The sex scandal swirling around Eddie Long is the kind of story that the media and consumers of media (in other words, nearly everybody) tend to find irresistible. As Joshua Alston wrote in Newsweek, it’s got everything: secrets, money, sex, and religion. Plus it hits to “hot button” topic -- homosexuality and race -- and adds a heaping dose of politics to top it off.
But all of the above can blind us to what’s really in front of us, beyond the lights and cameras, the ink spilled and bandwidth burned covering the story. The allegations against Long -- that he coerced young men over whom he had authority into sexual relationships -- leaves raises more questions than answers; both concerning the specifics of the case against long, and the much larger phenomena the allegations represent.
In the case of the former, the courts will determine what truth there is in the accusations against Long. But the rest of us have to grapple with the latter.
First, while I can’t say with certainty that Long is guilty or innocent of the charges against him, there’s enough in what we’ve all seen, read, and heard by now to raise concerns; especially in the absence of an outright denial of the charges and a clear declaration of innocence on Long’s part. That may be due to his lawyer advising him to save any testimony related the charges spelled out in the lawsuits until he has his day in court. But even some members of Long’s congregation, based on quotes from articles about his most recent sermon, think that charges this serious require more than Long has said.
Long’s casting of himself as “David” up against a “Goliath,” at the very least raises questions about whom he means to cast as Goliath. Up until the lawsuits were filed against him and the charges went public, Long loomed like a giant in the realm of his church, congregation, and expanding media domain. He looked and sounded like more a Goliath then.
Long is one of the most influential black preachers in the country and abroad. His sermons are televised in 170 countries, and he routinely meets with celebrities and political leaders (both Democrats and Republicans).
Long’s church and his personal life are manifestations of the “prosperity Gospel” he preaches. Also called “name it and claim it,” this style of preaching states that God does not want you to be poor -- indeed, Long preaches that Jesus was not poor -- and that riches are a sign of God’s blessing.
Long himself drives a $350,000 Bentley, bought a $1.1 million home in 2005 and favors gold necklaces and Rolex watches. When the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked him about the $3 million he received from the church and its charities between 1997 and 2000, Long was defiant.
“We’re not just a church; we’re an international corporation,” he said. “We’re not just a bumbling bunch of preachers who can’t talk and all we’re doing is baptizing babies. I deal with the White House. I deal with Tony Blair. I deal with presidents around the world. I pastor a multimillion-dollar congregation.”
This is hardly in keeping with the image of a David, but closer to a Goliath or even a biblical king with his power and wealth on full display, than a poor, meek shepherd boy standing alone against a powerful, intimidating foe with an army to back him up. In fact, it isn’t even in keeping with Long’s brand of virility obsessed, “muscular christianity.” As I’ll examine in the next post, it’s more likely related to a tendency not to take full responsibility for one’s actions, but to blame outside forces or other individuals.
Then there are the pictures Long is alleged to have sent to his “spiritual sons,” which have by now been circulated all over the internet. They have, by now, been seen by millions of people at the very least. And the questions they rase can be summed up by Boyce Watkins’ response, posted at Black Spin.
If Long or anyone else were to send these pictures to any of my kids, I’d be standing in the pulpit with a baseball bat. No “spiritual adviser,” teacher or cub scout master has any business sending pictures like this to the young men he is advising. I am also hopeful that the photographic evidence will be enough to wake up anyone in Long’s congregation who feels that he might somehow have been framed by another party. While anything is possible, we must also consider that which is probable.
At the very least, there is no doubt that it is Long in the photographs. There is also little doubt that he is both model and photographer. Experts in cyber forensics can easily determine when the pictures were taken, when they were sent, which phones took the pictures, to which phones or email addresses they were sent, and to whom each belonged. But there enough to be seen by the naked eye in each photograph to at least silence doubts about who took the pictures, and raise troubling questions about why.
In each, the mobile phone used to take the picture appears to be pointed at a mirror. So, Long could see himself and presumably take the photograph when he was satisfied with his pose and appearance. Both pictures appear to have been taken in bathrooms. One appears to have been taken in a bathroom stall, while the other appears to have been taken in bathroom, either in a residence or a hotel. The point her is that they were taken in places where Long -- reported to have often travelled with an “entourage” -- could count on having utmost privacy, with no one present to question what he was doing and why.
But both raise the questions to which Watkins alluded. What was he doing, and why? What possible reason could a minister, or anyone in a position of authority over young people, have to (a) take such pictures and (b) send them to young men in his charge? Even if Long’s alleged method of waiting until his targets reached the legal age of consent turns out to be true, what does a married man have sending such pictures to, well, anyone besides his spouse? Especially a man such a Long, who presents himself as a religious leader, and wears his morality on his sleeve?
Then there are the allegations which, if they are true, suggest Long was capable of backing up his words by acting like a Goliath. Allegations brought up during divorce proceedings must sometimes be taken with a health dose of skepticism, but it is worth noting that Long’s ex-wife claimed “vicious” abuse and “cruel treatment” in their 1985 divorce -- including being beaten by Long when she was 7 1/2 months pregnant. Yes it’s a 25-year-old domestic abuse case, but that doesn’t speak to its veracity or constitute a reason to rule it out. If that allegation is true, it suggests that had the capacity to abuse power over someone weaker than him, and did so on at least one occasion.
Other news reports mention questionable practices in Long’s past. The New York Times and Wikipedia both report that Long was fired from first job, with Ford Motor Co., due to inaccurate expense accounts. The Associate Press, adds that the job was in Richmond, VA, that Long was a factory representative, and that Long later told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that he was fired for putting personal calls on an expense report. No detail on the nature or cost of those calls is available.
How much truth is in the latest charges against Long remains to be seen, and will have to be determined through the legal process. But, If they are true, the allegations made by the four men who have filed suit against Long to date paint a picture of a man with a clear understanding of his power, how it could protect him, how he could use it to influence and get what he wanted from those with less power and influence, and the will to use his power to do just that.
If the charges against him are true, when combined with what’s known and/or strongly suggested by Long’s past they paint a disturbing picture: that of a classic predator.