Not long after the recent death of Bishop Eddie Long, the Atlanta-based minister who preached a prosperity gospel that delivered millions of dollars into his pocket but could not save him from scandals of the zipper, Rev. Bernice King issued a statement in which she expressed gratitude to the bishop for being “there for me and my family” during difficult times, especially when her mother, Coretta, and sister, Yolanda, died.
King’s positive words came as no surprise. She had once served as a staff member in Long’s church, and the two of them gained popularity by preaching anti-gay messages that they sought to connect to the legacy of Bernice’s father, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Bishop Long was a flamboyant minister who late in his ministry settled lawsuits alleging that he had used his riches and episcopal authority to lure young men into sexual encounters. But throughout most of his ministry he regularly preached sermons in which he brutally ridiculed anyone who claimed to born gay or lesbian.
Long’s natural-law theology, which often decried “the gay agenda,” was relatively straightforward: penises are proof that God has created men to have sex with women, and vaginas are evidence that God wants women to have sex with men. “Take your clothes down,” Long preached to gays and lesbians. “I’ll show you who you are!”
For the bishop, God neither created gays nor ordained gay sex. “Everybody knows it’s dangerous to enter an exit,” he preached to gay men, adding that they “deserve death” for their vile behavior.
Bernice King certainly agreed with the colorful bishop’s anti-gay theology. In Hard Questions, Heart Answers, a book published in 1996, King sharply criticized “men who accept homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle.” Gay men aren’t “real men,” she argued, and they are to blame for “the present plight of our nation.”
Her anti-gay theology certainly found a warm welcome when she joined Bishop Long’s ministerial staff at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta.
In 2004, she and the bishop even traveled to New Zealand to offer their support to a church movement seeking the defeat of a civil union bill that would have extended legal recognition and rights to homosexual couples. The leader of the movement, Brian Tamaki, a close friend of Bishop Long, had frequently depicted gays as sexual perverts “possessed by demonic spirits.”
Tamaki was delighted with King’s support for his movement, and she did not disappoint his expectations as she paced back and forth on the speaker’s platform. With a raspy voice and her index finger in the air, King delivered the line of her life: “I know deep down in my sanctified soul that he [Martin Luther King, Jr.] did not take a bullet for same-sex unions.”
Inspired by Tamaki and his movement, King and Long returned home and laid plans for a march whose early purposes included opposing gay marriage, supporting a constitutional amendment to define and preserve marriage as between one man and one woman, and identifying Bishop Long as the rightful heir of Dr. King’s legacy.
Titled “Re-igniting the Legacy,” the march began at the King Center in Atlanta. As the marchers gathered near Dr. King’s crypt, Bernice lighted a torch from the eternal flame and then handed it to the man she considered to be the spiritual heir of her father’s legacy—her “spiritual father,” Bishop Eddie Long.
It was a shocking moment.
Although Bernice left Long’s church shortly after becoming aware of the lawsuits filed against the bishop—lawsuits that alleged the anti-gay minister was engaging in gay sex all along—she never publicly distanced herself from the anti-gay themes of their collaborative ministry.
That refusal continues even today. Although the bishop’s recent death is the perfect opportunity for Rev. King to renounce their anti-gay ministry, she remains somewhere behind the impenetrable gates she and Long built around “the beloved community” extolled by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In life and death, Bernice King stands by her man.