Recently, Black America has been engulfed in a steady stream of riveting news. From Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s (D-Ill.) involvement in a scandal involving potential financial improprieties and a “social acquaintance,” to allegations of sexual misconduct levied against Atlanta megachurch pastor Bishop Eddie Long by several young men, the Black blogosphere has been in overdrive.
There are some people in the Black community who are lamenting that these scandals reinforce the image of Black men as sexual philanderers and deviants. I would argue that such a myopic, misguided viewpoint is unwarranted and unfounded. If he is guilty of such charges, Long won’t be the first minister to fall from grace. Ted Haggard, a White minister who led New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., admitted to being involved with a male prostitute and illegal drug use. In the late 1980s, Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart made headlines for scandals involving inappropriate sexual liaisons. Decades later, both men have resurrected their careers to some degree.
Politicians embroiled in sex scandals in the past include former Florida State Rep. Bob Allen, former Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, former California State Sen. Roy Ashburn, soon-to-be-former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevy and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. All of these men engaged in hypocrisy because they were staunch critics of prostitution, civil unions and adultery, while at the same time, participating in such behavior. Like their counterparts in the ministry, several of these men have rebuilt their lives. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, who was caught cavorting with New Orleans prostitutes a few years ago, seems to be headed toward an easy re-election.
If the allegations against Long are true, they represent a shameful level of arrogance, hypocrisy and denial. It may also demonstrate a large degree of self–hatred. The Sept. 25 speech Long delivered to his congregation seemed peppered with too much ambiguity and doublespeak to assuage concerns from those of us who want believe in his innocence.
However, the larger issue that arises from this situation is that far too often there has been a code of silence regarding the behavior of the Black church on some issues, including demonizing gays, ignoring sexual exploitation and violence against Black women or neglecting the plight of the poor and needy in their churches and surrounding communities. Ministers and their associates live lavish lifestyles while frequently serving congregations that are often politically, socially and economically marginalized. It’s unacceptable for Black Americans, a group that can attest to the effects of discrimination, economic disenfranchisement and hostile indifference, to tolerate such transgressions. There are many people who are actively involved in mentoring young people as much as we can, donating our time and financial resources to uplifting our communities. Nonetheless, there are others who are content to be armchair critics from a distance. This is a situation that must change. The issues facing the Black church are much bigger than the circumstances surrounding Long.
Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008).