Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bishop Long & The Arc of Inevitability

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (MATTHEW 19:24)

Yeah, yeah, presumed innocent until found guilty, and all that. But there is a certain arc of inevitability to the news that New Birth mega-church bishop and homophobe Eddie Long coerced boys into homosexual sex acts. You are probably familiar with the arc since a goodly number of other godly types have ridden it: A charge is made, the clergyman denies everything, his congregation rallies around him, the trickle of allegations become a torrent, and the clergyman, proud but shamed, eventually acknowledges that he has sinned.

As Jelani Cobb notes, what is different about Long is that he is filthy rich and ostentatiously gaudy with a Bentley and bodyguards, presides over a huge 25,000 member congregation outside of Atlanta and occupies a special "niche in the Atlanta ecosystem."

Long's prosperity gospel message is preached to a community where many blacks have climbed into the middle class and realized the American dream of owning a home in the suburbs. And while that message in not necessarily inconsistent with that preached by Drs. Martin Luther King Sr. and Jr. and their successors at Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta, it stands in contrast to Ebenezer's social justice meme. (In fact, Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin and Coretta Scott King, is a minister at New Birth.)

Cobb, who attended a service at New Age on Sunday, was seen scribbling notes by an usher and ended up being escorted from the church by two armed Dekalb Country sheriffs deputies.

"The crowd," writes Cobb, "roared their approval as I was taken from the building. They see themselves as besieged by nonbelievers and devilry that seeks to undo God's work. Exorcising one journalist from the room was cause for celebration.

"Yet even as I was hustled out the exit I couldn't help but think that the ghosts of unresolved questions about harm and hypocrisy would linger and haunt the Bishop for a good while to come."

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