Bernice King to Begin a New Ministry; Denies That Her Decision to Leave New Birth Had Anything to Do With Eddie Long’s Sex Scandal
Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday after departing from her role as an elder at Bishop Eddie Long‘s Lithonia mega church.“I started really praying and meditating over it,” King said during an interview on Praise 102.5 FM.King said she approached Long in April to express her desire to leave.“I told him that I have to leave because of my assignment that God has for my life,” said King. “I know that I have a pastoral calling in my life,” she said.Channel 2 Action News first reported that King would depart New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. King’s last day as an elder was Sunday. King gave the alter call during Sunday’s 11 a.m. service.”When I came to New Birth, I came for a season,” said King, who served at the church for 8 years and 8 months.When asked about the timing of her decision to leave, given that it came just days after the settlement and dismissal of sexual misconduct lawsuits against Long, King said she provided Long with a timetable and that May 29 was the date she decided upon.”When you’re in leadership at a church, there’s a way that you leave. You don’t just leave,” said King. “I have always followed what I believe to be the voice of God in my life,” she said.
King had said that she was leaving New Birth for some time, even with a distinguished member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which had offered her the presidency of the organization last year. However, King turned it down.
The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a civil rights leader and longtime King family friend, said King talked about leaving New Birth more than a year ago. He said he was not privy to the reason she decided to leave or the timing. “That’s all I know,” he said. “She just had other plans.”
Just what those plans are is another question. I would hope that it would not include gay baiting or stigmatizing women. But I would also say, give her time to feel her way into what will be a fit for her. As for Eddie Long, he has even more to lose. On top of losing parishioners and perhaps other church elders in the future, News One says that Long’s third strike against him is his lack of humility for all that has happened on his watch.
Bishop Long’s lack of humility is an example of his complete arrogance. He is renowned for an extravagant lifestyle — drives a Bentley, drew $1 million in salary from his charity, has a nine-bathroom mansion — that had already come under investigation by the federal government. His politics have made him a prominent target as well. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among others, has referred to Long as “homophobic” for his stance against same-sex partnerships.
Unfortunately, the shadow hanging over Long is growing longer. Sunday morning’s sermon was a perfect example. He did not address the settlement at all. And that’s the reason he is in this situation: his complete disregard for his members and for the cloth he wears. It’s certain that additional elders will resign in the immediate future. The money being given for the settlement is rumored to be in the millions of dollars. The 41 ministries that Long runs will no longer be solvent.
Despite the church’s past economic and political power, it faces a uncertain future. It was a big deal in Atlanta society to be a part of New Birth. Members felt better about themselves because they were members.
Said the church source, “Now there are a whole bunch of people trying to figure out what their place is, what’s going to happen to the church and what’s going to happen to them.”
It is rumored that the settlement was as high as $15 million dollars, perhaps more.
In my Japanese Buddhist sect, the founder, Nichiren, left a series of instructions for the believers and the by-now developing priesthood to follow. One of them involved the possibility of the high priest going wrong by following other beliefs or practices that ran counter to what Nichiren taught. When the high priest went wrong, the priesthood as well as the laity were advised to leave the guy flat. Anything else was encouraging the misapplication of Nichiren’s teachings and the obstruction of Buddhism. The practice of chanting daimoku, or nam-myoho-renge-kyo and accompanying faith was to remain the most important tenet, not worship of the high priest or the priesthood. In a sense, it was also a way to ensure that the laity kept an independence and a seeking spirit regardless of the power that the high priest held. They would rely on Nichiren’s writings, the Lotus Sutra, and not depend on any one man for leadership.
I don’t want to delve into the times when the high priests did go wrong after his death, and how many Nichiren sects there are. However, it’s evident that this little five-foot priest Nichiren knew the hazards of religious power because he spent most of his life being on the wrong side of the shogunate government. I think Nichiren knew that eventually his sect would be mainstreamed and accepted by the government, but even that acceptance would be conditional and really meant little. He did not even try to curry favor with the government or to amass riches for the sake of power. All he wanted was for his followers to realize their own enlightenment, but not through anyone outside of themselves.
I’m sure the Christ had a few admonitions for his followers before he died. I think that he also insisted that people focus on his teachings after he was gone, and to think on him, not necessarily on the men–the popes, the ministers, the patriarchs– who would come after him. They were mere transmitters and caretakers of his teachings and were subject to the people they were charged with leading. But then, there is this tendency in all human beings to create demi-gods and near-Jesuses in their midst through their religious leaders. And frankly, they get what they create, both good and bad.
It’s really sad is that the membership suddenly find themselves leaderless and rudderless, even though their leader, Bishop Long, is still pastor at New Birth. They seemingly have no faith with which to hold on to, and to give them reassurance. Aren’t they reading their bibles? Aren’t they thinking for themselves? Some feel numb; others betrayed, still others excuse Long’s behavior but they say they don’t like it in the same breath. Some don’t want to attend church any more anywhere. Not just for a month, but perhaps a year or so may pass before they feel anything akin to religiosity any more. A lot of this is grief, betrayal, anger at being taken in. It’s waking up from a dream to a nightmare.
That’s something of what occurs when cult members eventually realize exactly what they’ve been a party to.
Whether or not Bernice King planned her exit, it’s also safe to say that she did not want to see any more of this disarray.
The long death of the ministry of Bishop Eddie Long continues.