It’s not often that a pastor, particularly in the black community, is the lead story on CNN, and for that matter, the top news story in the nation. Proud day for the church? Not exactly. Tragic is a better description. Four young male members of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church accused their Bishop, Eddie Long, of abusing his pastoral authority by coercing them into having sex. Alleged salacious details and pictures of Bishop Long clad in skin-tight muscle outfits supposedly texted to the young men flooded the news waves. Added to the shocking nature of this is Long’s long-standing adamant position that same sex sex is sin. The result: an irresistible titillating news story and a nightmare of reproach for every predominantly black church (good ones and bad). The growing consensus to this scandal seems to be that Bible believing Christians in predominantly black churches are homophobic hypocrites, and the obvious solution is that they must become more lovingly inclusive of homosexuality so people can stop pretending to be straight in their churches when they are really not.
As a Bible-believing pastor in a predominantly black church, I feel obligated to respond to this story, one, because the growing consensus misses the biblical mark, and two, because the Bible more than sufficiently instructs the church how to handle pastoral crises. Therefore, let me offer ten brief points regarding what the Bible says about a scandal like this.
- Before drawing hard conclusions, let the whole story come out. “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him,” Proverbs 18:13.
- Don’t ignore the obvious. Jesus warns, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. . . . every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit,” Matt 7:15-17.
- There are certain kinds of sins that if present in a person’s life will produce other grosser sins. The apostle Paul teaches, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith,” 1 Tim 6:10. Therefore, the Bible absolutely forbids churches from calling men as pastors who are not “free from the love of money,” 1 Tim 3:3.
- Whenever someone is truly innocent, God will vindicate them. “[K]eep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame,” 1 Pet 3:16.
- Conversely, the Bible teaches that God will expose those who try to hide their sin in the name of religion. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap,” Gal 6:7.
- God loves all sinners, straight and gay, because he sent His Son to die for all sinners, John 3:16. He also loves too much to leave people in their sin, so He calls all sinners to repent. Those who will, straight or gay, He forgives and transforms. Those who won’t, straight or gay, religious or irreligious, He judges, 1 Cor 6:9-11.
- God holds leaders to a stricter judgment. “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment,” James 3:1.
- Church leadership must not be a good ol' boys club that covers up sins when allegations are substantiated by two or more people. They must be taken very seriously. Scripture admonishes the church, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder (pastor or bishop) except on the basis of two or three witnesses,” 1 Tim 5:19, but if found to be true, the church cannot be a respecter of persons and show partiality to its leaders. The Word of God demands that “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning” 1 Tim 5:19, also see v. 20.
- When brazen sin in the church is not rebuked then it spreads like cancer corrupting the whole church. “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump,” 1 Cor 5:7.
- The obvious solution is that churches in the black community need to regain the spiritual power to live the lives of holiness that they claim to believe (Gal 5:16-13) and refuse to dismiss what the Bible calls sin in order to accommodate our cultures new sexual morays (2 Cor 6:17). “Be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy,” 1 Pet 1:15-16.
In summary, it blatantly misses the point to suggest that black churches are filled with homosexuals who are afraid to come out because the black church is unloving. I know of no church that is more forgiving and willing to receive hurting people than the black church. However, the black church has also been taught to accept the Bible literally, and many homosexuals in black churches don’t come out because they know that the Bible calls homosexuality sin. So while the Bible plainly teaches that God is love, it is also teaches that God is Holy, and He hates sin. The real issue then, for professing Christians who struggle with homosexual urges, is will they turn to God for the power to live holy lives? All Christians will struggle against temptations, and God provides each and every one of them overcoming grace so that they can live consistently holy lives and experience His liberating grace of forgiveness when they repent each time they fail. In due season, God will lift the clouds surrounding this scandal, and He will make it very clear what kind of man Bishop Long is. I have a feeling that through this, God is going to reveal where a lot of us stand—if we are indeed truly loyal to our loving and holy God or not. I pray that this will be a wake-up call to many and that we will heed the words of the prayer of the OT's wisest man to ever live, “If [God's] people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land,” 2 Chron 7:14.