This week, Bishop Eddie Long, the pastor of suburban Atlanta's megachurch New Birth Baptist Missionary Church, apologized to the Anti-Defamation League for partaking in a religious ceremony where he was wrapped in the Torah scroll, and paraded around his congregation as a newly appointed king. The Torah scroll in which the Bishop was wrapped was recovered from a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
Bishop Long, however, is no stranger to controversy. Two years ago, he settled out of court for sexual impropriety with four young male accusers, and just recently his wife filed for divorced.
Taken by itself, the degradation of the biblical doctrine where only Jesus Christ is king is nothing less than blasphemous. And, if you are Jewish, the envelopment of a man in such a sacred text could be nothing short of offensive.
But the larger issue here is that men anointed by the church to these positions of power must realize that their public missteps have deeper implications that further impact the relevance of the black church. Upon reflection, how does this recent incident also suggest that the chains of a one's ego have a much stronger will over the freeing power of humility?
Historically, the black church was an anchor in African American communities. From sharing messages that breathed hope and encouragement in our fragile communities and lives to creating ministries that meet the basic needs of members and the surrounding communities, the black church has been a symbol of what faith and works can do to alleviate human suffering. Whether male or female, the pastor of the church has merely been the shepherd tending to the business of the sheep (or congregation members), and cultivating their talents.
Unfortunately, it's not those stories about their services and ministries that capture the media's attention. Under Bishop Long's leadership, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church has extraordinary ministries that tend to the education, health, employment, and general care needs of their members and the surrounding communities. I have personally seen them first hand. But, the irony is why a man, already embattled by scandal and divorce, would want more public attention?
I truly understand that pastors are men first, but it is their human existence that enables them to fully understand the insecurities of the flesh. Pastors are also specially appointed and anointed to take on this incredible task of spreading the good news, and manifesting the good works of the gospel. Think of it this way, each one of us have a gift, but pastors are blessed with a calling.
So when one sees such a grand act that ultimately results in self-aggrandizement, we minimize the influence of the pastor, and place them alongside the likes of politicians that are too confused by the public consequences of their personal desires. While the Bishop might have perceived this to be a gracious gesture to aid in his personal healing, he missed the point. Redemption, grace, and mercy are just that – personal to the individual without need for public affirmation.
The bottom line is that we need more shepherds than kings.
In closing, I offer our black pastors a simple call to action. Please be more thoughtful and aware of the consequences of your actions: you are a public man. We request that you understand that you are a shepherd to many, and there is only one king. We encourage you to leverage your standing in one of the last remaining black institutions to strengthen the souls of our communities so that we can fully experience all that this life has to offer. And, finally, we remind you that the little man in the red suit laughs and applauds every time you make a mistake.