CNN - May 26, 2011
Bishop Eddie Long settles with accusers
By John Blake, CNN
Atlanta (CNN) – Bishop Eddie Long, the Atlanta-based megachurch leader, has reached an out-of-court settlement with four young men who accused him of sexual coercion, representatives for both sides said Thursday.
B.J. Bernstein, the attorney representing the men, said in a statement that the lawsuits against Long and his church have “been resolved.”
Bernstein's two-paragraph statement said that neither she nor the accusers would talk about the lawsuits “now or in the future.”
Art Franklin, a Long spokesman, said Thursday that the pastor settled because it “is the most reasonable road for everyone to travel.”
“This decision was made to bring closure to this matter and to allow us to move forward with the plans God has for this ministry,” Franklin said in a statement.
Long is an internationally known televangelist who crusaded against gay marriage, and the lawsuits against him drew national attention.
The settlement comes eight months after Long, the senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Church in Lithonia, Georgia, said from the pulpit of his 25,000 member megachurch that he vowed to fight the accusations against him, with the congregation cheering in response.
Long entered into mediation talks in February. According to news reports, the sessions between Long and his four accusers - Anthony Flagg, Maurice Robinson, Jamal Parris and Spencer LeGrande - were tense.
The suits accused Long of using his position to coerce the men into having sexual relationships with him while they were teenage members of his congregation.
The lawsuits say Long engaged in intimate sexual acts with the young men, such as massages, masturbation and oral sex.
Long took the young men on trips including to Kenya, according to the suits. He allegedly enticed the young men with gifts including cars, clothes, jewelry and electronic items.
Long's attorneys deny those allegations and maintain that the pastor was attempting to be a father figure to the youths by providing them with financial assistance and encouragement.
Though no trial will now take place, Long may face the judgment of his congregation and fans worldwide.
Shayne Lee, a sociology professor at Tulane University in Louisiana and an authority on televangelists, said Long’s out of court settlement may erode some of his support.
“When you settle outside of court, it implies that there’s some guilt involved,” said Lee, author of "Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace."
“To the average congregation in the black church, those are some very serious charges,” Lee said, referring to the men’s charges against Long. “You can’t settle outside of court. You have to fight and roll up your sleeves, be defiant and fight it.”
Since the scandal had erupted, attendance at Long’s church had fallen, and New Birth officials have announced plans to lay off staff and cut Long’s salary.
But Lee said it would be premature to think that Long will retreat from the pulpit.
“He can say ‘I still have my anointing and I still have my ministry,’ ’’ Lee said. “He can say that God is working out the weeds so that the tree has a stronger foundation.”
The four men’s accusations stunned many of Long’s followers. A married man, Long had often preached about the sanctity of marriage. He once led a march against gay marriage.
Long had also cultivated a public image that was built on his machismo. He wore tight muscle shirts in the pulpit. He wrote books that compared Christian men to spiritual gladiators. He told people he had a special calling to reach men.
One Atlanta pastor predicted Long will survive the scandal because his core audience will forgive him.
“Black folks have very short memories,” said the Rev. Tim McDonald, senior pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta. “We are the most forgiving people on the planet."
McDonald, who said he has talked privately with Long since the scandal erupted, said Long “went into a shell” after the accusations against him went public.
Before the scandal erupted, Long would often publicly criticize other black pastors, and once said they “major in storefront buildings,” suggesting that they lacked the business acumen to build a megachurch like he had.
But Long had shown a different public face lately, McDonald said. His entourage wasn’t as big; he was more visible in the community.
“I found him opening up,” McDonald said. “If he can pick that back up and humble himself and stop saying things like, ‘I ain’t just another chicken-eating preacher,’ he’ll survive.”
Lee, the Tulane sociologist, said Long will remain in the pulpit for another reason.
“This is what he knows,” Lee said. “He’s not going to be able to sell insurance or cars. He’s cocky. He’s confident. He believes in redemption.”
My Take: No justice in Eddie Long's settlement
Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
The Roman Catholic Church isn't the only religious institution that has failed to respond directly and transparently to allegations of sexual impropriety.
Bishop Eddie Long, the pastor of the Georgia-based New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, has just settled out of court with the four young men who alleged Long had sexually coerced them. And neither side is talking.
After the allegations surfaced last September, Long said he would “vigorously” defend himself against charges that he used a combination of spiritual authority and material enticements (cars, jewelry, cash) to curry sexual favors from the men, who were 17 and 18 at the time.
Not any more, at least not in court.
And Long’s accusers won’t be talking either. B. J. Bernstein, their lawyer, said yesterday that they would not discuss the matter “now or in the future.”
Over the last few decades, observers of the Roman Catholic Church sex scandal have rightly argued for transparency — for taking sexual assault cases out of the hands of the secretive old boys network of priests and bishops and bringing them out into the open, including into the courts.
Why? So justice could be done, and so Catholic parents might come to feel safe once again entrusting their children to the care of priests.
American Zen centers have dealt in recent years with their own contagion of sexual abuse allegations against Zen masters, and they have done so with remarkable candor and transparency.
In December, a group of Zen leaders wrote a series of letters calling for the dismissal of Eido Tai Shimano from his position as abbot of the New York-based Zen Studies Society.
In her letter concerning the this case, Joan Halifax, founding abbot of the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, did not pull any punches. She called Shimano an “embarrassment to Buddhism” and his behavior, brought to national attention last August in the New York Times, “abusive, gender-biased, predatory, misogynistic.”
But she also compared the situation to “family members in a dysfunctional family,” adding that the wider Buddhist community was “complicit in some way . . . as we all knew what was going on."
To be fair to Long, the case against Eido Shimano was clearer cut (recently unsealed papers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa detail decades of sexual liasons with his female students), as are many of the cases against pedophile priests. But the reason we can say that is because the evidence has come out.
In Catholicism’s sex scandals, critics have commonly criticized structural issues. Rather than blaming this priest or that, they have blamed the Catholic practice of clerical celibacy. Or, in the case of a recent study by researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, they blamed the permissiveness of the 1960s.
So I have to wonder whether there are structural issues in the Long case also. As names such as Swaggart, Bakker and Haggard remind us, he is not the first megachurch pastor accused of sexual abuse.
The Protestant Reformation was in part about getting away from the authority of priests and popes. Why approach God indirectly when you can do so directly, Protestants asked. Why not read the Bible for yourself?
Unfortunately, there isn't much evidence that many American Protestants today are reading scripture with frequency or care. On a battery of 12 questions about Christianity and the Bible, American Protestants got 6.5 questions right on average, for a score of 54%. Many must rely on pastors like Long to tell them what to do and think.
In her letter, Halifax discussed the dangers of “being under the spell of a teacher or person of authority.” But Christians fall under that spell too. And as they do, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to imagine that their ministers might be sexual predators.
I do not know what Bishop Eddie Long did or did not do with these four young men. I will say, however, that I am predisposed in these cases to give credence to the accusations of the alleged victims, if only because I have seen sexual coercion happen so often in religious groups.
A civil trial might have changed that predisposition. And a complete and public investigation of Long’s actions by the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church could have done the same.
It’s a shame that neither of those things are going to happen. And those who have the most to be ashamed of — perhaps more than Long himself — are the people in the pews who come every weekend to worship him.
If you aren’t familiar with Long’s preaching style, you can view a sermon he gave in 2000 called “Stop the Cover Up.” To which I can only say, "Amen."
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
This article was found at:
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