When Churches (and Their Ministers) Get Too Big for Their Own Good

Behold the latest sex scandal among Christians:


Lawsuits Accuse Megachurch Leader of Sexual Misconduct

Published: September 21, 2010

ATLANTA — Two young men in Georgia said Tuesday that the pastor of a 33,000-person Baptist megachurch, Bishop Eddie L. Long, had repeatedly coerced them into having sex with him.

In two lawsuits filed in DeKalb County, the men said that Bishop Long, a prominent minister and television personality, had used his position as a spiritual counselor to take them on trips out of state and perform sexual acts on them.

Bishop Long is the pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, an Atlanta suburb. It is one of the largest churches in the country.

“Defendant Long has a pattern and practice of singling out a select group of young male church members and using his authority as bishop over them to ultimately bring them to a point of engaging in a sexual relationship,” said a suit filed by one of the men, Maurice Robinson, 20. The other man who filed suit is Anthony Flagg, 21.

Bishop Long’s lawyer, Craig Gillen, rejected the accusations.

“Bishop Long adamantly denies these complaints,” Mr. Gillen said. “We find it unfortunate that these two young men have taken these actions. We are reviewing the complaint and will respond accordingly.”

Bishop Long became the church’s pastor in 1987 and, under his leadership, its congregation grew to more than 25,000 people from 300, according to the church’s Web site.

Lawyers for the two men painted a picture of widespread corruption and sexual misconduct. They said Bishop Long had provided the men with free hotel stays in more than a dozen cities around the country (checking them into rooms under the alias “Dick Tracy”) and had given them gifts, including a Mustang. They said he had introduced them to celebrities like the producer Tyler Perry and the actor Chris Tucker.

A lawyer for the men, Brenda Joy Bernstein, said officials at the church had known that the sexual acts were occurring but covered up for Bishop Long. “They would do everything to protect the most powerful church in the Southeast,” she said.

The young men met Bishop Long, who has a wife and four children, through a church program for teenagers, Ms. Bernstein said. The sexual acts occurred when the men were 17 and 18 years old, the lawsuits said.

“They just wanted to be loved and cared for by one of the most charismatic and powerful men that this church has ever known,” Ms. Bernstein said. “He is destroying lives.”

Bishop Long is an outspoken critic of homosexuality and has been called by the Southern Poverty Law Center “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement.” He is the author of a book titled “What A Man Wants, What A Woman Needs: The Secret To Successful, Fulfilling Relationships.”

Aside from the obvious hypocrisy of a pastor condemning what he himself practices secretly, note how large the church is. Should ANY church, even one in a large city, be allowed to grow so massive?

I don’t think so. And one of the great blessings of the Unitarian Universalist Association is that none of its congregations are as massive as many of the “megachurches” that are so famous. The bigger the church is, the more likely it is that the minister of it will become arrogant and think he can get away with anything, including sexual abuse. That may be an issue in the Catholic Church, which is by far the largest Christian sect in the world (over one billion followers) and the largest denomination in the United States (over 50 million American members). So their churches would tend to be HUGE.


According to this data, the largest UU church is All Souls Unitarian Church of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has 1783 members. (The Church of the Larger Fellowship does not count, since it has no single location or building; it is made for isolated UUs around the world.)

Thus I would strongly recommend that any UU church that is larger than 1000 members be forced by the UUA  to split into two or three congregations. There is a healthy spirituality in a group of about 100 or so where everyone in it knows everyone else. But any group of several thousand cannot possibly have that. When people attend the same church and are virtual strangers to each other, the social aspect of religion breaks down. That’s just as important to me as preventing ministers from becoming too full of themselves because of the size of the congregation.

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