Monday, September 27, 2010

Even Bishops need accountability

It's not surprising that the secular media would be drawing the wrong inferences from the Bishop Eddie Long scandal. Since Pastor Long may (I emphasize may) turn out to have been a big fat hypocrite -- coercing young men into sex at the same time he was preaching against homosexuality -- then parishioners of African-American evangelical churches should re-evaluate their historic opposition to things like same-sex marriage. Or so the story goes. Professor Shayne Lee writes: "As long as African-American Christians adhere to biblical mandates as authoritative prescriptions from God, they won't be easily dissuaded from rejecting same-sex lifestyles as viable alternatives to heterosexual norms." Well, yeah. Pastor Long wouldn't be the first who didn't practice what he preached, but that doesn't mean the message is wrong.

If there's soul-searching to be done here I think it has to do with the issues of power and accountability. Bishop Long is a prominent example of a celebrity preacher accumulating power and wealth while preaching some variant of the "prosperity gospel." You can get the flavor of Long's message just from the titles of his books -- Called to Conquer, Taking Over, It's Your Time! Preachers like Long preach a theology of glory, nicely summed up by the title of the old spiritual "We are climbing Jacob's ladder." The theology of the cross, which recognizes that "through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22), doesn't sell as well and doesn't accord with the gold-plated lifestyles of these evangelists.

The other big issue this story brings to the fore is accountability. Ecclesiastical power has the same potential to corrupt as political power. I find it hard to believe that this situation (and similar ones of recent years) would/could have gone this far if Long was accountable and answerable to a group of godly men within his church. The congregants of Long's church treated him like a rock star and he was happy to bask in the adoration. The adoration and cult of personality continued yesterday as Long compared himself to David fighting Goliath. It might actually be the other way around.

Over and over a charismatic pastor with unchecked power has proven to be a recipe for disaster. I'm convinced the best safeguard is leadership by a representative group of ordained elders, but there are other ways to do it. The flock is too precious to be left in the hands of any one shepherd. Oh, and another thing . . .

Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

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