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Eddie Long's new churches raise questions about pastors' behavior after scandal
June 9th, 2011
12:53 PM ET

Eddie Long's new churches raise questions about pastors' behavior after scandal

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - If you're a famous pastor who has just survived a sex scandal, laid off church staff and lost a chunk of your congregation, what do you do to move forward?

If you’re Bishop Eddie Long, you announce that your church is expanding.

Long, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Church outside Atlanta, Georgia, has announced that his church is opening two new satellite churches and is asking parishioners to donate up to $1,000 to support the expansion, according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Long’s announcement comes two weeks after an out of court settlement with four young men who accused him of using his spiritual authority to coerce them into sexual relationships. The timing of Long’s announcement prompted me to ask several public relations and church experts a question:

How should Long - or any other pastor - act after a scandal?

 Art Franklin, a spokesman for Long, says the pastor is simply acting as a minister should. He’s helping New Birth fulfill its mission.

"By expanding with satellite churches, New Birth is continuing to do what God has called the ministry to do," Franklin said in a statement.

The public relations experts who responded to my query thought otherwise.

“Long needs to rebuild and repair his brand - if that is even possible - before he can think about expanding it,” said branding strategist Adam Hanft, CEO of Hanft Projects.

Hanft says Long may claim that no charges were ever proven against him in court, but that will not earn him much sympathy.

“No corporation or politician today can buy much slack by appealing to a loophole,” Hanft says. “Churches have even less wiggle room. What’s going to happen here is that everyone other than his hard-core base of supporters will peel off from him - he will have enormous difficulty in attracting new members.”

Angie Schuller Wyatt, a pastor and therapist whose father was ousted from his ministry at the Crystal Cathedral megachurch in Southern California, says Long’s attention should be focused on his own congregation in Atlanta.

“Leaving a broken congregation to build a new one is theologically irresponsible,” says Wyatt, granddaughter of Robert H. Schuller, the founder of the Crystal Cathedral. “It’s like sending all your money to care for another family while your own family starves.”

Since the four men’s lawsuits against him and New Birth went public last September, Long’s congregation has faced tough times.

In February, Long became entangled in a dispute with an entrepreneur over what Long said was $1 million in “sour” investments made by New Birth members. Long asked the entrepreneur to return the money to New Birth members who were experiencing financial hardships.

New Birth has also seen its attendance drop and its staff reduced, while Long announced a cut in his own salary. Church officials blamed the changes on a bad economy and more churchgoers watching service online rather than in person.

Richard Laermer, author of Full Frontal PR, says Long’s should adopt a more introspective public posture.

“If he wanted his day in court, he should have taken it,” Laermer says. “…I would tell him to leave the vicinity, go on recognized sabbatical, write some great theological papers - and stop trying to raise money.”

Cherie Kerr,  president of  KerrPR, a company based in Southern California that offers strategies for celebrities in trouble, says Long could repair his image by making another kind of announcement.

She suggested that he could announce that New Birth would start or expand their outreach to the homeless or partner with other churches to help the needy.

“Expanding is the last thing he should be doing because people will see that as an arrogant act,” Kerr says.

Wyatt, the pastor and therapist, says that it’s difficult for pastors to change their habits even after they emerge from a scandal.

“Pastors of megachurches learn to love the spotlight and power,” she says. ”Long’s new church franchise is only the first of many to follow. Even in the face of scandal, famous preachers will do anything to maintain their platform.”

Some experts have spoken, but what do you think?

Did Long make a mistake with his announcement? Or should pastors who have not been proven guilty carry on as usual after a scandal?

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Christianity • Courts • Pastors

soundoff (430 Responses)
  1. Miss Mary

    Black people, we are smarter than that. Ponzi schemes have been around for a very long time. Take an economics class or better yet, study-your-Bible! Matt 7:17- Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. Also, Matt 7:20 – Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Appropriate, don’t you think? Not to worry, it’s a rhetorical question. Good luck to all, because some of you are definitely going to need it.

    May 12, 2012 at 3:58 am |
  2. Daniel

    The pending divorce seals his fate. It is now the beginning of the end. He may try to tarnish the wife's image in order to save his own, but I doubt that's possible at this point. She probably has had her own detectives hard at work for some time now, and has all the information she needs to blow him apart. she will no doubt get a very comfy settlement, while Long will go the way of Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart and many others.

    December 2, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  3. Knucklehead

    Blow up your TV
    Throw away your paper
    Move to the country
    Build you a home
    Plant a little garden
    Eat a lot of peaches
    And try to find Jesus
    On your own

    December 2, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  4. lesconyers

    I believe that Bishop Long should take a sabattical and reassess his life.God does forgive and so should we.Jesus said "he who is without sin let him cast the first stone"To all Christian know God for your self and know what His word say and obey His word and you will not be decieve by the evil one (satan)

    December 2, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  5. Knucklehead

    "God gives you over to what you worship." - Mark Richard

    December 2, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  6. Darryl

    Keith, fear is the begining of knowledge and obviously you have no knowledge of GOD (YAWEH). Everything that is created has a creator, it would behoove you to get to know your creator, that way when people speak about HIM, you would have some KNOWLEDGE and UNDERSTANDING !!!!!

    December 2, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  7. ProperVillain

    “Long needs to rebuild and repair his brand"
    This statement is the problem with American protestant churches in a nutshell. It isn't about Jesus anymore, or serving others, or loving others, it's about a f*&^king "brand" and maintaining the social club that most large churches have become.
    Most of these guys are nothing but modern day Pharisees.

    December 2, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Knucklehead

      Amen.

      December 2, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  8. Darryl

    Frankly, Eddie Long (Bishop, the Bible says "...must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable..." 1 Timothy 3:2) should be sat down by the governing board of his denomination for a period of time. There 's too much misinformation in the church and witchcraft is rampant, that's why it's so important to read and study the Bible for yourself. Search the scriptures with all your mind, soul and body!!! Then it's harder for the devil to tempt and mislead you. You know, the devil goes to church every Sunday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He's in mist of the pews, chior and the PULPIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 2, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Knucklehead

      "Satan is in the crowd." –Kierkegaard

      December 2, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  9. Interested Party

    @ keith- you seem to have a lot of hostility towards God, and that doesn't happen without cause. Please Please- don't let a negative experience within the church or with someone spoil your opportunity to know God for yourself. God doesn't guarantee a life without suffering, but He is with you when its the hardest. Having faith doesn't make a person blind, but it gives them the strength to face things headon. You can talk to 100 people and get 100 views on God and faith, etc. but only your relationship with God is the true relationship for you. Eddie Long and others like him are just people who chose the church for their bad behavior. Its not different the the ponzi schemes where money and banking is the stage. Please know that he doesn't represent me or my God.

    December 2, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  10. Adrian

    If Black folks read about the history of Christianity and their own History, these fake time Pastors or so called Bishops wouldn’t be able to sucker the congregation into giving their money, or as the Pastors call it “Sow a Seed” and you Black women are the very reason these Pastors are able to get away with this nonsense, It is your Dollars that finance their life style; women are emotional creatures and these Ministers play on that. Wake up Black people come from out of these BS Churches. God said “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”.
    The threat of organize religion with-in the Black church, is worse than the oppressor who have enslaved them.

    December 2, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.