Once again, scandal is rocking the Evangelical Church. Atlanta Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of mega-church New Birth Missionary Baptist Church has been accused of grooming and molesting teenage boys. The case or cases are not being tried in criminal court because the boys where of legal age (over 16) when the sexual contact happened.
As I see it, only God himself will truly know the whole truth. Whether the Bishop molested these boys is yet to be determined, there are certainly things that are amiss that will leave both is parishioners and others asking “did he do it”? There are pictures sent to the victims of the pastor in his bathroom taking “Facebook-like” photos. This is strange behavior for a pastor. There is also the fact that he has had the opportunity and access to these boys necessary to perpetrate a molestation.
Anyone in the kind of power that Eddie Long has, should know better. There are enough examples from other public figures that shows that what you do in private, or what it looks like you did in private will come to light. If he is guilty of no other sin, Bishop Eddie Long is guilty of the appearance of impropriety.
Without the appearance of being improper, no one could accuse the mega-church pastor of anything. Guilty or not, Bishop Eddie Long opened himself up to scrutiny in many ways. First, he had close personal relationships with young boys. Father figure or not, he is not their father, and so there should be a line drawn to how close a grown men should get to boys who are not his. Second, he gave them extravagant gifts, beyond what is necessary to be a benefactor who sends young people to college and takes care of basic needs. Giving expensive electronics and the best clothing money can buy makes him look like he was buying them. If he wanted to be generous, he could have provides school scholarships through the church, and had the occasional congratulatory dinner, as a group. Finally, he spent too much time alone with these young men.
How do you defend yourself when you have opened yourself up to such accusations? Because the of the blatant appearance of impropriety with these boys, it becomes the pastor’s word against four young men (and counting).
The only way for a pastor to protect himself (from both temptation and accusations) is to draw lines with relationships. This does not mean that he cannot have friends or confidants… not at all. It does mean, however, that his relationships must be transparent. This is accomplished by meeting in groups, or in public places like restaurants, bookstores, and libraries. This is also accomplished in keeping age and sex appropriate friendships. Grown men should not be best buddies with teenagers. Men and women should be careful about developing emotional relationships. Even men of the same age, should be careful about appearances around close one-on-one relationships.
Yes, this is harsh, unfair, and does nothing to provide for mental and emotional relationships for the pastor. If the pastor is married, like Bishop Eddie Long and has his own children, then he has built in people with whom he can share his affection and shower with gifts.