It’s time to come to Jesus, literally, about how the Black church handles sexuality.
Bishop Eddie Long died this week after a reported battle with cancer.
He was the pastor of Atlanta mega church New Birth Missionary Church, which boasted more than 25,000 members at its height. Long was one of the country’s most vocal pastors against churches accepting gay members, even leading a march through the city with thousands affirming his beliefs and calling homosexuality a “spiritual abortion.” Of course that all made for a headline-grabbing scandal in 2010 when four young men from the congregation accused him of coercing them into sexual activities, often on church trips. Instead of fighting back or leading another march, Bishop Eddie Long settled the case quietly. Single mothers and college students had faithfully given their 10 percent back to God which were being spent to protect a purported predator and silence his accusers.
I got my high school diploma where Bishop Long stood recently inside New Birth looking gaunt after rapid weight loss over the last year. The photos raised many eyebrows. He claimed a vegan diet, though public opinion leaned toward illness. After his death, a press release from the church stated he had an aggressive form of cancer.
While we send condolences to his family, church community and all impacted by his life and passing, we also have a responsibility to examine Long’s legacy. His life sheds light on the enduring cracks in one of our most essential supports for the African American community: the Black church.
First, let’s get this straight. “The Black Church” isn’t one huge congregation of sameness clapping tambourines. It’s nuanced like us as a people. There are the Baptists with the big hats. The Methodists offering a sprinkle for baptism, leaving you and your new hairdo saved. The Pentecostal who shake the walls with the spirit. The church of Christ members singing a capella and many more. Each denomination and church has its own values and structure.
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And they all have to be accountable for how we treat all of God’s children. The enduring intolerance of our churches to those who are gay has to be addressed. The hypocrisy of people expressing God’s love to have such strong disdain of any “sinners” expected to have “sexual sins” has long been problematic. Young women who become pregnant outside of marriage and gay men and women are at the top of the list of those often ostracized by institutions set up to be refuge for those who need it most.
The hatred towards gay men and women – often from people who claim to be on God’s team- leaves them more vulnerable to not having conversations on healthy sexuality. It also fuels the high rate of suicide among gay teens. The true abomination is to pick out one “sin” and demonize people in the name of God.
We must follow God through our church leaders and hold them accountable for their actions. My cousin and aunt were among thousands of men and women who had put their faith and tithes into Long, the charismatic turned predatory preacher, and were left with heartache over a man claiming to be a shepherd of God’s people.
I feel fortunate to attend First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, a Black church that is inclusive of all of God’s children. I know that is sadly not the norm. At bible study a few years ago someone asked our Pastor Michael Walrond about where the church stands on homosexuality. I held my breath waiting for the answer.
Pastor Mike said we have been called to be like Christ as Christians and nowhere in the Bible does Jesus say anything about homosexuality. He reminded us Jesus does say love our neighbors as we love ourselves and to seek first the kingdom of heaven.
Those of us who love God cannot stay silent when his name is used to vilify his children. Love starts with accepting each other and protecting each other from harm. Our faith as a people got us through the atrocities of enslavement and disenfranchisement. And our faith has to be big enough to include all of us.
God is love.
Charreah K. Jackson is the Lifestyle & Relationships Editor of ESSENCE and creator of bossbride.com.