Despite the fact that we’ve poked fun of Eddie Long (see what we did there?), it is sad for the members of New Birth that believed in his lies.
When Bishop Eddie Long was accused of sexual misconduct by former church members, his congregation rallied around him and his wife stood by his side. About a year later, the Atlanta megachurch pastor is headed for divorce and stepping away from the pulpit.
Long announced Sunday at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church that he needed a break from preaching to focus on his family. The hiatus leaves New Birth, which once boasted 25,000 members, at a crossroads, its reputation battered and membership dwindling. Their pasts inextricably linked for nearly a generation, both Long and his church face an uncertain future.
“A church is bigger than its pastor,” said Goldie Taylor, who has attended New Birth in the past. “For too long, the New Birth family has acted as if it is smaller than its pastor. Its challenge going forward will be its ability to flip that and become a church without walls again.”
For many members, Long has been the only pastor they have ever known. He became senior pastor in 1987, taking the helm of a flock of only a few hundred members. Not long after he arrived, the former Ford salesman and Honeywell executive dismissed New Birth’s board of directors and took unilateral control of the church, ensuring that he would be the one to determine the date of his departure.
Well, the jokes on hime because four young men actually determined the date of his departure.
The Rev. Kenneth Samuel, who preceded Long, said the allegations hurt.
“With New Birth being as large and prevalent as it is, every church in the area has felt the impact,” Samuel said. “And rightly so. I think there has to be a level of accountability. I think it’s certainly possible for the church to carry on. My prayer is for growth and progress and to become more committed to open, honest dialogue and discussion.”
Marshall said the church can be healed, but also thinks Long needs to step down permanently.
“All things can be renewed, but I think he needs to leave,” she said. “Why continue to lead people when you are being dishonest? It shames the church, it shames the followers, and it shames him.”