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. PRISM 1234

    A good name is more worth then gold or any earthly treasure. Where man's treasure is there will also his heart be!
    Obviously, to him it's more important to build more buildings and "expand his ministry", or else he would fight for all it's worth to clear his good name, as he said he would..... That says more then multi-tude of words about him!
    This man has no credebility at all!

    June 27, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  2. Steve O

    Of course Long and the many others like him should be forgiven – but he and they should also not serve as pastors. We in the clergy should be held to a higher standard of behavior – that is what the Pauline and Pseudo-Pauline letters say. A person who commits such a terrible act against God and humans should, if he or she is honest, accept this reality. Just like a person who finds God in prison should then accept his/her punishment in full, so should a member of the clergy who does something like this. If Long is guilty, he should leave his church and go directly to jail.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  3. Virginia Nelson

    When to forgive? When he repents. When to allow back in ministry? Never!

    June 25, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  4. T

    Wow!! do we forget how we got here Christians.. I speaking to Christians, not athesist nor frogest or whatever. Jesus was wrongly accused as well and it was from those close to him in his circle as well..And Jesus did not ask for forgiveness for he did not do anything wrong, but to come here and get us out of a pickle jar. Bishop Long, should not ask for forgiveness either for what..those young men took the money and ran just like Judas did...Jesus mentioned on the cross in public view in a scandal in those days, and hung there and said "God please forgive THEM" God is watching people and taking note of his enemies...and every tongue that rises against Jesus Christ shall be condemed. Believe me – God is taking note and the accountability is on its way, to me and you and even Bishop. Peace

    June 25, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Love God

      Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. s it the church member's fault that they no longer see the annointance in that man or is it his fault because he has strayed from the path? This man has not yet addressed his flock with an apology. He wanted it covered under the rug. You can forgive him, but it doesn't mean turn a blind eye. Its all about how he handled this situation that why his people left. This man has deceived his people. He is about to use their money to pay for his sins. How are they being a bad Christian if they don't trust that man who has been accused of preying on boys? If he truly believed in the blood of God, he would have put it in God's hands and came and fought for his innocence with the shield of the blood. What he did was ran behind closed doors settled and put a gag order so they can't speak on it. That right there shows that he was guilty, probably didn't do in detail what they said he did, but they had something on him he didn't want to get out. He is a man and when you put all your trust and hold him to that pedestal of God, he is gonna fall short all the time and he is going to let you down. You treat man as man and follow God, he will show you what path to go on and he will give you signs when the annointance is not there and will show you when its time to leave and thats why his members left.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  5. DrJohnS

    Martin refers to Long as "unrepentant" and Dollar says Long deserves forgiveness but for what? So far there has been only allegation and rumor but no proof. And the settlement may simply be a way of cutting off the false claims. Consider, if you were accused of a crime that you did not commit would that make you guilty? Do we judge on possible false witness (commandment #9) or do we withhold judgment awaiting evidence?

    June 25, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Rightly Dividing

      The Bible clear;y states that Christians should avoid "the appearance of evil" and by settling behind closed doors, this man leaves a shroud of guilt, of evil's appearance on himself. That is what would generate these responses out of the men of the Cloth. Something that should be clarified here is that forgiveness is not linked to continuing in a ministry once you have cast doubt on your character. The Bible also states that there is a higher level of accountability for those who would be pastors, elders, or teachers, and that they need to be held to that! The position of pastor requires a level of trust that goes beyond the norm. There are certainly consequences for our actions in this life, if there weren't we wouldn't have to die to get a heavenly body! Even Christians seem to forget this when it becomes too much trouble to actually deal with the consequences and walk through those sensitive issues and make definitive decisions that they might have to live up to themselves.

      June 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Rightly Dividing

      And if I were accused of a crime I didn't commit, I would want to prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, my innocence.

      June 25, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • denise

      Man, you sound stupid. Would you send your kids or grandkids to his Longfellow Academy. Didn't think so !!!. Now, shut the he11 up please...

      June 29, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  6. AtheistSteve

    From my perspective preachers of any stripe are just hucksters and snake oil salesmen. However unlike the crafty car salesman who plots to take advantage of the "suckers born every minute" the vast majority of church officials have been just as duped as their followers. They truly believe they are acting in the best interests of their flock when they promote their mythology. Guilty of little more than gullibility unless their beliefs impact civil liberties and human rights(an unfortunately common occurance) they merit only pity and ridicule for their ignorance.
    A line is crossed however when the trust and authority wielded by preachers is abused to victimize their flock. Scammed out of money or worse violated physically they deserve no less than the full persecution of the law and should never be allowed to return to the positions of power once held. Not solely for religious leaders this is equally true for any individuals of influence like teachers, doctors, politicians, law enforcement and heads of industry.

    June 25, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  7. IslandAtheist

    When can he go back to scamming the sheeple?

    June 25, 2011 at 5:43 am |
  8. Ed Angelo

    2 Cor 2:5-8 NIV
    5 If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent – not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him."

    June 25, 2011 at 2:40 am |
    • dwordisclear

      Pastors are held accountable to a higher standard than that of a saint. The bottom line is, if he was not guilty of the offense, why did he not trust God to get the truth out. Instead, he chooses to a private settlement. If he is truly a man of God, he should confess and step down.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  9. Zelda

    "Who am I to judge"? We have the Bible. It says such a man must not continue ministry, at least for a while. Read I & II Corinthians.

    June 24, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  10. DoodleSheep

    Never. Pastors are purveyors of lies to begin with. They deserve ridicule and scorn whether they are involve in a scandal or not.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Zelda

      @Doodle, the majority of pastors are the best humans on earth. If you do that everytime there's a scandal, there'd be no parents, no teachers, no police, no politicians, no anything.

      June 24, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  11. Jackie Smith

    let me think–NEVER. he's a hypocrite and should be run out of town.

    btw, what kind of christian pastor has a jerry curl in 2011? that should have been the first clue something wasn't right.

    June 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  12. Frogist

    Ok When someone has done you wrong, it is up to you whether or not you forgive them. If they refuse to acknowledge the wrong they did, or are making no efforts to reconcile those wrongdoings with you, you don't have to forgive them. That simple. Pastor Long doesn't seem to be asking for forgiveness so why give it to him?
    But that means we have to ask what he did wrong. What would he need forgivness for? His mistreatment of the men under his care – yes. His misleading people by making a big deal of facing his accusers and then folding – yes, I think so. His being gay... No, not in my opinion.
    But I think there is room for forgiveness for each of his followers themselves. They need to recognise and forgive themselves for following someone who mislead them and betrayed them. I think that forgiveness might be more important than trying to forgive someone who isn't asking for forgiveness at all. And I think that forgiveness means leaving the pastor and his church behind.

    June 24, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  13. myweightinwords

    People are flawed human beings. We all do stupid things, we all hide parts of ourselves, we all do something wrong at some point in our lives.

    Forgiveness is one thing. However, when the person who comm-its the wrong is in a position of authority and his wrong-doing involves the violation of a trust given him because of his position, forgiveness need not go hand in hand with forgetting.

    Forgive the man for whatever wrong he has done to you personally, but don't just hand back that authority, that trust. That needs to be earned back. And not with the att-itude that there was nothing wrong.

    June 24, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Frogist

      @myweightinwords: I think that's an excellent point about trust. The trust of his followers is damaged whether he se xually harrassed those men or not. And it is up to him to make efforts to mend that trust. So far he doesn't seem like it's something he is trying to do.

      June 24, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Manifold Density

      How can anyone trust a fraud who teaches a fraudulent doctrine of a fraudulent religion? Ha

      June 25, 2011 at 1:24 am |
  14. A Christian

    Well since we know what the pastor was doing in the dark, (Jesus) said 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"
    1 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 (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 24, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  15. Alex

    I'm with Reality on this.

    June 24, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  16. Herr Goebels

    Why does he need anyone to validate his behaviour?

    What he did IS expected of all clergy, politicians, CxOs of corporate America.

    We expect this.

    June 24, 2011 at 7:25 am |
  17. Reality

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

    June 24, 2011 at 7:03 am |
    • KEFA34

      MAY God forgive the man of God
      people of faith have already forgave the man
      of God
      who cant fogiver him is the people who dont
      want to forgive may the power of God forgive them .
      it was hard for me to forgive so when i needed it
      forgiveness could not be found .
      it is a commandment to forgive .

      June 24, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Frogist

      @KEFA34: I think it's true that it's harder to forgive yourself than others. And that is why forgiveness from someone else to reinforce that good feeling is so powerful. But I think to simply forgive through obligation is less real or honest or meaningful than going through the tough process of understanding the issues at hand, whether forgiving that person is appropriate and how much their deeds and your dwelling on them affects you. The first step can't be automatic forgiveness or how much is it really worth?

      June 24, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  18. eduardo

    Looking for help and support?..come to http://www.wpray4u.com and you will find it

    June 24, 2011 at 3:45 am |
    • fimeilleur

      Or to actually do something productive go to http://www.wwthink4you.com.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:12 am |
  19. yVoNNe

    EZEKIEL 34:10 the LORD is causing the shepherds to cease from feeding sheep.

    Look at the Pastor David Love -VS- Randy Stone murder 2010 case! How does a pastor have a TEN YEAR AFFAIR under the churches nose without any accountability??? Just before Pastor Love murdered his girlfriends husband, MANY ASSISTANT PASTORS LEFT the church yet the members were unaware of what the scandal was.

    Martin is right... LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY is heart of the issue. But so is the church pushing away the truth [HOLY SPIRIT] in unrighteousness!!! That church who refuse to hear the Holy Spirit promptings is a church full of false converts because they're no longer relying on the Word of God; they're relying on BLIND GUIDES!

    A tree is known by its fruit... PERIOD!

    June 24, 2011 at 3:27 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      A M E N !

      June 27, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  20. just a thought

    I know nothing about this case, however, I beleive anyone who passes judgement had better check up on their relationship with God before coming to conclusions.

    June 24, 2011 at 3:22 am |
    • fimeilleur

      And if God doesn't exist... ? How long should we then wait before coming to conclusions?

      June 24, 2011 at 4:14 am |
    • W247

      It's not a point of passing judgment on someone, it's an understanding that there is forgiveness for your actions but there is also consequences for your actions. Moses didn't see the promise land because he disobeyed the Lord, however I am pretty sure the Lord had forgiven Him.

      June 24, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
1 2 3
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.