Bishop Eddie Long pastors a huge church near Atlanta. He's also one of the most homophobic black ministers in America.
LITHONIA, Ga. — "Men can look attractive when they are dirty," writes Bishop Eddie Long in his 1997 book I Don't Want Delilah, I Need You! "We see sweating, dirty, hardworking men on television all the time and we say to one another, 'There's a macho guy.'"
Despite this affinity for sweaty, macho men, Long is one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement. His book, subtitled What a Woman Needs to Know, What a Man Needs to Understand, appeared in the midst of a roaring growth period for Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., near Atlanta. During the mid-'90s, it swelled to over 18,000 congregation members, men and women who worship in a multimillion-dollar complex that's the size of most major universities, spread out on 240 acres of land.
Much of what appears in I Don't Want Delilah was espoused in the videotaped "Back to the Future” sermon Long gave when his church was still small.
"It is the most unattractive thing I have ever seen, when I see women wearing uniforms that men would wear, and women fighting to get in the military!" Long shouted to his congregation then. "The woman gets perverted to turn towards woman … and everybody knows it's dangerous to enter an exit! And everybody knows, lady, if you go to the store and buy these devices [marital aids], it's Memorex! It ain't real!"
The audience, seated in a congested sanctuary, erupts in laughter. But what Long says next is no joke.
"God says you deserve death!"
Long's message is: Hate the sin and the sinner. It's a popular message. His congregation now tops 25,000.
In 2004, Long and his followers vigorously supported a proposed amendment to the Georgia state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Civil rights activists cringed as Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter, Bernice, handed a torch to Long, whom she has referred to as her "new father," as they marched side by side to her biological father's gravesite in a demonstration held "to protect the institution of marriage."
The amendment ultimately passed.
When Bernice's mother Coretta Scott King died last year, her memorial service was held at Long's church. Harry Belafonte, the actor, refused to attend. Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, protested the funeral as well.
"I knew her [Coretta Scott King's] attitude toward gay and lesbian rights," Bond told AOL Black Voices. "I just couldn't imagine that she'd want to be in that church with a minister who was a raving homophobe."
In addition to Long's works, the bookstore in the front lobby of New Birth carries only the books of other high-profile white and black homophobes from the Christian Right. They include James Dobson, leader of the anti-gay Focus on the Family, and Bishop Harry Jackson, leader of the evangelical anti-gay organization, High Impact Leadership Coalition. Long's 2004 book Deliver Me From Adam is foreworded by Rod Parsley, the hard-line leader of the anti-gay Center for Moral Clarity in Ohio, which led the charge getting a state referendum on banning same-sex marriage onto the 2004 ballot.
That passed, too.
In Deliver Me From Adam, Long pines for the days when "Leave it to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best" were on primetime television, a time when he claims "every family had a mom and dad." Nowadays, Long continues, "most of the situation comedies project fractured families … with openly gay family members and relationships."
Also for sale in the New Birth store is Ministering Graciously to the Gay and Lesbian Community, by Bishop Brian Keith Williams. In a section titled "All Dogs Go to Hell," Williams warns that "the truth concerning homosexuality is that, if one engages in this dog-like sin, it will result in both an immediate and ultimate hell."
How's that for gracious ministering?
Last year, Long extended an invitation to gays and lesbians looking for a "cure" to attend a "Sexual Orientation and Reorientation" conference at New Birth. The event consisted mostly of "ex-gay" ministers like the Rev. D. L. Foster and former gangsta rapper Samantha Coleman preaching that people can be "delivered" from the "unwanted desires" of homosexuality. Foster told the small crowd of black and white Christians with same-sex attractions how he "never once prayed to God for him to make me homosexual … but I didn't know how to get rid of it."
Coleman, similarly, said that she'd been aware of her feelings for women since she was 4, but would sometimes regret them, wishing she were just a "normal girl."
New Birth also offers an ongoing ministry called "Out of the Wilderness" that claims to help gays and lesbians "convert" to heterosexuality. New Birth's counseling staff did not return phone calls from Intelligence Report seeking specifics on the program. Program sessions are closed to the public.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, merchants peddled skin-whitening bleach creams to African Americans, suggesting to potential customers they could alleviate the consequences of racism by simply changing their skin color. Programs like "Out of the Wilderness," which mainstream psychologists and medical experts reject because they say homosexuality is not a condition that needs a "cure," operate on a similar principle. If black gays and lesbians feel emotionally desolate, alienated, or abandoned by their church, Long says, it's not because of bigoted attacks on them but because of their own sexual sin.
And if they don't change, he warns, they're going straight to hell. "Homosexuality and lesbianism are spiritual abortions," Long says. "Homosexuality is a manifestation of the fallen man."