The Religion of Me, Part Two: The Mega-Church

There is a seventy-something woman I know well whose father was a pedophile.  I asked her if she was abused by her father and her response was that she doesn’t remember details of her childhood.  I’m told by my social work friend that her memory-blocking is a symptom of abuse.  In any case, I don’t see how it is possible that she could have had a healthy, happy childhood.  Whether or not her father abused her, he and his in-denial wife established a dysfunction household way beyond the everyday grousing most of us do about our families.  That is what takes me to Eddie Long.  As the “bishop” of a 25,000-member Georgia “mega-church” there were symptoms of corruption and impropriety (at best) that 24,999 people chose to overlook.  That was one giant dysfunctional social club.

First of all, the words “mega” and “church,” in my view, are mutually exclusive.  The discussion of religious topics or the word ‘god’ being tossed about about does not a church make.  Political rallies talk about god, Klan rallies talk about god, Masonic ceremonies talk about god.  Even stadium revivals may have a religious theme or inspire spiritual transformation, but these events do not constitute a church.  I’m not going to tackle the definition of church here, today, but I do want to make the distinction of what about this story raises religious questions.  Granted, this is a sensational story on many levels, but not many aspects are really about religion.

An MSNBC morning anchor interviewed a commentator who described Long as running a “ministry of prosperity.”  First of all, there is no such thing.  That is not a “ministry.”  It is religious-themed theatre where a motivational speaker tells folks what they want to hear.  It is not for the common good or the good of the disadvantaged.  It is established and maintained to promote the personal comfort of the leader and the members of his club.

There’s a terrific story CNN story by John Blake on Long (the best mainstream secular reporter covering religion today);  the link follows.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/09/28/long.new.birth/index.html?hpt=C1

On the other hand, if you’re just sick of the nonsense, then I’ll give you a short-cut check list.  Here is my top ten list: Top 10 reasons to suspect your clergy has his hands in the wrong place.  Here are some things that a few of those 24,999 folks should have noticed.

10.  He’s has to hold a news conference to defend himself.  If he is a man of God, then news stories are irrelevant, aren’t they?  He is fighting for his image and income, not to protect a real ministry.

9. He’s wearing more bling than the little old ladies on the front row or gangster rappers.  In fact, the bling on his finger is the size of a Super Bowl ring.

8.  He doesn’t travel with his wife.  C’mon folks.  This is a little something girls in bars learned about traveling salesmen and lounge lizards a long time ago.  Did not one of you 24,999 folks find a married (allegedly straight) guy traveling around the world with young men slightly hinkey?

7.  Is your clergy driving a better car than you?  He’s not just driving a better car than congregants, it’s a $350,000 Bentley for crying out loud.  With this lousy economy and his millions couldn’t he find domestic luxury to his satisfaction?  How about a nice Towne Car?

6.  Your clergy is sending photos of himself in spandex taken on his cell phone in his bathroom.  (That one really doesn’t require any other comment, does it?)

5.  He’s running a charity to help the poor but lives in a $1.4 million dollar estate and pays himself $1 million a year salary.

4.  There are more pictures of him around the “church” than any religious icons and he tells you questioning him is the same as doubting God.  This is the “Religion of Me” personified.

3.  The use of personal pronouns in his sermons and sound bites.  As I said in my previous column, personal pronouns are a big red flag.

2.  He has sound bites.

1. A ministry of hate.  If anyone in any pulpit is teaching hate messages, it is the sign of a personal or political agenda.  Remember when Southern Christians found justification for slavery in the Bible?  One key to Eddie Long’s prominence is his condemnation of homosexuality.  While it now seems obvious that was some kind of self-loathing, he was engaged in a ministry of hate.

Of all the sordid details in this ever-unfolding story, there were two comments from Long I found especially disturbing.  In speaking to a minister of a smaller church, Long said with envy, “I may have the numbers but you have the love.”  If you are running a church so people love you, then it really isn’t a ministry, is it?  That’s Cult 101.  He justified his lavish lifestyle by describing himself as a CEO.  Again, this is using religion for big business and personal gain not working to help the poor or support the spiritual growth of congregants.  The behavior I found the most disturbing was how he cultivated young men for several years, but didn’t start traveling with them until the legal age of consent (17 in Georgia).  That’s not an accident.  That’s premeditated, calculated manipulation.  Again, what were the 24,999 other church members thinking while this was going on?

Writing about such a lurid story may seem like I’m grabbing low-hanging fruit.  I challenge you to get a ladder and look for the rotten apple still on the tree.  There are smaller examples of clergy in every religion using their position to promote themselves and their own agenda.  As long as the folks listening accept whatever they are told without question or challenge, then these same dynamics will continue to hurt the untold many.  I blame the 24,999 folks sending Eddie checks and Sunday morning amens because he was telling them what they wanted to hear not what they needed to hear, and they were averting their eyes from some obviously creepy behavior.  Wake up and smell the spandex chafing.

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Comments

  • Mary Kay  On October 3, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    When I first heard the news break and then saw the clips of Eddie Long excoriating homosexuality, I felt in my heart he had engaged in the behavior he had contempt for…he protested too much.

  • allthingsreligious  On October 3, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Spot on, MK.

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