David and Goliath is not the right biblical story to guide Bishop Eddie Long.
“I feel like David against Goliath,” Long told his 25,000 member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church this past Sunday. “But I’ve got five rocks and I haven’t thrown one yet.”
Long left little doubt on Sunday that he would vigorously fight four lawsuits brought against him. Each lawsuit alleges that the pastor coerced young men under his tutelage into sexual relationships. If any acts of a sexual nature took place, they would undoubtedly be coercive. They may not be illegal in the state of Georgia, but any time a pastor, doctor, psychologist or other care-giving authority figure develops a sexual relationship with someone they serve, coercion is involved.
None of us knows the truth behind these allegations.
But as a pastor, I was shocked at two things on Sunday.
First, Long didn’t deny a thing. Though a masterful preacher and wizard with words, he did not marshal the power of words to proclaim his innocence. He seemed to want to wiggle his way into that fault line between what’s right and wrong – what’s legal.
The second thing that shocked me was the uncritical cheering of this pastor by his congregation. Their zeal is admirable yet misplaced.
In other Baptist congregations, men and women are not ever named as bishops. We’ve been burned by so many bishops in our past – sometimes quite literally – that an overwhelming majority of Baptists have disowned the hierarchical tradition employed by other denominations. The only ultimate overseer (bishop) of the church is Jesus Christ. And he calls his disciples to practice leadership in a strange way: not lording authority over one another, but washing one another’s feet.
All this leads me to make a different biblical association than Long. He mentioned David and Goliath, but I can’t help but think of David and Bathsheba. Same leader, different context. Young David the shepherd boy, going toe to toe with Goliath, was poor, scrawny, scrappy and the antithesis of a leader.
I won’t cite examples, but anyone with eyes to see knows Long is no young David. At his best, he may be like King David – wealthy, wise, shrewd, generous, powerful, filled with faith. Yet is he capable of tremendous hypocrisy and evil?
Read again the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 and following. King David was prepared to vigorously, even violently, fight every charge made against him. Because those charges were true.
Not until he heard a prophet’s voice did David finally break down and “fess up.” Forgoing the facade of “family values,” he finally cried out, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:14).
As a result of this transformation, some of the most moving words in Scripture are attributed to David: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow,” “create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me,” “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:7,10,17).
I pray for Long and urge him: If the truth isn’t in your bag of rocks, don’t start throwing any. When those things start flying around, giants have a way of falling.
Kevin Collison is pastor of Island View Baptist Church in Orange Park, Fla.