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WOLVES IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING?


By Keon M. McGuire
| With thanks to NewBlackMan

Monday, June 27, 2011.


Much attention has been (re)devoted to the Atlanta megachurch pastor of New Birth, Bishop Eddie Long, since his recent out of court settlement of an alleged $25million in his hopes to bring an end to a saga dating back to September 2010, in which he was accused of sexual improprieties with four young men – Anthony Flagg, Spencer LeGrande, Jamal Parris and Maurice Robinson. Long’s first sermon to his congregation post the allegations was at best a rhetorical “two-step” around the issue as he stated “I’ve never claimed to be a perfect man . . . but I’m certainly not the man they’re portraying in the media” (paraphrased). A casual listener may accurately surmise that while this was no admission of guilt, it was far from a declaration of innocence. Long concluded his sermon by likening himself to David – the young, pre-sex scandal David – facing Goliath and ready for battle; yet, he had yet to throw one stone.


Potentially most troublesome is that most of the media attention surrounding Long’s fall from (some) grace has, in many ways, ignored the serious trauma experienced by the four young men. The most recent dismissal and downplaying of their experiences came from Bishop Long’s friend, Creflo Dollar. Also himself an Atlanta megachurch pastor, Dollar  recently addressed “his” congregation explicitly about Long’s incident. Dollar’s constant referral to Long’s wreck (re: sexual indiscretion) seems to be the closest we will get to an actual confession of some guilt. Yet, the term wreck in itself exemplifies the negligent care and concern offered these young men. Unless we agree that emotional and psychological damage and coerced sexual interactions constitutes just a “wreck”. I disagree. As a friend pointed out, such bully tactics used to keep the people quiet only serves to perpetuate the predator’s – yes, Eddie Long’s – power.  Tamura Lomax offers an exceptional critique of the violence that surrounds this incident and how the church has pattern of condoning clergy’s abuse of power.


Dollar’s defense of Long’s “wreck” went viral, primarily because of his rant in which he told anyone who was a member of Long’s church that they could not join “his” congregation. He did not want them at “his” church! Why? Because according to Dollar, Long was still anointed for his position and he was still going to heaven. Since when did Dollar become St. Peter at the pearly gates eludes me? But then again, we might have missed that while we were all awaiting the rapture. While several have pointed to the faux theological grounding for Dollar’s claims, it is his justifications of Long’s actions and his critique of BOTH his and Long’s parishioners that demonstrate the seductive (and dangerous) nature of soft patriarchy.


At some point Dollar pauses and states: “That pastor [Long] has loved ‘em, taken care of ‘em, and given to ‘em and done that” and later “taught them how to tie their shoes.” One is left wondering: so does that make everything ok? Does the benevolent father (or soft patriarch) get a pass because he delivered gifts and presents? I borrow the term soft patriarch from Christian Feminist Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen to describe the ways in which modern Christianity has created a theologically justified and sociopolitical “necessary” masculinity that does not rely on the brute (physical) force typically associated with (destructive) hypermasculinity. Nonetheless it comes with the same privileges. Often offered as a male servant, it never challenges or disrupts the (heterosexual) male’s right to leadership and authority.


Long’s service to those young men, thus, excuses his wreck. I mean after all, he did fulfill his responsibility of soft patriarch by not “physically” abusing them or neglecting them financially. Considering the constant critique of absentee fathers in the Black community, the soft patriarch is (re)presented as the antithesis of the negligent Black male who is never physically present in the home, absolves himself of all financial responsibility and neglects the mentoring of his children – particularly his Black son(s). Thus, Long receives a pass as, according to Dollar, he did teach them to tie their shoes.


Although soft patriarchy may purport to be the better of the two, we must remember – it is still patriarchy. Meaning, among other things, Long’s authority and position does not require him to be equitably accountable to these young men, his congregation, or the broader faith community we are apart of, beyond the terms established by him and his lawyers. And if his parishioners dare decide – as critical, conscious human beings – to choose another worship community, they are publicly chastised for being disloyal, spiritually immature (Black) Christians. I emphasize Black because Dollar, in one instance, tells the congregation “You clap your hands now, but let me have a wreck, I wonder how many of you Negroes will still be here . . . I mean precious saints of God”. Dollar, in that one statement, effectively rehearses a racist trope of Black cultural relations; essentially stating, “You all know Black folks don’t know how to be loyal and unify. You say one thing and do another”. Dollar’s odd, but not surprising, rhetorical gesture left me thinking – well dag, I guess I need God to help me fight my flawed humanity AND fix and cleanse me of my Blackness!


I’m sure this will not be the last hooray we hear from Long, Dollar or others in their positions. However, I’m sadly disappointed as I’m not sure those who share the same Christian capital and public platforms similar to Long and Dollar will publicly push back against these bully tactics. In addition, I’m not sure we, as a faith community, will demand and require a critical redefining of Christian masculinity. One that is more accountable to the people served and one that does not receive passes because of its perceived distance from the “Other” Black guy.


Long may have compared himself to David, but he may be more like his predecessor Saul. The same Saul who didn’t follow God’s instructions and instead of coming clean, attempted to offer a sacrifice instead. From Saul’s mishaps we learned that God honors obedience over sacrifice. As a result, God chose David to replace him because he was no longer fit to lead. While I’m not saying Bishop Long will leave his pastoral post, I do believe it gives us another Biblical figure through which we can think through this fiasco.


***


Keon McGuire is a third year doctoral student in Higher Education and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on issues of race and gender among Black college students. You can follow him on Twitter @YngBlkScholar


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