June 23rd, 2011
02:15 PM ET
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, 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:
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:
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?
About this blog
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.