I have been in church all my life and have not heard the account of the Bad Shepherd preached from a pulpit a single time. That includes numerous Sunday services, conferences, ordination rites, pastoral installations, and yes, even seminary. We know lots about the Good Shepherd and that “The Lord is my Shepherd.” However, we would be hard-pressed to find cautionary examples of who not to follow. Some scripture is bad for business. What is a bad shepherd? Thus says the Lord:
Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. (Ezekiel 34:2b-3).
If a pastor is fleecing his flock, there should be no expectation that he has the character to perform the loving works that good shepherding requires. I don’t care how many turkeys they donate at Thanksgiving, their standard of living should not be far beyond the average member of the congregation if doing so comes at the congregation’s expense. People with no more than a bus pass should not be buying Bentleys for others. Jesus rode a donkey.
The problem with Eddie Long did not begin with the recent allegations of sexual misconduct. The problem is that he fits God’s description of a bad shepherd perfectly. If your spiritual leader will not allow you to avail yourself of the benefits of charity, discipleship, and fellowship, without first seeing your W-2, he doesn’t love you any more than a pimp loves a whore. A pastor should not use the contributions to the church as his means to moving up the socio-economic ladder beyond what the free-market would bear. To make matters worse, they take it personally when members do not give enough to sustain shameless spending.
Eddie Long’s other big problem is his perversion of the gospel. Any student of scripture can see the otherworldliness of Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus said it himself in John 18:36: my kingdom is not of this world. That proclamation is consistent with everything else in the bible that points away from our carnal desires for God’s fulfillment of His promises in our lives. Jesus did not come to create an investment club whereby tithes and offerings provide returns to elevate one’s economic standing. The abundant life Jesus promised is about transcendent power beyond the things of this world.
The character failing that allows one to perverse the gospel makes room for all manner of malfeasance. The nature of them is just details. A minister might be into misappropriating funds, womanizing, mind-control, or you name it. We are warned in 2 Timothy 3:1-7:
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.
Look around you. We all have access to the truth through God’s word, spiritual discernment, and our natural senses. Never have I encountered a scandal like this without threadbare red flags all over the wreckage. Well-known secrets abound in communities of faith everywhere. The price we pay for acknowledging them is the path to the cross. What is done in the dark will always come to light. The church will alienate you and scandalize your name, but the truth shall make you free to be led by one who will lead you to the path of righteousness for His namesake.
“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
If the allegations are true, the quality of Eddie Long’s ministry becomes even more devalued. Jesus issued seven woes to religious leaders at the end of his earthly ministry in the 23rd chapter of Matthew. Reading them in light of the allegations and things Eddie Long has said on record is chilling. Basically, Jesus condemns those having good religious form, but not practicing what they preach. Eddie Long went to great lengths to promote an anti-gay agenda during the 2004 and 2006 election cycles. His credibility is on the line. No amount of legal wrangling can reconcile his alleged homosexuality with his Pharisaic rhetoric. If he meets the moral standard that he has established for everyone else, then he should be proclaiming such from the rooftops. His ambiguous non-statements are sounding suspect.
Again, particular situations are just details. Believers must seek God’s truth for themselves. Ignoring scripture not brought to one’s attention by one’s spiritual leader is inexcusable. Institutions are in the business of preserving themselves—for better and for worse. When businesses face challenges, they enlist consultants, publicists, and lawyers to overcome them. The institutional church—as a business no less—follows the same pattern in cases such as the current scandal surrounding Eddie Long. However, we are called to be more than that. Now is the time for the church not only to demand the truth, but also ridding itself of every well-known secret. God will not be mocked.