That gurgling sound would be from Bishop Eddie Long's career circling the drain as we speak. The statement is neither hype nor for the sake of hyperbole. Long closed out the decade with four sexual coercion lawsuits, stories surrounding the alleged, previous abuse of his first wife and a spot on the "50 Most Loathesome Americans of 2010" list according to the Buffalo Beast website, checking in at #31. Just FYI, Long was sandwiched somewhere in between George W. Bush and LeBron James on the list; parse that as you will. At any rate, by the end of 2011, Long might be #1 with a bullet.
2011 thus far has been the proverbial handwriting on the wall, and Long seems more akin to King Belshazzar than David who slew Goliath.
At the beginning of February, the news story broke that members of the New Birth congregation lost as much as $1 million in a failed gaming investment venture with City Capital Corporation.* Ephren Taylor, its CEO at the time, is being help personally responsible for the failed venture by Long.
Let's pause there for a moment.
Churches are now trying to turn a profit in the gaming industry? What, were legalized prostitution and alcohol distribution already taken? Not only that, the congregation is upset about making a bad "wager" on gaming machines?
Talk about ironic ...
Evidently, some vices are not only acceptable at New Birth, they're even a preferred source of revenue. At least the ministry was being consistent, or something like that.
Homosexuality = bad
Gambling = good
Homosexuality = abomination
A Full House or Royal Flush = cause for celebration.
But I digress ...
Days later, Bishop Long, his lawyers and church insurance representatives sat down with the four men and their counsel to begin mediation of the highly publicized charges of sexual coercion. Published reports have alleged the proceedings to have been contentious and confrontational in nature. To date, no settlement has been reached.
And in the spirit of the great Ron Popeil...
"But wait ... there's more ... "
Kicking off March, New Birth ministries announced company-wide layoffs and salary reductions, effective immediately. No word on whether Long was also forced to take a pay cut, but cynicism suggests the obvious, as in hell no. New Birth Ministries has argued that such cost-cutting measures were in response to a decrease in tithes and offerings in this sluggish economy.
Yes, and the horrendous press since September 2010, including 4 major lawsuits alleging sexual coercion were not in any way a factor? Oh ... okay.
If that's the Nebraska "beachfront property" New Birth is selling, so be it.
What can't be argued, is that New Birth's financial straits only become more dire if/when a settlement is reached and the total legal fees are tabulated. The inevitable increase in insurance premiums can't be overlooked and the New Birth brand has already been irreparably damaged.
If you should happen upon Bishop Long standing on the corner of Peachtree St. in Atlanta with the obligatory "The End is Near" sign strapped both front and back, don't laugh. From his perspective, he's probably right.
We live in a cynical America whose inhabitants readily remember names like Ted Haggard, George Alan Rekers, and The Catholic Church.
Our society is rampant with those who aren't ready to forget or forgive the antics of Oral Roberts and the $8 million in "fundraising" to avoid God (ahem) "calling him home."
And mind you, that (Roberts) was before the internet and Wikipedia came along.
Specifically in the Black church tradition, (AME, Baptist, COGIC, Pentecostal, etc.) rarely a day goes by without some sort of sexual or financial scandal plaguing its pulpits. If Long is a "victim" in any way, it's falling from grace too late in history. Long's scandal comes at a time when America has already grown tired of the unrepentant, megachurch pastor, embroiled in scandal dripping with hypocrisy.
Will Eddie Long's "ministry" continue? Sure. Don't expect him to disappear into obscurity. At the same time, don't expect him to ever command a level of fame or respect approaching what he once knew. He forfeited any chance at returning to the top when he opted for a private settlement instead of public vindication.
Part of a minister's job description is to offer wise counsel, encouragement and biblical perspective during trying times of a congregation member's life. Given the parameters of any mediation agreement, Long will be unable to provide any of the aforementioned, relative to the most important moment of his ministry and life of its congregation. There can be neither closure nor true healing without any public discussion of the allegations.
Being able to ask your spiritual leader about the mysteries of the Bible but not about the realities of the allegations can and will prove problematic for some members. Just how many remains to be seen. If you believe New Birth, the answer thus far is zero and the economy has had more of a negative effect. New Birth continues to deny the obvious and it signifies a continuing reticence to tell any semblance of the truth in these matters. Members aren't getting the truth now and won't get it in the future after an agreement is reached.
Bishop Long will survive this moment of infamy, albeit with a considerable price tag attached. All signs do though suggest he's relegated himself to megachurch irrelevance ... and what's not to like about that?
(* Correction of earlier version which listed gaming venture specifically with Ephren Taylor. The investments were with City Capital Coporation, in which Taylor served as its CEO at the time.)
Morris W. O'Kelly (Mo'Kelly) is author of the syndicated entertainment and socio-political column The Mo'Kelly Report. For more Mo'Kelly, go to his site. Mo'Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he welcomes all commentary.