Bishop Eddie Long was the viciously homophobic leader of a black church who was exposed for having sex with teenage boys.
So no wonder his death has sparked an incredible rumor – was it AIDS-related?
Long died, aged 63, on Sunday (15 January) from an unnamed aggressive cancer resulting in dramatic weight lost.
Now many in the Black Church are wondering if his death was due to AIDS. Was he HIV positive and too embarrassed to admit it or seek medical care until it was too late?
‘If he had it (HIV or AIDS) where in all of Georgia or the South for that matter could the Bishop had gone for treatment and the news not get out?’ Tiffany Jones of Decatur, Georgia told me over the phone.
The rumors – not independently substantiated – had been fuelled by online gossip sites from at least last summer.
Long’s parishioners watched, worried and asked about his weight loss. But Long reassuringly attributed the slimming down to a diet of healthy raw vegetables.
‘I said to my congregation that I’m going to live to be 100 years old, maybe add a few more years. But you know what, I wasn’t going to get there by stopping by Popeyes,’ he stated in an online video posted for his church.
‘That was my weakness. The biscuits with honey and chicken wings, spicy, and all of that. Many of us are still eating from a slave menu, you need to check that out.’
Long legacy of LGBTI hate
Long was a flamboyant man, and liked to flaunt it. He was one of the Black Church’s prominent pastors of ‘prosperity gospel’. His bling-bling theology unabashedly flashed his Gucci sunglasses, gold necklaces, and Rolex watches. And he unapologetically flashed his muscular physique in the latest too tight-fitting spandex workout togs.
But this façade didn’t hide his nastier side.
The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Long ‘one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement’.
So his private life sent a seismic shock across the Black Church when news broke out about his sexual exploits. Four male teenagers claimed Long coerced them into having sex with him while they were enrolled in his ministry for teen boys.
Gossip-mongers have long suggested Long was gay. Those inside Long’s stained-glass closet at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church knew of the bishop’s penchant for pubescent boys, whom he called ‘spiritual sons’.
Long sails up women’s ‘canal’ then heads to the men’s ‘exit’
Sadly, Long, like too many African American ministers on the ‘down low,’ used his pulpit to bully and denounce LGBTIs.
He staged an infamous anti-marriage equality march in December 2004 titled ‘Stop the Silence,’ with MLK’s daughter, the Rev Bernice King in tow.
Long stated then: ‘In essence, God made Eve to help Adam replenish the earth. Woman has the canal… everything else is an exit… Cloning, homosexuality, and lesbianism are spiritual abortions. Homosexuality is a manifestation of the fallen man.’
And King used the opportunity to speculate about her father’s viewpoint on marriage equality.
She stated at the march ‘I know in my sanctified soul that he [Martin Luther King] did not take a bullet for same-sex marriage.’
Long was not the only one. Many other gay or rumored-to-be-gay people in the church also denounce homosexuality. The mess Long found himself in is emblematic of the Black Church’s down low ‘politic of silence’ concerning sexuality, HIV and AIDS. This silence is killing my community.
Many African-American men on the down low say two things contribute to this subculture – white gay culture and the Black Church.
The Black Church’s conservative gender roles, outdated gender identities, and anti-gay theology create a hidden community of down low male clerics. Those priests find camaraderie at all-male conferences. And that’s where Long took his spiritual sons.
Bishop Eddie Long: A missed opportunity for pastoral care
Long did not created the homophobia in the Black Church, but he certainly contributed to it.
With a membership of over 25,000, Long’s church is the largest African American megachurch in the Southeast.
He could have used his sex scandal to change. His church could have started to embrace a liberating, healthy, and holistic understanding of human sexuality.
If only he had, Long would have created a model of pastoral care for heterosexuals, homosexuals and for himself.