an act of collective catharsis in a shifting sexual landscape. Sadly, if not surprisingly, we seem more concerned with sex acts than actual sins. That the alleged victims are young men rather than young women should not matter -- abuse is abuse, end of story. But it does, especially in this moment, in this country.

Our concern with Long's sexual orientation obscures the larger issue of the relationship between gender and power, which is only magnified by religion. Our society takes for granted the exchange of sex acts, both coerced and seduced, between young women and older men -- from athletes to CEOs to clergy. Rather than deal with the issue of unchecked authority, we prefer to focus on who's touching whose well, you get the picture.

The core of our attraction and repulsion to this affair -- what turned the event from pastoral scandal into public spectacle -- is about much more than Long, who's filing the lawsuits or the church. Yes, perceived Christian prohibitions against homosexuality have lent added weight to the story. Long is held up as a hypocrite in the fashion of another fallen anti-gay, evangelical preacher, Ted Haggard -- who, ironically, is one of Long's few public sympathizers to this point. How could one preach so adamantly against homosexuality and simultaneously engage in same-gender sexual activities? we wonder out loud. A double dose of "Shame on you, Reverend!"

Yet directing all this energy toward Long seems to suggest that we think this is simply a case of an individual clergyman gone astray. To be clear, if the allegations are true -- and the continued unveiling of evidence seems to support that point -- I certainly hope the courts, and his congregation, hold Long fully accountable. Even more, I hope the victims find the healing and support they deserve.

However, much more important than Long's fate is that of the countless young women and men who will still be routinely abused sexually (and ignored), gay and lesbian youth who commit suicide for lack of a safe space, and believers whose faith is now imperiled by the fray. In focusing so much on the bishop, do we lose the forest for the trees?


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