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.
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.