When does a pastor tainted by scandal deserve forgiveness?
Bishop Eddie Long hugs supporter at New Birth Missionary Church after allegations that he pressured men into sexual relationships went public.
June 23rd, 2011
02:15 PM ET

When does a pastor tainted by scandal deserve forgiveness?

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - “Who am I to judge?” “That’s between him and God.” “God has already forgiven him.”

When a church is hit by a pastor’s scandal, parishioners face a choice: Remain at the house or worship or move on. Those that stay often cite the reasons above - God has already forgiven the pastor so why shouldn’t I?

That’s the kind of thinking that annoyed a Missouri seminary professor so much that he wrote a blistering open letter in the online magazine Religion Dispatches last week attacking its rationale. Lerone A. Marti, an assistant professor of American religious history at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, wrote that church folks who stick by unrepentant pastors have a lot to learn about forgiveness and accountability.

What set Martin off was the latest entry in the Bishop Eddie Long saga. Long, senior pastor of an Atlanta megachurch, was sued last year by four young men who claimed he pressured them into sexual relationships.

Long denied any wrongdoing and vowed to fight the lawsuits. He recently reached a confidential settlement out of the court with the lawyer for the men. Though nothing was ever proven in court, attendance has declined at Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.

Martin injected himself into the Long story after watching a video that’s been rocketing across the web. In the YouTube video, an Atlanta pastor defends Long and tells New Birth members they should stick by their pastor.

Creflo Dollar, senior pastor of World Changers Church International in suburban Atlanta, told his congregation that people expect forgiveness but don’t extend it to preachers who experience their own “wreck."  Dollar, like Long, is an internationally known pastor who preaches the prosperity gospel. Dollar's church claims about 25,000 members.

Dollar said:

Then you become self-righteous and you become judgmental and you’re gonna leave the preacher for his wreck when you done had more wrecks… That preacher’s still anointed to do what he was called to do. He just had a wreck. The blood will take care of his issue just like it will take care of yours.

Dollar,  told his congregation that he knows he has visitors from another church whose pastor is his “friend” and “brother in the Lord.” Dollar never utters Long’s name, but he and Long - two African-American pastors of  Atlanta megachurches - have long been on good terms.

In the video, Dollar tells new “visitors” to his church that “I don’t want you to join here” and that “you need to go and join where you supposed to be.”

Dollar’s message triggered a response from Martin last week and the editor of Religion Dispatches says the letter is still attracting  "huge" interest. 

Long’s scandal wasn’t simply a “wreck,” Martin said in his letter. He said it was a “DUI: Driving/Pastoring under the influence of unchecked power and accountability.”

To quote Martin's letter:

Long’s move from adamant public denial to private settlement left no way for onlookers and members alike to obtain an account of what exactly happened. They have been left in the dark as to whether their shepherd indeed has an ongoing problem.

Martin said people aren’t leaving New Birth because they’re withholding forgiveness. He said they’re holding Long to the same level of accountability as other public servants who work with their children, like schoolteachers.

Martin then asked Dollar, who is a husband and father, several questions:

Would you send YOUR kids back to a summer camp where one of the key officials was shrouded in the “wreckage” of sexual abuse? Would you send YOUR kids back to a mentoring program where the leading mentor privately settled his sexual abuse “wreck” out of court …

Would YOU continue to unquestionably financially and otherwise support a non-profit organization where the power structure was clouded in a questionable history of inappropriate sexual contact with children? Or would you seek to place your family’s treasures, time, and talents elsewhere?

Does Martin have a point or not?  At one point should congregants stick by pastors shrouded in scandal and when should they move on? Since Long denies any wrongdoing, is he justified in not addressing the scandal?


- CNN Writer

Filed under: Baptist • Belief • Christianity • Church • Ethics • Faith • Pastors • Sex • Uncategorized

soundoff (80 Responses)
  1. Barbara

    If he can't handle the position with integrity, then he shouldn't have it. Since when did forgiveness include no accoutability?
    And Christians wonder why they have lost their moral influence..

    November 2, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  2. aw

    We as Christian should be ashame of ourself.Let GOD be the judge not us. I beleive Bishop Eddie Long is telling the truth.His congregation need to support and pray for him.You will see in a little while GOD will reveal the truth...May God Bless You.

    August 26, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  3. bon

    You alll are brainwashed morons.

    August 26, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  4. Serendipity Bible CasualTalk

    What will their acceptance be,but life,tthrough thanksgiving to God,from them to God on your behalf and their behalf?
    I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus,the Gospel of Grace.

    For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.Since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him. And God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe

    Fo God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

    August 26, 2011 at 8:05 am |
  5. Emily Sortino

    Personally, when I used to live in California, I have heard Creflo Dollar preach at a convention many years ago and there is no doubt, that this man is an anointed man of God and called into ministry for God's purposes. At the same time, I also heard Biship Eddie Long on a video when he must of first started recording his teachings and it was an excellent teaching on spiritual warfare in a realm of the spirit many would not know how to teach, but he did so very well. I would not want to come against two anointed men of God who have been called at times to teach a depth of the spiritual world that many would tip toe around. They are bold men of God that I consider ministers on the front line fighting the good fight of faith while teaching truth of the Word of God. If they are in error in any way, I believe they are both spiritual enough that the Holy Spirit will help them by Holy Ghost conviction and repentance and the Holy Ghost will keep them on the straight and narrow path. It takes courage to speak and teach and preach the truth of the Bible in love and I believe they both worship and serve Him in spirit and in truth. The Bible tells us that we will bear witness to the spirit of God. The Bible also tells us that the devil comes to rob and destroy and kill the children of God. Let us not destroy one another as the devil is plenty good at that, but let us lift up the hands of the weary and let us encourage one another to run the race to the end and if we fall along the way, let us pick each other up or give a hand and pull each other up to that place of worshiping God, repenting and continue to run the race to the end overcoming by the blood of the Lamb and the Word of our testimony. The little information that has become public is far from enough to make an accurate judgement and when the Bible says, "touch not my anointed", I think I would rather obey the Bible and lift up the men of God in prayer and fasting as they bring forth the truth. I thank God for His love and His mercy and His grace towards me as I run this race to the end that I may be in eternity with Him. I pray that I and my brothers and sisters can also help others run the race to the end so they can be in eternity too.... Praising Him forever more!!

    July 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • wakeup123

      You must have drank the cool-aid too

      August 8, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  6. aj

    You are sadly mistaken if you think you are forgiven for denying an act. He never acknowledged it and still is in denial. Of course God can/will forgive you when you admit your sin and ask for forgiveness. Has that ocurred????? No one can tell me where I will worship and if i chose not to worship with a person who not admitted they have an issue, Bishop or no Bishop, its my choice. This has nothing to do with forgiveness, its about common sense.

    July 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  7. Sam I Am

    When he gives back all the money he conned out of the people.

    June 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  8. Warren Lewis

    There is a confusion here. Anyone who repents and asks for forgiveness gets it from Christ, and should get it from Christ's people. However, you can't serve as an elder if you are no longer qualified, and this man is no longer qualified. He can still be forgiven if he confesses and repents, although from my brief reading I see no sign of that. Forgiveness will not restore his qualification. He betrayed his position and should lose it.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:47 pm |


      July 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  9. Sharon

    One more thing I want to add...none of us deserve forgiveness, none of us deserve God grace his mercies, we all, we all are like filthy rags, we are just dirt, BUT JESUS! died on the cross for all, we all have sin and come short of the glory of God, and some of you are still short, pray for the man, pray for the pastor and pray for your self, we all are going to stand in judgment, when the books get open what will be said about you.

    June 27, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  10. William Demuth

    He is a baby buggerer and should be tried and executed

    June 27, 2011 at 2:23 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.