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Will the Eddie Long Sex Scandal Force Black Churches to Confront Their Homophobia?

The sordid tale of megachurch Bishop Eddie Long may provide an opportunity for black churches to deal with their regressive attitudes toward gay men and lesbians.

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Rev. Al Sharpton also spoke about the Long sex scandal. Over the weekend the NAACP, along with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, sponsored the One Nation Working Together rally on the National Mall. These may seem like minor accomplishments in the larger theme of things, but the reaction is drastically different than, say, in 2004 when the black church and many elderly members of the civil rights movement were used to support gay marriage bans in numerous statewide elections.

“It’s time that the black church and the African American community begin engaging in an open and frank conversation over the issue of homophobia. For far too long, we have dodged the bullet on this reality, and the end result has been catastrophic for all of us. Because of a massive stigma and fears of castigation, many live dual realities – on the one end pretending they are fathers and husbands, and on the other, living on the 'down-low,'" Sharpton said. “Not only has such an existence denied people the opportunity to live openly and freely as they choose, but it has greatly contributed to the skyrocketing number of HIV/AIDS cases among African American women who may be unaware of the activities of their husbands/boyfriends. As we continue discussing Pastor Long’s alleged crimes, we must ask ourselves, would this have been such a big issue if it were a heterosexual allegation?”

Black women are hugely, and disproportionately, affected by AIDS. Roughly 85 percent of African American women living with HIV may have been infected this way, and they account for nearly half of the country's female epidemic. While the science of how the “down low” factor plays into this statistic is largely unclear, what is true is that homophobia remains a huge issue when it comes to testing, the ability to negotiate safe sex practices and the reluctance some at-risk populations feel about getting tested.

“I’m so happy this Eddie Long thing happened because it’s forcing the church to have a long overdue conversation about homophobia and sexuality. We haven’t even figured out how to have a conversation about sexuality without condemning,” Aaron said, adding that he is not sure if this incident alone will be enough to rid the black church of homophobia. But he says, there is hope as congregations get younger.

“It’s gonna take the young people in the black church to initiate the conversation,” Aaron said. “I don’t think the older generation, I hate to say it, but I don’t think they are even capable. Even through all of this, a lot of Eddie Long’s members continue to have blinders on."

Capitalizing off bigotry

A while back Newt Gingrich's former wife made headlines when she recounted asking Gingrich how he could push “values” while engaging in adultery. He answered that it didn't matter what he did, it's what he said. 
Gingrich knows American bigotry and hypocrisy quite well. He knew he could ride that wave into political power, and he continues riding that same wave today.

The same is true for Long, who, like Gingrich, knows black bigotry and hypocrisy. He knows that some black folks, perhaps because we have been at the bottom rungs of society for a long time, have a peculiar weakness, a need, an insecurity perhaps -- some of us want another person or group to be below us.

That is the very basis of bigotry and every bigot is driven by that same insecurity, regardless of circumstance or race. It’s not that bigots believe others are somehow inferior to them; it’s that they want and need to believe someone else is inferior or wrong in order for them to feel right. Long, much like Gingrich, rode the wave of black bigotry right to the bank. Membership at his megachurch in Atlanta exploded after his infamous march against marriage equality. Despite the criticism, it continued to climb as he aligned himself with former President George W. Bush and the infamous Defense of Marriage Act. Oftentimes, it’s the anti-gay rhetoric that strikes the most vocal chord among many of these megachurch-goers.

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