Opinion

Another televangelist flames out

Ron Hart Contributor

After four lawsuits alleging he coerced young males into sexual relationships were filed, Georgia pastor Eddie Long took to the pulpit Sunday to carefully nuance his side of the story.

Long, the charismatic who leads his mega-church of 26,000 members, told reporters after Sunday’s service that he would challenge the allegations. Joined by members of his legal team, he carefully read from prepared remarks — always a sign of innocence.

By now we know how the redemptive process works for a televangelist accused of sexual relations with young males.  First there is the allegation. Then there is the carefully worded, non-denial denial in which he says he will “fight the charges.” Then the preacher puts his jet and all the money he has yet to get into the bankruptcy-proof corporate shell he controls. Then his lawyers handle the settlements while the preacher gives lots of ensuing sermons on forgiveness.

The allegations were particularly interesting because over the years Long, who is married, has campaigned aggressively against homosexuality. It has become a preacher’s job to tell his flock what to be afraid of and how to vote. I find it interesting that, based on the same Bible, black preachers tell their followers to vote for Democrats and white preachers usually tell theirs to vote for Republicans.

Bishop Long’s followers will forgive him — because he will tell them to.

Looking back, those parishioners should have known something was up when Bishop Long insisted they chant “Fabulous!” instead of “Amen” after he made his point preaching.

Most evangelicals maintain that being gay is an addiction, like smoking. Except you can do the gay thing on commercial aircraft as long as you don’t tamper with the smoke detector.

The four boys who filed the suit against Long said he used jewelry to entice them into sexual relationships. I am not an expert on gays, but I have watched Will and Grace and I am pretty sure dangling fancy bracelets as bait only works when the target has a preexisting proclivity for prancing.

I have written about such cases in the past, most notably in my award-eligible column about defrocked Reverend Ted Haggard, “Ministers Should do More than Lay People.” I am starting to understand why all those Bibles end up in hotel rooms.

After Ted Haggard finally admitted to using money from his own mega-church to buy drugs and male prostitutes (talk about robbing Paul to pay for Peter), he went into a religious program to de-gay himself. It was supposed to be a three-week program but he only had time for about a week. They said, “Fine, that will probably about do it.” The final exam consisted of seeing whether Haggard could watch a complete NASCAR race while the Tony Awards were broadcast on another channel.

Atlanta, voted the best place for a black male on the “down-low,” has its share of mega-church preachers with Lear jets. I am pretty sure it is written somewhere in the Bible (I’m not exactly sure where because I skipped around a lot) that Jesus would have had a G4 jet and handlers to chauffer him around Jerusalem had the technology existed back then. If the Pope can have jets and Pope-mobiles, it seems only fair under affirmative action that Preacher Eddie Long also be allowed to enjoy such worldly pleasures.

It is an age-old story. Charismatics promote their moral superiority in their quest to tell others what to do, while they take 10% of their followers’ income as a tithe in the name of God. God is a great silent business partner for these guys because He lends credibility and gravitas and does not take a cut of the action. I’m no theologian, but using the fear of God to take advantage of the vulnerable has to be one of the worst things done in the name of religion — right behind using it as justification to go to war.

The inherent hypocrisy of the Eddie Long scandal is just one more event that should make us re-think the anti-gay sentiment in America that causes many to be closeted and prey on our kids. Reverends Long and Haggard and pedophile priests fall into the same camp — a camp to which you do not want to send your son.

Maybe Long can join Haggard and all those Catholic priests accused of molesting boys in a Million Man March against homosexuality. I bet they would like that.

Ron Hart is a syndicated op-ed humorist, author and TV/radio commentator. Email Ron@RonaldHart.com or at visit RonaldHart.com