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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.  

This well-written article in the Sheboygan Press tells Praise Fellowship’s story.  Here’s the first part of the story:

Everything about Aaron Herman’s background made him a perfect fit for Sheboygan’s Praise Fellowship Church — he grew up in the church, he toured professionally and he helped lead a 5,000-member church in Louisiana.

These just weren’t the circumstances under which the 34-year-old worship pastor imagined returning home.

Herman, who started at Praise Fellowship last month, replaced a disgraced former worship pastor who sits in jail accused of exchanging graphic photos and pursuing sexual relationships with two teenage boys at the church. Travis Gandy — who was fired the day the first charges were filed in June — has a total of 33 felony charges pending. “The people are hurt. A lot of my team worked very closely with Travis, and it was painful, and it still is,” Herman said in a recent interview at the north-side church. “Trusting after being disappointed is a difficult thing.” But in the four months after Gandy’s abrupt departure, leaders say the church’s worship team and congregation have come through the ordeal stronger and more united than ever. “There’s a new season, a new chapter that God wants to write, and it’s still going to be about … how can we serve our community and what can we do to have an impact on people’s lives,” said the Rev. Chuck Apple, senior pastor of Praise Fellowship. “I think Aaron has brought in a fresh wind of excitement, a sense of moving on, and I’m just excited about what the Lord has for us in the future.” But the last few months haven’t been easy. Continue reading to see how the church reacted and responded to the situation they found themselves in. Hats off To Praise Fellowship! My guess:  the staff at Praise Fellowship never saw this thing coming.  I’m guessing this scandal was never on their radar screen as being a possibility before it hit.  Hidden sins of others right next to us usually blow us away. What I admire about the way this church handled the situation is that they immediately took steps to help all those involved. They spoke freely from the pulpit about it; and even used it as a teaching opportunity to help others who may be dealing with secret sin issues. They provided help and counseling for those in the church that needed it; particularly members of the worship team who had worked very closely with the person charged. They spoke openly with the community about the issue. And most importantly, they moved on without flinching… continuing outreach in their city; and hiring a new worship leader to help heal the congregation. Many church’s response would have been to act like this thing never happened.  That rarely works. What would be YOUR game plan if your worship leader was arrested today?  (If you’re the worship leader, pretend it’s the youth or senior pastor). Would your leadership be able to make quick and right decisions? How confident are you that your church would handle this situation well? Maybe your church has dealt with this kind of thing?  What did you learn? Please share your thoughts… Thanks, Todd

The headline reads:  Woman Stabs Classmate in Anger-Management Class.  It happened not long ago near Seattle.  A seemingly peaceful anger management class goes horribly wrong when two of the women students begin to argue.  One grabs a knife and stabs the other person in the arm… Of course, the newspaper HAD to report that story.  The irony was just too great. In fact, the media loves a great story like this.  Irony and hypocrisy make for a great personal interest story. A woman getting stabbed in the arm outside a mall doesn’t make the evening news.  But a woman getting stabbed in the arm at an anger management class makes headlines nationwide. A drug deal going down rarely makes the news anymore.  But a police officer involved in a drug deal is a major story. A woman having sex with a teenager may still raise some eyebrows in most communities, but probably wouldn’t make the news; unless, of course, the woman is a teacher.  Then, it’s a national story. The media love this kind of thing. Enter you. You, every week, work at a place that upholds family values, is supposed to love people, and do good for the community.  Your church is supposed to be representing the Word of God, ten commandments, and the best in everything.  What happens when things don’t match up? Let’s say you, as a pastor do something wrong.  Let’s say you steal something; you have an affair; you get caught in some kind of financial inconsistency.  There is probably a reporter in your city right now that would love a call with that lead. You, as a church worker, are held to a much higher standard only because any mis-step you make will be considered hypocracy.  It will make for a good story. The ramifications of a screw-up are much higher for you as well. Chances are, you’ll lose your job over it. Chances are, your church will suffer unnecessarily. And there’s a good chance you’ll lose your family.  (In the case of an affair, those are hard enough for most couples to work through… add in the public disclosure and embarrassment, and many marriages just can’t take it.) I admit.  I’m fascinated with scandals (both church, political, etc.) for a couple reasons.  First, they make me examine my own life to be sure that I’m not near a crash.  And secondly, they cause me to investigate how these things happen.  Maybe I’m just a curious person.  Maybe it’s hit too close to home for me, as I’ve had a good friend hit by scandal.  Maybe it’s because I’ve seen too many people fall to silly stuff they never thought they’d do. As you go about your day… be constantly reminded:  people are watching you.  Some would love to take you down.  Some would love to tarnish the reputation of your church and ministry.  Don’t give them the fuel to do it. If you’re about ready to crash and burn; or if you’ve already fallen and people don’t know about it; take today and take the steps you need to take to get help and save yourself and your ministry and town the embarrassment of another scandal. If you need someone to confide in, drop me a line.  I’d be glad to help however I can. Todd

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