I had a friend recently email me and ask my thoughts about yesterday’s news of Bishop Eddie Long settling the lawsuit filed against him by four young men. Why did he settle? Didn’t he say he would fight it? They wanted to hear my legal perspective on the matter. But it’s very hard to offer a legal perspective when you have major concerns about the spiritual connotations of an issue. So I will offer both a legal and spiritual perspective here.
I thought long and hard about writing about this. In full disclosure, I attended New Birth over ten years ago, while enrolled at Morehouse College. The ministry and the people of New Birth were very instrumental in my formative years as a young man who had re-dedicated himself to Christ. I was heckled and talked about because I attended a megachurch. I was asked how I could attend a church that didn’t allow you to get within 10 feet of the pastor without personal bodyguards fending you off. There was one thing I couldn’t doubt about attending New Birth. To this day, some of the most wonderful men and women of God I know were members there when I attended. Like me, they have since moved on to do great things for the Kingdom of God. Today, they are pastors, entrepreneurs, leaders, and community activists. And like me, eight months ago, they weren’t sure how to take this news. They treaded lightly until they heard the full story. How can you blame former members? Surely we’d need time to process the news. If we were really honest at the time, it likely hit us like a ton of bricks.
With that said, I have never had any personal contact or a personal relationship with Bishop Long. Most of my ministry related activities took place in New Birth’s College Ministry. But I spent over a year listening to Bishop Long preach the Gospel with zeal, conviction, and a heart to see the people of God transform. Every sermon didn’t deal with money. I didn’t feel like I was sheepishly following a man who was deceiving me. Did I necessarily agree with everything he said? No. But who really agrees with everything their pastor says? Aren’t we all called to be like the Bereans in Acts who checked on everything Paul said to make sure it was accurate or verifiable? Ultimately, I appreciate my experience at New Birth. It served as a catalyst for my hunger for the Word of God and nothing that has happened since will take that away. As evidenced by my own life and testimony, I still love God, love the people of God, and love the Word of God.
The Legal Perspective
Settlements occur all the time and are usually based on a cost/benefit analysis. There’s a ton of gray between guilt and liability. Often times, outside of the legal community, they both go hand in hand. But from a legal perspective, guilt is not the same as liability. Determining one’s guilt is a criminal issue. Liability, on the other hand, is a civil issue. This case was filed as a civil case. And two non-profits (New Birth and Longfellows Academy) were included in the pleadings. So the financial liability was beyond personal liability for Bishop Long. He was not the only defendant involved in the case. New Birth and Longfellows both had counts of negligent infliction of emotional distress and negligent failure to warn (among other counts) included in the complaints from each young man. So not only was Bishop Long sought for liability, but New Birth and Longfellows Academy faced liability issues as well.
Settlements occur for many reason. Among them are the cost to litigate being larger than the cost to settle. However, this case was likely settled because of the potential negative publicity and some of information may have just been too compelling for a jury/judge to deny some form of liability on at least one count. And this liability would reach both non-profit organizations (likely something the defendants wanted to avoid). Most settlements (and I believe this one will) include language to the effect that there is no admission of liability on the part of the defendant and non-disclosure/confidentiality agreements on the part of plaintiffs. As with most settlements, this was a stragetic move on the part of the defendants’ legal team in order to avoid the unecessary costs (monetary and emotional) to Bishop Long personally and the non-profits as organizations.
The Spiritual Perspective
Now that the legal analysis is out of the way, let me offer my spiritual analysis. After all, I am a man of God. As a father, I couldn’t imagine my son experiencing any form of sexual coercion or abuse. In fact, I might not be writing this if I was a father who found out any form of abuse happened to his child (because I’ll be prisoner #430_ _ _ _). Does anyone other than Bishop Long or those boys know what happened? No. I’m not here to judge anyone’s veracity. And I am by no means defending any events that may have transpired. But I AM a man who understands the lack of positive male role models in the lives of young, black men in this country. I AM a man who will stand up for children as Jesus did in the New Testament time and time again. I AM a man who will affirm young men who may have experienced abuse at the hands of a older men. Most of all, I AM a man will strive to see that young, minority men in this country see glimmers of hope in environments that seem hopeless.
So I’m not going to settle.
I’m not going to settle until I reach as many young brothers as I can and show them a positive role model they can trust. My personal thoughts on Bishop Long’s situation? I believe there were some very bad decisions made and, to some degree, there was a lack of accountability.This is a sad, sad situation.I’m continuing to pray for all parties involved. In the end, this may have been a blessings, because the trial would have been quite ugly and may have done more harm than good.
Many blessings to you all. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.