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This is a great example of how NOT to run your church finances, or your personal finances for that matter. Eddie Long has had a rough couple of years… various sexual allegations with young men that were settled out of court, declining membership at his megachurch, and now a divorce… which is bringing new details into view of how convoluted the finances are between Long’s church and his personal finances. And the local TV news investigative reporter is all over the story.  Lesson:  Keep your personal finances personal, and don’t mix it up and blur the lines with the church.  I know this is not a problem for most all of us… at least to this degree… but as a pastor, you have opportunities, however small, to game the system from time to time.  In the words of Nancy Reagan:  “Just say no”, or else you may end up in this type of a situation with the IRS and local media: Thoughts? Todd
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Current Events
Bishop Eddie Long has apologized to a Jewish group for last Sunday’s coronation of him as a King. In Long’s words: The ceremony was not my suggestion, nor was it my intent, to participate in any ritual that is offensive in any manner to the Jewish community, or any group. Furthermore, I sincerely denounce any action that depicts me as a King, for I am merely just a servant of the Lord… While I believe that Rabbi Ralph Messer has good intentions during his message at New Birth, I understand that the ceremony he performed on Sunday, January 29th, caused harm to the Jewish community, for which I am deeply sorry. The ‘ceremony’ had many a person scratching their head. To Long’s credit, he did look a little bewildered and slightly annoyed during the ceremony that made viral status on YouTube. So, for now, I guess we can go back to calling him Bishop. Carry on. SOURCE
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Current Events
Things may be spiraling out of control at Eddie Long’s church in Atlanta.  They just announced that their Christian school will not reopen after the new year… yep… closing down mid-school year, giving parents less than a week to make other schooling arrangements.  Here’s what Atlanta’s Channel 2 had to say: Dozens of parents said they are left scrambling to find a school for their children after leaders at New Birth Christian Academy said the campus will not reopen next week. School officials told Channel 2 Action News that money and not enough students are the main issues, but some parents said they believe it’s more than that. Parents received a letter putting them on notice that New Birth Christian Academy was shutting down. One parents spoke to Channel 2’s Eric Philips, but did not want her identity known. “It’s almost like they purposely waited for the holiday before they sent out this letter.  I mean, a letter (that says) my daughter basically does not have a school to go to on Jan. 4,” said the parent. The letter blames a sluggish economy for the closure. School administrators told Channel 2 Action News in this statement, “The deficit, along with declining enrollment over the years, left the New Birth Christian Academy Board of Directors with no other option.  The board has made the tough decision to temporarily close the school.” via New Birth school closing its doors | www.wsbtv.com. // Earlier this month, Bishop Long announced he was taking some time away to work on his family.  His wife filed for divorce days earlier.
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Current Events
It’s been a tough few days for Bishop Eddie Long. Last Friday, Long’s wife filed for divorce:
“It is my sincere hope that this matter can be resolved expeditiously, harmoniously, and fairly,” she said in the statement. “I ask that you respect my privacy and that of my family, as my attorneys and I have agreed that we will not try this case in the media, and I do not intend to make any further statements concerning this matter.”  SOURCE
That was Friday morning.  Friday afternoon, she had a change of heart and issued another statement:
“Upon prayerful reflection, I have reconsidered and plan to withdraw my petition for divorce from my husband, Bishop Eddie L. Long. I love my husband. I believe in him and admire his strength and courage.”  SOURCE
But… evidently that was not true.  As of this morning’s news reports, the divorce is back on. In fact, Bishop Long says he is now taking some time off from church: “I’m going to take a little time off to work with my family… I do want you to know that this is, for me and my family, especially with me, one of the most difficult times and things I’ve had to face, and only because my strength, other than God, is in Miss Vanessa.  And I want you to rest assured that I love her and she loves me. … In all the things that I’ve ever had to deal with and being pastor, my rock has been to be able to come home to a virtuous woman who always had peace in my house… We’re going (to) work it out,” he said.”  SOURCE   Pretty sad.  I’m praying for Bishop Long and his wife. Things like this are horrible when they are played out in private.  Horrendous when they are played out in public. Obviously, the public statements portray a relationship that is in dire straights.  And a very confused couple. My understanding is that Long’s church has already shrunk considerably since the sexual allegations against him in the past months.  This will not help. How do you respond when you hear things like this?  Should you care?  Should you respond?
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Current Events
Even though they risk losing future settlement money… two alleged victims of Bishop Eddie Long’s sexual advances are talking to the media. One of the young men, Spencer LeGrande says, ““I feel like burning [the money].” Another alleged victim, Jamal Paris says, “I’d love to take pills and never wake up.” Both men are living in Florida off the settlement money.  The tone of the article is that these two young men, according to their own statements, are not dealing well and are on a path of destruction.  Both men understand that talking to the media could void their settlement agreement with Long. More here… Sin is ugly, folks. No matter where the sin actually lies here, it is ugly. Todd
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Leadership
Recently, Bishop Eddie Long settled out of court with his accusers… young men who accused the Bishop of pressuring them into sexual relationships with them. Long’s friend, Creflo Dollar, recently defended Long, saying that people expect forgiveness but don’t extend it to preachers who also need forgiveness. Dollar said:
Then you become self-righteous and you become judgmental and you’re gonna leave the preacher for his wreck when you done had more wrecks… That preacher’s still anointed to do what he was called to do. He just had a wreck. The blood will take care of his issue just like it will take care of yours.
This has caused Lerone Marti, a professor at Eden Theological Seminary to write an open letter to Creflo Dollar that I found quite interesting. Marti says:
Long’s move from adamant public denial to private settlement left no way for onlookers and members alike to obtain an account of what exactly happened. They have been left in the dark as to whether their shepherd indeed has an ongoing problem… Would you send YOUR kids back to a summer camp where one of the key officials was shrouded in the “wreckage” of sexual abuse? Would you send YOUR kids back to a mentoring program where the leading mentor privately settled his sexual abuse “wreck” out of court … Would YOU continue to unquestionably financially and otherwise support a non-profit organization where the power structure was clouded in a questionable history of inappropriate sexual contact with children? Or would you seek to place your family’s treasures, time, and talents elsewhere?
I think Marti makes a great point.  When someone settles out of court without explaining what happened, without admitting guilt but paying thousands (some estimate millions) of dollars, it does leave a congregation lacking. When the money is paid, everything goes away. Including in this case, many people from Long’s church… they’ve just gone… who knows where… to other churches… or to no church at all. This really is a problem in many churches, I believe.  When there is moral failure of any kind (sexual, integrity issues, financial issues), the leadership of the church does everything it can to control the flow of information rather than just telling the truth. Whenever church leadership decides not to tell the truth to the people, there will be problems. Always. Backpeddling never looks good on a church leader or board. Now, I realize that these situations get difficult and complicated very quickly. In Long’s case, maybe he was completely innocent.  But paying huge sums of money to make the problem go away and acting like nothing ever happened will usually not work.  In Long’s case, it appears it hasn’t.  Attendance is way down from what has been reported. Maybe it was a better financial move to just pay off the accusers than to fight the accusations in court.  If that was the rationale, say that that was the rationale. But if you just pay money, you look guilty as sin, and you’ll have to suffer the consequences of having a reputation that is forever scarred. How long do you stay in a church mired by scandal? When do you decide it’s time to leave? At what point do you lose confidence in your leader/leadership in situations like these? And at what time is the reputation of the leader/church so scarred that it will realistically not be able to be effective any longer in reaching people for Jesus? I’d love to hear your thoughts… Todd More here.  
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Current Events
According to CNN:  Bishop Eddie Long, the Atlanta-based megachurch leader, has reached an out-of-court settlement with four young men who accused him of sexual coercion, representatives for both sides said Thursday. B.J. Bernstein, the attorney representing the men, said in a statement that the lawsuits against Long and his church have “been resolved.” Bernstein’s two-paragraph statement said that neither she nor the accusers would talk about the lawsuits “now or in the future.” Art Franklin, a Long spokesman, said Thursday that the pastor settled because it “is the most reasonable road for everyone to travel.” via Bishop Eddie Long settles with accusers – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs. In other words… money changed hands, right? Question:  If this is indeed the case, doesn’t this show some admission of guilt? If not, why in the world would you give money to four accusers? What would you have done if you were in Eddie Long’s situation?  Four people accusing you of horrible things? Let’s say you ARE completely innocent.  ALL of the charges are totally UNTRUE. Do you EVER agree to a monetary settlement? EVER? I can’t imagine that I would.  But then again, I’ve never been there. What do YOU think?  What would YOU do?
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Controversy
Bishop Eddie Long has had a rough 48 hours.  First two men, then one other young man has filed civil suit against the Bishop and his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, alledging that Long coerced the young men into sexual relationships.  The details are sordid. The secular media is all over this story.  The Christian media, not so much.  I haven’t seen any blog (at least in our circles) touch the story.  I’m not sure anyone knows what to say.  If the allegations are true, it is horrible.  If the allegations are false, its a whole different kind of horrible. Here are some random thoughts: 1.  Maybe the reason we’re not talking about this (yet) is that Bishop Long is not in most of our camps.  But Long is a huge figure in the African American church.  Do a twitter search on Bishop Eddie Long and watch the tweets float past.  They are all over the place, but the African American community is all abuzz, especially the African American Christian community.  I saw one tweet last night from a women saying something like “Not my husband will never go to church with me… and I was so close”.  This story has huge implications, not only for the black church, but also for Atlanta and the church in general.  Whether true or false, it’s another black eye on the church that the media loves to report. 2.  As I said, it’s too early to know if these allegations are true.  Our culture today requires that you only have one person make an accusation.  That’s all you need.  There doesn’t need to be an ounce of truth to it… the story still goes public and ruins your reputation.  The difference here is that there are three different people making the same accusations.  Sure, there could be some conspiracy here; but it makes it more difficult when you have three people saying the same thing.  That’s a problem. 3.  To complicate things in this case, you also have alleged lavish trips on private planes to exotic places, money changing hands, and a twisted spiritual justification aspect.  When you add in each of these elements, it just makes the story that the alleged victims tell, as a whole, seem more believeable.  Suddenly, ‘you took the kid to New Zealand for his birthday on your private jet’ (which should be easy to prove/disprove) makes ‘you coerced him to have sex with you’ seem more believeable. 4.  One of the lawyers filing the case yesterday also released a few pictures of Long that were, well… weird.  These pictures were allegedy sent to the victims on their cell phones.  They picture Long, looking buff, in really tight shirts.  Again… could be totally innocent… but just weird. 5.  Some would argue that this is the secular media going wild on a story.  I would say… not really.  This is they type of story the media loves, not because it’s about a Christian, but because of the duplicity and conflict in the story.  Bishop Long is an outspoken advocate against homosexuality and gay marriage.  To have allegations that he’s been involved in homosexual relationships IS a news story. 6.  For the record, I was able to be on a short group conference call with Bishop Long a couple of years ago.  A mutual friend is a close friend of the Bishop.  Bishop Long talked briefly about the program that is now in question.  To hear him speak of the program was exciting, to be honest.  He told how they find the young, underpriveleged boys and identify their future potential.  They pay for their education, mentor them in the Word, and prepare them to be pastors.  He (Bishop Long) would pour his life into these young men to help prepare them.  He was very passionate about the program and about the results they were getting.  If any (ANY) of these allegations are true… something went terribly wrong. So… what can we learn from today’s situation, whether it is true or not? 1.  (And this won’t affect 99.9% of us).  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… lose the private plane.  Nothing good has ever come from a private plane (as far as I can tell) for a pastor, other than saving a few minutes at the airport, and making yourself look elitist. 2.  Prepare yourself for allegations.  Allegations about pastors come all the time, in all size churches.  People will allege anything from sexual relationships to lying, cheating, and theft.  That’s why it is so important to live a life far above approach.  As a pastor or church staff member, someone is watching you at all times… when you mow your yard, when you shop at Walmart, when you’re driving your car.  Don’t give them any ammunition. I just ran a story about a pastor who left because he put personal expenses on the church credit card and kept the points for his personal use.  Even something like that is a crack in the door that can ruin you. 3.  Show others that you’re accountable.  Part of the lawsuits in this case are pointing fingers at those around Long that should have stepped in and done something.  The allegation is that Long’s people knew and allowed these relationships to happen:  They were enablers.  For example, one case states that Long’s people knew that he shared a hotel room with these young boys.  Big mistake.  Surround yourself with people that have your best interests in mind.  Surround yourself with people that will tell you no.  Surround yourself with people who will hold you accountable, not cover your tracks. 4.  Have a plan for how your church will deal with allegations when they come up.  What if someone in your congregation accused you of having an affair?  How would your church structure handle the situation?  In my church world experience, there are hardly any churches who know how they would handle a situation like this… and because of that… when the situation hits, they handle it poorly. 5.  Tell the truth.  When allegations come, please… just tell the truth.  The only thing worse than the allegation being true is trying to cover your tracks and being found out to be a fraud and a liar ON TOP of the allegations.  I don’t know that this is the case in the Eddie Long story… and I pray it’s not.  Long cancelled a radio interview and press conference where he was to speak today, and instead sent his lawyers out to do the press junket.  That only stirs up controversy more. Those are my thoughts this morning, as blurry as they may be.  I truly hope this story is proven wrong.  Time will tell, I guess. Here’s the latest CNN story… Todd
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