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Posted by on Sep 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

Bishop Eddie Long The Baptist?

Religion Dispatches recently posted an article by Christa Brown titled Eddie Long: The Real Scandal is Even Bigger.  Brown is the Baptist coordinator for SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests).  In the article, Brown writes:

The case of Baptist pastor Eddie Long isn’t about gay sex; it’s not about black churches; and it’s not about megachurches. The case is about allegations of clergy sex abuse and the systemic lack of accountability for Baptist clergy.

Brown continues:

Unlike other major faith groups that have denominational systems for disciplining their clergy, with Baptists, criminal conviction is often the only means of getting a man removed from ministry. Most Baptist groups don’t even bother with denominational record-keeping on credibly-accused clergy, much less with processes for revoking their ordinations.

Because Baptist systems of accountability are so lacking, if a Baptist preacher isn’t sitting in prison, he can usually find a pulpit to stand in.

And contrary to what some have suggested, this safety gap is a problem for almost all Baptist churches, and not merely for the megachurches or charismatic churches. Baptists proclaim the autonomy of the local church, and most Baptist faith groups, including Southern Baptists, have effectively distorted that autonomy doctrine into a false wall for protecting the powerful and avoiding outside scrutiny.

This is the first column I’ve seen about Bishop Eddie Long The Baptist.  Well, what kind of Baptist is Bishop Long?  After all, how many Baptist pastors carry the title “Bishop”??  The “Bishop” title should suggest that Eddie Long is most definitely a different kind of Baptist.

But this article by Christa Brown offers no insight on Long’s Baptist identity.  Brown does not even mention the Bishop’s denominational affiliation.  Does New Birth even have such an affiliation?  Brown speaks of “most Baptist faith groups.”  Is Bishop Eddie Long a typical Baptist?

Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church was once affiliated with the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship.  FGBCF describes itself as a “muti-cultural” and “multi-denominational” organization.

While Paul Morton was the principal founder of the Full Gospel Fellowship, Long is often referred to as one of the organization’s “Founding Fathers.”  The Full Gospel Fellowship was founded in 1994 in an attempt to “bridge the gap” between Baptist and Pentecostal faiths.  Charismatic gifts such as tongues were affirmed.  Long was consecrated as the third presiding Bishop of the Full Gospel Fellowship in early 1994.

Unlike other Baptist groups, Full Gospel Fellowship does not have a congregational system of governance.  Instead, it has an episcopal hierarchy featuring “Tiers of Leadership” including an Executive Council, Bishops Council, Auxillary Bishops, Regional Bishops, State Bishops, State Overseers, General Overseers, and District Overseers.  According to one Baptist historian, traditional African-American denominations “objected to [Full Gospel Fellowship’s] charismatic theology and opposed their strong episcopal structure as threats to Baptist polity.”

Bishop Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church later left the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship as did many of the organization’s “Founding Fathers.”  Once a Bishop in a “multi-denominational” and “Baptist” organization with an episcopal hierarchy, Long is now the senior pastor of a church with no denominational affiliation.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the deacons of New Birth “relinquished control of the church” to Long back in the mid-1990s.  The AJC compared this decision to “a city council telling the mayor he could make all future decisions without its input.”

Simply put, Bishop Eddie Long is accountable to no one.  Not even his own congregation.

Christa Brown uses the example of Eddie Long to make a larger critique of Baptist polity.  But using Long as an example just doesn’t work.  Brown has long argued for Baptist groups to exercise more denominational oversight over local congregations.  But Long and New Birth have no denominational affiliation.  What then?

Brown leaves her readers with the impression that New Birth is a typical Baptist church, that like most Baptist congregations is in cooperation with and relates to a larger group or denomination.  That’s obviously not the case here.  Additional details about Long’s Baptist identity and New Birth’s lack of denominational affiliation could have helped to produce a more informed analysis about “Baptist” minister Bishop Eddie Long.

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  1. Well said, but it won’t be received well at all.

  2. Like so many “ministers” today. Long is a business owner. His church is a tax exempt business which keeps he and his family supplied with luxury cars, expensive clothes, homes, women, (in Long’s case maybe little boys) and who knows what else.

  3. Christa Brown has left a comment on her blog in response to what she’s read on other Baptist blogs about Eddie Long. Here it is:

    “On other blogs, I’ve seen quite a few Southern Baptists squirming over the fact that this guy is a “Baptist.” Some seem to want to argue that he’s not really a “Baptist” even though his 25,000 member church is called a “Baptist” church. But of course, that’s exactly my point . . . From the megas to the storefronts, from the independents to those that are part of the largest denomination in the land, almost ALL Baptist groups are failing miserably at effectively addressing clergy sex abuse. (On a more humerous note, I also think it’s kinda funny to realize that, before this news hit the fan, some of the same guys who are now trying to say that Long wasn’t really “Baptist” were probably proud of the fact that his “successful” 25,000 member church carried the “Baptist” name.)”

  4. I haven’t seen anyone “squirm.”

    I’m not even sure Eddie Long would refer to himself as a Baptist. In fact, he has repeatedly referred to himself as a “Bapticostal” who received “baptism of the Holy Spirit” at a Jimmy Swaggart crusade in the mid 1980s.

    The organization that Long helped found (which bestowed on him the “Bishop” title) refers to itself as “multi-denominational” The Bishop clearly has an identity. But I do not recognize a Baptist identity. Long is a Baptist by birth. His father was a Baptist pastor known as the “cussing pastor.” Bapticostal seems to be a more appropriate description as he is an influential force in the nondenominational pentecostal/charismatic corner of the Black Church.

    I don’t know anyone that would be “proud” of the fact that New Birth carries the “Baptist” name as Brown writes. Long is a prominent proponent of the Prosperity Gospel. Most informed folks are either supporters of PG or adamantly opposed to it. There really isn’t much of a middle ground. And the major Baptist groups – black, white, Hispanic – eschew the Prosperity Gospel that Long preaches.

    Brown should have spent a bit more time learning about her subject. It doesn’t make sense to use the example of an essentially nondenominational Independent Baptist preacher to make a point about the state of accountability structures of Baptist groups.

    Long is not part of a Baptist group. So what then?

  5. I agree with you, Weave. There’s nothing Baptist about a bishop, or about a church without any Baptist identity or affiliations.
    I do want to clarify one comment that has been made, though. While I vehemently abhor what Eddie Long has done–particularly given that clearly preaches one thing (homophobia and faithfulness to one’s spouse) and practices another (homosexuality and cheating)–I think it should be clarified that he did not molest little boys. Eddie Long abused his power, took advantage of young men, and is an utter hypocrite, but he’s not a pedophile, nor has he been accused of pedophilia. I simply think it’s important not to conflate the two. Both are awful, but they are not the same.

  6. Yea, I’ve seen Bishop described as a pedophile in numerous places. In fact, one blog I read offered a link with a medical definition about pedophilia but then proceeded to describe Long as such. As you note, there’s no evidence to suggest he’s a pedophile.

  7. Christa Brown has a new post up about the Bishop that deals in part with some of the issues that I’ve raised and have been responding to. Her post is here:

    Due to a couple of recent incidents with my comments being censored or edited, I now generally try to avoid posting detailed comments on the blogs and websites of individuals that I don’t know and/or don’t trust.

    My brief response to Christa Brown is below:

    I agree that the media should take a closer look at Eddie Long’s theology and New Birth’s identity. Upon closer examination, the media would find that New Birth lacks anything that resembles a Baptist identity in terms of both theology and ecclesiology. They will find that Long helped found a “multi-denominational” religious group that his church uniquely aligned with in the 1990s and that Long is a self-described “Bapticostal” (as reported by the media in the past).

    It’s true that almost anyone can call himself or herself a “Baptist preacher.” But does Long even do this? It’s also true that almost anyone can call himself a preacher, priest, ordained minister, etc. Same thing applies for churches. There are more than a few independent congregations with Methodist, Catholic, Evangelical, Lutheran, Christian, etc. in their name.

    Christa writes: “And when something goes wrong, there is no one who will take responsibility or exercise oversight.”

    Perhaps someone can explain who is supposed to “take responsibility or exercise oversight” on an authentically independent congregation. In such situations, the congregation bears responsibility as Harvey Cox has noted. But, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the New Birth congregation “relinquished control” to Long.

    Southern Baptists and other Baptist denominations can take steps to responsibly address the problem. What then do you propose as a solution for autonomous congregations like New Birth with no denominational ties?

  8. “Due to a couple of recent incidents with my comments being censored or edited…”

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to, but on my own blog, if you were commenting with your name, as opposed to Anonymously, I don’t think I’ve ever censored or edited one of your comments. (Even with Anonymous comments, I’m more generous than many blog sponsors and it’s pretty unusual for me to censor even an anonymous comment.)

    If anyone is really interested in what I think of the Eddie Long case, I hope you’ll read my own words on my StopBaptistPredators blog. I did postings about it on Oct. 2, Sept. 29 and Sept. 28. And the posting I did about G.R.A.C.E. on Sept. 4 might have some relevance to Aaron’s question about what independent and nondenominational congregations could do for dealing with clergy sex abuse. But for the most part, I would simply say this: Given that Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination in the land, with the most kids and congregants at risk, I would be pretty happy if Southern Baptists would focus on their own problems and would work at realistically addressing clergy sex abuse in a cooperative and effective manner and in a way that treats clergy abuse survivors with compassion and care.

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