The news coming out of Atlanta last week that one of the most influential church leaders in the country, Bishop Eddie Long of Atlanta, had been accused by four young men of sexual impropriety is tragic and all-too-common. After the Ted Haggard scandal and scores of others before him, we grow calloused to such news. But hundreds of thousands of followers of Bishop Long are affected by this. His claim that he will “fight this thing” sounded good to his supporters, but did not amount to an actual denial of the specific accusations.
What I cannot understand is why we don’t see the scandal behind the scandal. Bishop Long’s opulent lifestyle included private jets, luxury surroundings, and–most tragically–a message to his people that material prosperity can be theirs too if they will trust in God. This twisted gospel is being proclaimed all over the world right now. The “prosperity gospel” grows like a cancer in parts of the world where people have nothing. Where people who do not know where their next meal will come from tie into a message of wishful thinking–and are manipulated to that position by false shepherds. Why don’t we see that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely? By any sane reading of the Old Testament prophets we have to conclude: God will judge this false gospel, and is judging it already.
I truly hope the accusations against Bishop Long are false–although that would be a great tragedy for four young men who in that case would have trumped up scurrilous charges. In Long’s sermon yesterday he said that he was a David up against a Goliath, but that he hadn’t even started to throw any of his five stones. The picture of an immensely powerful and wealthy leader who can hire an army of attorneys as a small David is peculiar to say the least. Surely the four young men do not view themselves as Goliath, and must be fearful of the velocity of the five stones about to be hurled at them.