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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. fimeilleur

    When should the pastor be forgiven? the same day that a Police officer can rob a bank, say he's sorry (go to jail and serve his time, if you prefer) and then remain a Police officer. I'm sure everyone reading this will agree that the Police officer has lost his credibility to serve and protect. "Bishop Eddie Long" has lost any "moral integrity" (if you accept he had any to begin with) to lead a congregation and get paid "the big bucks" for doing it.

    June 24, 2011 at 2:32 am |
  2. Zelda

    They should resign, write a book and donate all the proceed to victims and their families.

    June 23, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  3. The God Fraud

    If you are dumb enough to believe the whole "invisible man in the sky" thing, then you are the lawful prey of people like this guy.

    June 23, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • A Christian

      TO UN-BELIEVERS

      With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? As for an idol, a metalworker casts it,
      and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. A person too poor to present such an offering
      selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.

      Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.

      No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground,
      than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

      To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
      Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.
      Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

      Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

      Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
      (Isaiah 40:18-31) NIV

      Sincerely,
      The Lord Jesus Christ

      June 24, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  4. Jerry

    Eddie Long is not being held accountable. He is New Birth and New Birth is him - they are interchangeable. The so called BOD are cronies under his complete control. If the congregation thinks that there is anyone looking over this so called Bishop they are sadly mistaken.

    Eddie Long is motivated by one thing - to do whatever he needs to do to hold on to his cash generating machine.

    June 23, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  5. bigworldoutthere

    THERE IS NOTHING TO FORGIVE: We are all ready to condem Pastor Long, it's funny that we believe the four men who have everything to gain – not the Pastor who has everything to lose. So, let's look at the facts and what we know. Pastor Long has been accused in a un-biblical pattern of bring an accusation of an elder. The media swill has not let this go, neither has the public opinion, most of which have no personal understanding of the details (including Mr. Martin). We know that Pastor Long rejected those accusations, we know they settled their offenses between them. We know that the leadership of Long's church, his peers, his wife are supporting him. What we know is.. we don't know anything and we are left to our own vain imagination. For all we know the accusers have repented for their falsehood and Pastor Long has put away their shame quietly. WE JUST DON"T KNOW! Christians who are participating in this public spectacle need to realize they are gossiping and need to repent. Those who don't identify as a Christian, please forgive us for lowering ourselves and setting such a poor example. It's not the Biblical pattern set down by Jesus and His disciples.

    June 23, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Jerry

      You are correct that you dont know what went on - your Bishop has made sure that you are kept in the dark.

      June 23, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Reggie

      Ok well said but I have another view. I don't know if he did it or not. What I do know is that the mega churches are a business and every business in that position need s to decide if it is better to fight or settle taking into account monetary cost as well as the cost in bad publicity. Pastor Long may have wanted to fight to the death but his board to;d him to settle to mitigate any damage. It is what many businesses do every single day.

      June 24, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  6. A Christian

    Note:
    Well since we know what the pastor was doing in the dark, he's a hypocrite.

    "But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?" (Matthew 22:18)

    Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John3:20)

    So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23:28)

    Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him," (1 John 2:4)

    "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

    "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (Matthew 6:5)

    ""Now when they fall they will be granted a little help, and many will join with them in hypocrisy." (Daniel 11:34)

    "Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?" (Romans 2:3)

    And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. (Mark 11:25)

    Say, "The Lord's Prayer"

    The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long." (Psalms 23:17)

    Say, "Another Prayer"

    Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)

    10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
    (Psalm 51:10-12)

    PRAY CONTINUALLY
    Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

    Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before (Daniel 6:10)

    Note: You can pray under your breath and to yourself, that works too.

    June 23, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • gozer

      and we know all that prayer has ever been proven to have caused to happen: Nothing. Ever. Zero. Zippo.

      Time to get past your christian fairy tales.

      June 23, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Ed Angelo

      @ gozer: Heb 11:6 NIV "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." God bless you..

      June 25, 2011 at 2:51 am |
  7. frank

    Does Creflo Dollar rock the Star Trek outfit too?

    June 23, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  8. fernace

    Forgiveness must be decided by the severity of the transgression. In this case it's not just the equivalent of a 10 car pile-up, since we're using the "wreck" analogy, but also a criminal question! If the boys were under18 during the alledged abuse, why isn't Long being prosecuted? The fact that he payed a settlement is not a favorable sign. He says he'a not guilty of any"wrongdoing". Does that mean he's innocent or does he think what he did wasn't wrong? If he's gay & s@x was consentual (& no1 was a minor), he needs to confess, because this will happen again, & next time forgiveness will be hard to find. It's not against the law to be gay, but most religions have very strong feelings against it, so a pastor who is very wealthy, running a mega-church will not want to be forthcoming in this area. But something is certainly awry with this picture!

    June 23, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  9. GSA

    How about we all just get right to the major disussion point here, that horrible 1980's jheri curl he has. Awful, only Eazy-E could pull that off, it needs to go along with him to a place far far away forever.

    June 23, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Tim

      haha! Amen!

      June 23, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • Eric

      OMG! That is CLEARLY the best and most funniest line I have heard all year regarding this scandal! I LOVE IT! I'm going to borrow that line from you from this day forward. Eddie's Jheri-curl is so played out that I can't believe nobody in his congregation has approached him to tell him that he needs to lose the curl. Great line though:)

      June 23, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  10. Artist

    What does forgiveness have to do with him being fired??????

    June 23, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  11. Bucky Ball

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCW6F4BV0zw&w=640&h=360]

    June 23, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  12. JohnR

    Wouldn't presume to provide a magic formula for when to forgive, but this Eddie Long fellow is bad news. Even Jimmy Swaggert actually confessed his wrongdoing. Not sure how sincere vs calculated it was, but he did fess up to the rumors. If Long were standing behind a vehement denial, that would be one thing. But settling and moving on without any actual contrition? Not good.

    June 23, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  13. Reality

    When he stops wearing the "bling". And when he admits that his religion is flawed historically and theologically.

    June 23, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  14. JohnQuest

    When they acknowledge their wrongdoing ask for forgiveness they will be forgiven. However, Forgiveness is not Forgetting, the question is, can anyone trust them again with the well being of others after they have proven to abuse that trust.

    June 23, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  15. ChrisA

    A qualification of a pastor is to be BLAMELESS. Eddie Long no longer meets the qualifications. He should disappear from public ministry as a pastor.

    June 23, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Tim

      Who IS blameless?

      June 23, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • ChrisA

      @Tim
      The word "blameless" means to not have anything in your life that reproaches the name of Christ. Of course no one is perfect, but leaders are to be held to a higher standard. THE HIGHER YOU GO IN LEADERSHIP THE MORE RESTRICTIONS YOU HAVE.

      June 24, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      What restrictions do (full) pastors have that associate pastors do not have ?

      June 24, 2011 at 8:15 am |
  16. Luke

    Never. Those that claim to be of the highest morality that evidence themselves as the lowest of morgal judgment deserve to be punished for a lifetime. There is no forgiveness for those that show no humility.

    June 23, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  17. JW

    We should all forgive someone who had done wrong. This pastor should be forgiven. However I do not believe that he should keep his job. He has set a bad example for his followers and Christians as a whole. He has to be a leader and held to a higher standard.

    June 23, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • gozer

      Seems like the guy pretty much exemplifies Christian leaders.

      June 23, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  18. The Jackdaw

    Forgivness? I'll consider it when he quits his job and admits to what he did.

    June 23, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  19. GodPot

    I don't know about you, but I'm tired of seeing so much Pastor taint...

    June 23, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  20. Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

    I am in the wrong line of work. I wish I had no conscience like mega church pastors and live the life of luxury on the backs of the congregation.

    June 23, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Doesn't matter

      @Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

      You said, "I am in the wrong line of work. I wish I had no conscience like mega church pastors and live the life of luxury on the backs of the congregation."

      Not trying to defend any of these "mega church" pastors but you seem to be making a rather sweeping statement about them, how do you know that they have no conscience? And further are you sure they all live a life of luxury?

      June 23, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "The average salary for a lead pastor in a megachurch is $147,000, according to a recent survey.
      Salaries for lead pastors go as high as $400,000 to as low as $40,000,..."
      "Generally, staffing costs are average between 40 and 50 percent of many churches' budget."
      (http://www.christianpost.com/news/report-reveals-salaries-of-megachurch-pastors-46779/)

      June 23, 2011 at 3:41 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.