(Photo: New Birth Missionary Baptist Church via The Christian Post)
A popular political and economic analyst and African-American culture critic has stirred controversy with a column bashing Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church over his multiple sexual misconduct allegations, calling the Atlanta, Ga., minister a "bold-faced liar."
Dr. Boyce Watkins, a published author and Scholar in Residence in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Syracuse University, bashed the Georgia minister, known for multiple controversies including alleged sexual misconduct with male church members. The critic expressed admiration that the young men who accused Long have been speaking out, "in spite of the consequences for doing so," which he expressed in a column in his online publication, Your Black World.
"They've been ridiculed and attacked by Eddie Long supporters, dealt with the stigma of being involved in a homosexual relationship, been publicly chastised by their attorney and lost hundreds of thousands (some say millions) of dollars by telling their secrets to the world," Watkins wrote.
The critic was not picky in his wording nor did he hide his antipathy for Long, came to a settlement agreement with his accusers instead of taking the case to court.
"Eddie Long proved himself nothing less than a bold-faced liar by demanding confidentiality in his settlement with the boys," Watkins raged. "After promising at the start of the scandal that the truth would eventually come out, Long ran from the truth like a smelly dog avoiding the bath tub."
Long has been involved in several controversies, ranging from questionable business practices to accusations of seriously unethical conduct. In 2005, the minister was questioned in regards to unclear circumstances in which he received a dazzling salary of $3.07 million worth of compensation and benefits from his eponymous non-profit charity, Bishop Eddie Long Ministries Inc., according to reports. In October, the embattled minister was accused of encouraging several congregants to unwittingly invest in a $1 million Ponzi scheme. Long had also reached a settlement previously in a property lawsuit over a default on a $2 million loan he took out in Aug. 2007 to buy a local gymnasium.
Most recently, the bishop's wife, Vanessa Long, announced at the beginning of December she had filed for divorce, after "a great deal of deliberation and prayer." After that occurrence, which at first seemed to be the straw that broke the camel's back, Long left the pulpit of his megachurch briefly only to return on New Years' Eve.
The sexual misconduct allegations broke in Sept. 2010, when New Birth members Maurice Robinson, Anthony Flagg, and Jamal Parris filed separate lawsuits in DeKalb County Superior Court alleging that Long used his pastoral influence to coerce them into a sexual relationship. A few days later, Spencer LeGrande, a member of a New Birth satellite church in Charlotte, N.C., filed a similar lawsuit, making him the fourth man to accuse Long of sexual misconduct. There was also a fifth accuser, according to media reports, Centino Kemp, who never filed an official lawsuit. However, it was suspected that he also reached an out-of-court settlement with Long. He was not a member of the minister's church.
The accusers claimed that Long placed them on the church's payroll, bought them cars and other gifts, and took them separately on trips to places like Kenya, South Africa, Turks and Caicos Islands, Trinidad, Honduras, and New Zealand. The lawsuits reportedly stated that Long would "discuss the Holy Scripture to justify and support the sexual activity." Flagg's suit claims that Long presided over a "covenant" ceremony between the two of them; Flagg's attorney said that the ceremony was "essentially a marriage ceremony, with candles, exchange of jewelry, and biblical quotes."
Long denied the allegations through his attorneys and spokesman. In a prepared statement, Long said, "I have devoted my life to helping others and these false allegations hurt me deeply."
The issue attracted additional attention because Long has been known as a staunch opponent of same-sex relationships.
The charges against Long were dropped in May, following an agreement that the alleged victims would keep silent about the allegations. However, the young men did not cease speaking out. In October, the attorney representing three of the men dropped her clients after they violated their confidentiality agreement. Lawyer Brenda Joy (BJ) Bernstein and co-counsel Jay Sadd decided to drop Jamal Parris, Spencer LaGrande and Centino Kemp. The men reportedly spoke out about the alleged sexual relationships with Long, including to the press. In addition, Kemp wrote tweets such as "I was literally your hooker," and then in one directed @BishopEddieLong he wrote "why that's all I want to no." Kemp even gave a TV interview later. He also penned a book, The First Lady, in which he described issues from "adverse relationships with the male figures in his life … to his struggles with his own sexuality," according to the book's synopsis.
In his column, Watkins suggested that Long was only acquitted because of his money. The accusers' "bold decision to speak rips a gaping hole in the widely-accepted notion that having enough money can forgive even the worst of sins," he wrote.
He also compared Long to singer R. Kelly, who was accused of having a sexual encounter with an underage girl in 2008, which was allegedly caught on tape.
"Unfortunately, in too many situations (i.e. R. Kelly and all those little girls in Chicago), greasing a few pockets can keep the dirtiest, most despicable behavior from seeing the light of day," the critic wrote. "What is most interesting is that the rule even applies in many houses of God."
The fact that such allegations are taking place within a popular church has been troubling to the Christian community and have draw mixed reactions. Notably, in December, T.D. Jakes of Texas-based The Potter's House commented on the sexual misconduct allegations seeming to stand more on the side of Long, saying that "if there was actually misconduct," the young men involved in the case were old enough to make their own decisions. They are not juveniles, he noted.
Meanwhile, Watkins is siding very obviously with the alleged victims, likening their case to other allegations of sexual abuse within the church.
"In some ways, you can almost say that we've become addicted to the idea of idolizing our religious figures and like any drug addict on the corner, our ability to think rationally goes right out the window," he wrote in the column.
The critic called on Long's accusers to continue speaking out, suggesting that they might encourage other alleged victims in similar situations that could be hiding, afraid of speaking out.
"The 'Boys of Eddie Long' should continue to speak, but not just for themselves," Watkins wrote. "They need to speak loudly and boldly for every other abuse victim suffering quietly in the darkest corners of our society. The stories we hear are simply the tip of the iceberg. For every person who speaks up, there are 20 more who were afraid to say anything. We must do all we can to give them courage and to let them know that it wasn't their fault."
The Christian Post was unable to reach Long or a representative for comment by time of press.