Eddie Long Scandal Forces Taboos to Surface in Black Church

More charges come, CNN's Don Lemon reveals his own history with sexual abuse, and Long vows to fight.

By Jamilah King Sep 27, 2010

Beleaguered Altanta-area pastor Eddie Long made one promise to his congregants at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday: he’s gonna fight. The vow came in a highly anticipated sermon after a week’s worth of bombshell allegations surfaced that the famous pastor, who has been among black America’s most prominent anti-gay voices, had coerced at least four young men into sexual relationships. 

The case against Long is shedding much needed light on issues of faith, sexuality and childhood sexual abuse–all issues that black churches have too often refused to address.

Over the weekend, former NAACP Chair Julian Bond called Long a "raving homophobe." In an interview with the Georgia Voice, Bond said that if the allegations were true it will "be a sad victory for gay rights" (h/t Rod 2.0). For years, Bond has been a harsh critic of Long’s homophobia. In 2006, the civil rights movement icon made headlines when he refused to enter Long’s church for the funeral of Coretta Scott King, who had been an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights.

In this most recent interview, Bond spelled out how and why this week’s allegations are sadly relevant to broader questions about sexual freedom,

"[Long] said that homosexuality is worthy of death. He is a raving homophobe," said the civil rights legend and former longtime Georgia legislator. "If [the allegations] are true, it’s just sort of typical of people who are raving homphobes who are secretly homosexual. And who are homophobes because they are filled with so much self-loathing and self-hate that they’ve got to let it come out in some way, and it comes out in homophobia."

In 2004, after voters in Georgia approved an amendment banning gay marriage in the state, Long led a 25,000-person march against gay rights and marriage equality through the streets of Atlanta. His New Birth is believed to be the largest black megachurch in the country.

Also over the weekend, CNN talk show host Don Lemon interviewed members of Long’s congregation, most of whom seemed unwilling to abandon blind faith in their pastor. For his part, Lemon used the segment to reveal that he had been the victim of sexual abuse as a child, and that the victims’ complaints against the pastor sounded strikingly similar to how most abusers target their young victims.

"I’ve never admitted that on television and I never told my mom until I was 30 years old," Lemon said. Then he added, "Especially African-American men don’t want to talk about those things."

On Friday, a fourth suit was filed suit against Long. The latest suit is perhaps the most damaging for the pastor because the defendant, Spencer LeGrande, alleges that he was drugged and forced into sex on one of the pastor’s infamously lavish vacations. Rod 2.0 reports that two more suits are in the works.

Last week, three young men came forward with damning allegations that Long had lavished them with expensive trips and gifts in exchange for sex. All had been members of the church’s Longfellow’s Youth Academy and claimed that the pastor had a pattern of manipulating vulnerable young men, adopting them as his "Spiritual Sons" and asking them to call him "Daddy." 

Rumors about both the pastor’s homosexuality and his predatory behavior directed at the church’s male teens have circulated in the black gay community for years. But the public accusations have shocked the broader black community nationally. Over the weekend, the Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson wrote that the scandal may finally force the nation’s black churches to have candid conversations around sexuality and faith. It’s a discussion that’s long overdue for many parishioners, and for Eddie Long.