Friday, September 24, 2010

My Personal Meeting with Rev. Eddie Long, along with Troy Sanders and other Soulforce members

Written June 2, 2008 by Rev. Stephen R. Parelli

Jose Ortiz, left, and Rev. Steve Parelli participants
in the Soulforce Action at Bishop Eddie Long's church. 
Here, seated in the Hospitality Suit of the church
where the meeting with the Bishop took place.
 Reflections on My Experience as a participant of the "American Family Outing" meeting with Bishop Eddie Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church staff members at their church in the Hospitality Suite, Lithonia, Georgia, Sunday, June 1, 2008.

Rev. Troy Sanders, left,
with Bishiop Eddie Long
My expectations of Bishop Long as a Baptist minister were remarkably fulfilled. The comments he made to our group were truly very Baptist. He emphasized the final authority of the word of God, yet at the same time he remarked that he would fight for the right for us to be able to hold to our own beliefs though different from his. These two statements he made are historically very Baptist. They emphasis the priesthood of every believer and the right for the individual to answer before God according to his own conscience and not according to the dictates of an authority outside of the individual, be it the church, government or some other institution or individual.

The Soulforce Team at Eddie Long's church
following their meetring with Bishop Long
He also told us that at times, after careful reflection, he has changed his mind (as it might pertain to doctrine, teaching, or an interpretation of Scripture, so I understood it), and that he has even told his congregation that he had been wrong on a given matter. He indicated that before he could have a clear conscience before God on some study (which he would teach from the pulpit, as I understood him), that he would have to be able to say before God that he had done his homework on the topic.

Bishop Eddie Long
speaking to the Soulforce Team
 In his morning sermon, prior to our meeting with him, he told his audience that his study library fills five rooms. No, he hasn't read all the books he explained, but he does read certain parts of a given book as the need to know about something arises. The books serve as a reference, and when he needs to know something he goes to his library with a particular question or interest in mind.

He also told us that he realizes that some of his ideas (about homosexuality, as I understood him to mean) were handed down to him, and that these yesteryear ideas may not be valid. He gave every indication that tradition for tradition sake did not carry weight with him. In fact, tradition may hinder rather than make plain the understanding of Scripture, so I understood him to imply.

Jose Ortiz, left,
and Steve Parelli, center,
with church staff  member, right
With these comments he gave every indication that he desires to be a responsible student before making assertions in his pulpit teaching. He sees this as being responsible before God as well as being responsible to his congregation. While his final authority is the Bible as the Word of God, it does not preclude him from reading and taking into account other sources for acquiring a general knowledge that would better inform his reading of the Bible. Of course, his desire for reference material and general reading serves his one aim to have a right understanding of the Scriptures, which is his final authority in matters of faith and practice.

Biship Eddie Long
addressing Soulforce Team
 He was careful to tell us – or was it incidentally – that his father was a Baptist minister. In other words, he comes from Baptist stock. Good Baptist stock will be careful to do the hard homework of one's study of the scripture and not just run with what has always been assumed when considering a given text. As a Baptist, one's high regard for the Word of God coupled with the belief of the priesthood of every believer to be able to read and interpret Scripture for one's self, requires one to keep an open mind in the study of the scriptures.

I came away with a certain idea about the man: that if he were to have at his finger tips several scholarly books on addressing topics related to issues facing LGBT people of faith, that he would, from time to time, find himself pulling those books from his shelves and reading the chapters that would speak to the particular question that presented itself to his mind.

The Soulforce Team at a local restuarant the night before
their meetingwith Bishop Eddie Long
I believe we have an open door to send to Bishop Long the gift of books. It is evident that he is a lover of books and the knowledge that comes from books. In fact, I asked the church staff while we were still in meeting (after Bishop Long had left the meeting) if it would be appropriate for me to send two or three books to Bishop Long. The church staff commented that it would be fine. April McLaughlin, the Bishop's personal assistant, gave me her mailing address and email address so that I could send books for the Bishop to her attention.

This was not my only take on the man. There are other worthy points that I observed about the man in our meeting. I'm sure my colleagues will give observation to these other points. This point I make is the one especially close to my heart, especially as a fellow Baptist minister; and because it was so obvious to me what he was saying, I wanted to emphasis this aspect of his talk with us.

Jose Ortiz relaxing after
the Soulforce Action
Respectfully submitted,
Rev* Steve Parelli, MDiv, Executive Director of Other Sheep
AFO Lead family member
June 2, 2008
Bronx, NY
*At the time of this writing, defrocked by a local Baptist congregation for entering into a committed gay relationship.  Presently, an MCC ordained clergy.

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