While thanking the late controversial megachurch preacher Eddie Long for being a benefactor who helped pay his way at Morehouse College, Pastor Jamal Bryant of Northwest Baltimore's popular Empowerment Temple, said the church failed his victims.
Bryant, 45, who has not been without his share of personal controversies, readily admits that he more than anyone needs grace and mercy. He asked apologists of Long's tainted ministry this week, however, to not pretend as if Long, who led New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, did not leave behind a trail of victims.
"I do not know how in this hour, there are those who are crying out and we do not recognize the tears or the cry for help, that the body of Christ has said nothing about ministering to victims. I know people are gonna be upset with me. I know you don't want to talk about this. But here's the reality, we didn't talk about it in bishop's life ... and at this point, many would argue, it is inappropriate to deal with it on the day after his death, and maybe, I don't know," said Bryant. "I do know the church has to deal with it."
New Birth announced the death of their leader in a statement Sunday morning, saying he died after "a gallant private fight with an aggressive form of cancer."
For years, up until the very day he died, however, Long was dogged by a cloud of allegations stemming from lawsuits filed by multiple men in 2010 who claimed he engaged them in sexual acts.
He settled with his accusers — Anthony Flagg, Maurice Robinson, Jamal Parris and Spencer LeGrande — in May 2011, approximately eight months after they charged he had coerced them into having sexual relationships with him while they were teenage members of his congregation.
Bryant said some Christians became "irate" because of "allegations, because of charges" when Long's death was announced while others called for people to have mercy and extend grace for the departed preacher.
Those asking for grace for Long, he argued, appear to believe grace excuses its recipients from responsibility and accountability.
"I think many of you think that mercy and grace is a free card that abandons responsibility and accountability. To that end, the church is on trial and I'm not talking about New Birth, I'm not talking about Empowerment Temple. The body of Christ is on trial and you don't even realize that our testimony is being tainted because we are not speaking the truth, the whole truth and nothing but, under oath," said Bryant.
"Over the last two weeks, the church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has been on trial and so far we're coming back guilty. Guilty of a half-cocked gospel that is not in fact fool-proof to a 21st century environment. We need a 21st century strategy, not a 1970 approach.
"We must deal with victims of abuse on every level. And yes, I understand that people come from varying degrees, but I want to ask you: How would the church, society, black people respond, if the allegations were not boys but girls?" he questioned.
"If the allegations were girls said that they were in fact being groomed and taken out of the country, then at what point would we deal with it?" he asked.
"Yes, forgiveness comes in absolutely, but biblically again, you ask for forgiveness. I'm not talking about legality, I'm not talking about a contract, I'm not talking about insurance settlements, I'm talking about when will the church deal with abuse and issues?"
Bryant raised the issue of accountability for Long even while highlighting the contributions the late preacher made to Christian ministry and the city of Atlanta.
He also revealed what he calls a very little known fact about his relationship with Long.
The Baltimore preacher said when his parents returned to the United States after serving as AME missionaries in Africa, they were cash-strapped and it was Long who came to their rescue.
"My parents had absolutely no money and Bishop Long helped pay my tuition at Morehouse College, and I am eternally grateful for him making that deposit and that impact in my life. With absolutely no fanfare, he never announced it from his pulpit, over a microphone, even to this day. Many of you had not known that. So, I want to extend to his biological children, thank you for extending your father to make that kind of contribution into the lives of other people," said Bryant.
But it was time, he said, for the church to stop minimizing abuse and tackle it, especially as it pertains to the church's relationship with the LGBT community.
"When we talk about abuse, we minimize it to just physical. Emotional abuse — we don't say anything. Yes, the forgiveness is needed and necessary after there is an admittance of what is taking place in our churches. In our communities, in our sanctuaries, and our crime of being silent," Bryant said.
"The LGBT released last week that now 13 percent of the U.S. population falls under the banner of the LGBT community and the church won't have a conversation," he said.
"As a consequence of what happened last week with Kim Burrell, we immediately went to emotionalism and absent of conversation. And we do not realize in dealing with it, we deal with just sexuality and not humanity. That we would in fact act as if we are talking about objects and not individuals when these are our sons, these are our daughters. And we reduce it by saying, 'Oh, it's just somebody in the choir,'" Bryant said.
"No," he continued. "It's in the deacon board, the pulpit, it's in the balcony, it's in the kitchen, and at some point we're gonna have to have a church conversation that says we acknowledge the humanity of every person and it warrants a dialogue."
He continued further: "If we don't broker it on the outskirts of death, can we have dialogue after the funeral? Because I gotta tell you this: We cannot cremate the issue, the issue is here, the issue demands redress, the issue demands conversation, the issue demands patience and process, and not dictation..."
Long's memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Jan. 25 at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia. His body will lie in-repose from 8 a.m. until the service begins.
Visitation will also be held from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Jan. 24 at the church, according to Gregory B. Levett & Sons Funeral Homes & Crematory, which is in charge of arrangements.
The family requests that any floral arrangements be in white or off-white.