Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Accountability and Leadership

Sep 28, 2010

When the now infamous allegations against Bishop Eddie Long first surfaced, the world – and specifically the African American community – paused for a seemingly endless moment.  Attempting to cope with the complexity of the situation, we began questioning everything from faith and leadership, to sexuality and civic responsibility.  An ongoing issue within the Catholic Church, this was the first time that we within the Black Church were faced with the troubling notion of pedophilia and abuse of power.  And though nothing has been confirmed nor denied at this point in time, this difficult period should serve as the quintessential teachable moment on a plethora of levels for everyone who cares about the future of our community, the Black Church and our children.

To be clear, let’s first remind ourselves that Pastor Long is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.  Our constitution affords all of us a just trial within the judicial system, and we should honor it no matter what the views in the court of public opinion may be.  That being said, we can however highlight the need for growth within leadership, and the duty upon all of us to assess our own shortcomings and potential hypocrisy.

Public figures – myself included – must be more committed to our cause than our own attractions or distractions in life.  Throughout the years, I have learned that public figures must live and function to a higher standard or else they run the risk of getting in the way of what they represent.  Whether that cause is political reform, immigration law or civil rights as is the case with me, all leadership must adhere to a greater code of excellence if we are to witness the progress we wholeheartedly champion in our day-to-day struggles. 

Next, it’s time that the Black Church and the African American community begin engaging in an open and frank conversation over the issue of homophobia.  For far too long, we have dodged the bullet on this reality, and the end result has been catastrophic for all of us.  Because of a massive stigma and fears of castigation, many live dual realities – on the one end pretending they are fathers and husbands, and on the other, living on ‘the down-low’.  Not only has such an existence denied people the opportunity to live openly and freely as they choose, but it has greatly contributed to the skyrocketing number of HIV/AIDS cases among African American women who may be unaware of the activities of their husbands/boyfriends.  As we continue discussing Pastor Long’s alleged crimes, we must ask ourselves, would this have been such a big issue if it were a heterosexual allegation?

And finally, we must keep in mind that Clergy, like all other human beings, are imperfect and will make mistakes.  But we cannot and will not allow for them to be hypocrites.  When a man or woman assumes the role of religious leadership, or any leadership for that matter, we must ensure that they are leading by example and not by mere verbiage.  Pastors and those who choose to guide others must be held accountable for what they preach and what they espouse from the pulpit.  Their actions must coincide with their teachings, and if they do not, then the responsibility rests upon all of us to call them out on it. 

As the legalities of Pastor Long’s case will eventually reveal the truth, in the meantime, we must ensure that we begin tackling some of our own half-truths and shortcomings.  Public figures like myself must continue living and functioning to a higher standard, and the public must be ready to hold us liable if and when we do not.  The African American community must begin to grapple with the very real existence of homosexuality, and it is the responsibility of everyone to hold our Clergy and leadership accountable to their words and actions. 

Out of the turmoil, pain and shock of the Bishop Long situation, if we can master these challenges, then we in effect have mastered the teachings of this very real and very grave moment.