Roland S. Martin - The power of any pastor over his or her parishioners is derived from their "calling" to minister the Gospel from God, or as some call it, the anointing by the Holy Spirit. But the role of a pastor -- the Bible speaks to being a shepherd of a flock -- also comes from the belief that it is their moral standing as the earthly representative of God to lead their congregations spiritually.
If you read the writings of Paul in 1 Timothy 3 (New International Version), he offers the following instructions: "Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church)...He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap."
As we witness the salacious and troubling sex allegations leveled this week against Atlanta megachurch pastor Bishop Eddie L. Long, it is clear that many are confused to hear four young men come forward and allege that the man of the cloth, the husband and father, sexually coerced them and used the power of his prophetic position to engage in sex with them.
It is even more shocking considering Long has preached with conviction against homosexuality and gay marriage.
The details outlined in three lawsuits -- a fourth man stepped forward on Friday -- have rocked the Christian community. Bishop Long isn't just a preacher with a storefront church. He oversees a massive 240-acre complex in Lithonia, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta, a congregation of 25,000 members, schools, and an international ministry that is seen on TBN, Daystar, The Word Network and online. He is widely respected as a strong man of God who ministers annually to fellow pastors, men, youth and a mega women's conference.
His influence is tremendous and far reaching, even in the areas of education and politics in Georgia.
With all that said, and I fully understand that he has vigorously denied the allegations, there is no doubt in my mind that for the sake of the church, Long and his family, he needs to remove himself from the pulpit as the leader of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in order for the issue to be resolved to its conclusion.
In an interview with me on Thursday on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Long's attorney, Craig Gillen, said his client would speak for the first time on Sunday at 11 a.m. and address the issue before his congregation.
While I disagree with waiting five days since the allegations were revealed -- if someone accused me of doing this and I know in my heart I didn't do it, I would be screaming from the top of Georgia's Stone Mountain -- Long first and foremost owes an explanation to his personal family, and then his church family.
If he does indeed stand before the New Birth family, Long should be honest and forthright, not mince words or engage in double talk. And after whatever he says, he should take it upon himself to "sit himself down."
In the Christian church, when a pastor is accused of wrongdoing, going through a divorce or violating the biblical call to be above "reproach," the senior pastor orders them to be "sat down." That means they don't carry out their ministerial duties. The point is to protect the integrity of the Word of God, as well as to allow that pastor to get his or her affairs in order.
As the leader of New Birth, there is no human authority above Long. But he has a heavenly father that he has to answer to, and he must not allow his personal travails to interfere with the good and expansive works of the church. Souls still need to be saved, people still need to be healed, the sick still must be cared for, and the naked clothed.
Yet I also hope that when Long speaks, he does one of two things: If in his mind and heart he has done no wrong, he will launch a vigorous defense of his name and integrity and vow with every fiber in his body to fight the charges, even if that means spending every dime he has and not settle the lawsuits.
But if he is guilty of what is alleged, I pray that Long doesn't stand before his church as its spiritual father and continue the charade of saying "I didn't do it" and tear into his accusers. God, Long and those young men know what took place, and as someone who has listened to many of his sermons and read his books, Long has often talked about the need for Christians, especially men, to be accountable for their actions and confess their sins.
If guilty, and if he truly cares about his enormous flock, he will stand before them and admit to the error of his ways, and not put them through more pain and heartache. He is a charismatic pastor who has always been known to preach an uncompromising Word, unwilling to say what folks want to hear, but instead, what they need to hear.
Bishop Long, your congregation and the world don't want to hear excuses. They don't want ambiguity.
Your motto at New Birth for years has been "Taking Authority." This is the time for you to live that credo out before your flock, no matter what the outcome will be.