Allegations Revisit Church's Stance On Homosexuality Homosexuality is taboo in most black churches, which is why the case of Bishop Eddie Long is so complex. Long has been accused of abusing four young men -- yet he is one of the most outspoken critics of homosexuality. His case highlights the long simmering conflict within black churches over same-sex relationships.
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Allegations Revisit Church's Stance On Homosexuality

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Allegations Revisit Church's Stance On Homosexuality

Allegations Revisit Church's Stance On Homosexuality

Allegations Revisit Church's Stance On Homosexuality

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/130370393/130370433" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Located in Lithonia, Ga., New Birth Missionary Baptist Church is led by Bishop Eddie Long, who currently faces allegations of sexual coercion of male church members when they were teenagers. Jessica McGowan/Getty Images hide caption

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Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Located in Lithonia, Ga., New Birth Missionary Baptist Church is led by Bishop Eddie Long, who currently faces allegations of sexual coercion of male church members when they were teenagers.

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

When it comes to his views of homosexuality, Bishop Eddie Long is straightforward.

The influential pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church outside Atlanta led a march in 2004 to call for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman. His megachurch holds "sexual reorientation" seminars, which are aimed at "curing" gay men and lesbians.

And for those who refuse to change, he has a message:

"To every man that knows what God is saying to do, and you're still acting like the boys on the corner, God says 'You deserve death!'" Long preached a few years ago.

'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' In The Black Church

In a video of the sermon, which was obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the pastor strides around the stage, and with each provocative point, the congregants wave and cheer.

Excerpts from Bishop Long's Sermon

Watch excerpts from an undated sermon by Bishop Eddie Long entitled “Back to the Future.”

YouTube

But Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania, says in all likelihood, at least a few of those worshippers were gay. She says even in conservative churches such as Long's, there are almost certainly gay members. But they keep quiet because most black churches have a "don't ask don't tell" policy.

"If you're gay and you're in a black church, you are welcome to be there," Butler says. "The problem is that you may be subject to messages that may denigrate who you are."

For example, Long preaches that the problem with society is that "men are being feminized and women are becoming masculine," adding, "I don't care what scientists say. If you say you were born this way, then you're saying, 'God, you're a liar! And I see this thing down here, but I'm going to ignore it!'"

Historical and Scriptural Reasons

Long's theology comes from a literal reading of the Bible, which condemns gay sex in several places. Butler says unlike many white Protestant churches, which have fierce debates about interpreting those passages, most black churches do not.

"They have a firm belief in Scripture, and that Scripture trumps everything," Butler says. "So it's not about theology for them ... It's [about] 'Did the Bible say it? Then we're not going to do it.'"

Polls show that more than two thirds of black Protestants oppose gay marriage, and more than half oppose legal recognition for any kind of same sex union.

Dennis Wiley, co-pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., says there is a historical as well as scriptural reason for this attitude. Because of racism, blacks have wanted to fit into the wider society and support traditional institutions such as marriage.

"We have not wanted to do anything that would suggest that our families or community was exhibiting any behavior that could be considered deviant or hypersexual," he says.

Wiley, who supports same-sex marriage, says this concern dates back to slavery, when most African-American men were not allowed to legally marry, raise families, and be heads of households.

"The black church was one of the few areas in which black men could exercise this sort of traditional notion of what it means to be a man," he says. "Anything that suggests weakness or femininity has been considered to be unmanly and therefore it has no place in the black church."

Family Concerns

Add to that what Phil Davis sees as a modern-day assault on the African-American family. Davis, the conservative pastor of Nations Ford Community Church in North Carolina, says in an age of unwed mothers and fathers in jail, the African-American church needs to promote the family unit.

"The foundation of any family is the father," Davis says. "If we allow our young men and young boys to just haphazardly live a homosexual lifestyle, we weaken further the very fabric that we have to build up in order to strengthen our families."

Davis and others declined to talk about the allegations against Bishop Eddie Long, since nothing has been proven.

Some said his case should open up a conversation about how black churches deal with homosexuality. None of them, however, thought that many will change their stance anytime soon.