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Why Bishop Long’s wife shouldn’t ‘stand by her man’…

September 28, 2010 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( There she stood right beside her man: an attractive, God fearing and loyal middle aged woman holding the hand of her fallen pastor husband. He walked her out ever so gently–held her close, and kissed her lips for all to see as he ushered her back to her seat on stage, before he took to the lectern to speak to his flock.

Bishop Eddie Long, a self-proclaimed prophet of God has been accused of coercing four male parishioners into sex. This Sunday, in his first public comments on the scandal, Long never once said, ‘I am innocent of what I have been accused of doing with these young men in my care.’ Instead he vowed to fight the charges and in doing so he did what all guilty defendants do (in my experience as an attorney): he used careful language such as “I am not a perfect man“, parsed his words and hid behind his lawyers admonitions. Something that a man of God likely would not do if he was in fact innocent.

As I watched the Bishop Sunday morning, images of other pastors (Ted Haggard) and politicians before him (Bill Clinton’s emphatic: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky“) came to mind. But the person I was most intrigued by was Vanessa Long and the hell she must be living through right now.

So here we go again, yet another loving wife humiliated by her powerful husband, and once again by allegations of seedy, sexual activity with underage teenage boys. I grimaced as I saw Vanessa Long walk out to the pulpit on Sunday with her husband at her side. I felt for her as I know she must be mortified at the spotlight now focused intently on her husband and their marriage as well as their private sex life.

You have to wonder what was going through her mind yesterday. Women just aren’t that naive. Longstanding psychological and empirical data often show a sad trend that when husbands cheat, their wives usually suspect them, or when husbands are engaged in acts of molestation (even against their own children) or have a proclivity toward the “other sex” wives often suspect and still they look the other way.

Why do we do this? The reasons I suspect are varied and painful. Sometimes we like the lavish lifestyle we have become accustomed to; or, perhaps, we cut a deal going in and we knew our man was “not quite right” or that he had “a roving eye“–but we liked his potential anyway and we liked how he treated us. So we made a deal with the devil–we sold ourselves in order to protect ourselves from having to go it alone.

Clearly, I have no answer to such an age old question, but I do think I can shed a bit of perspective on why Vanessa Long is standing by her man like many before her.

Let me say first that my heart goes out to Vanessa and her four children. And I have tried to put myself in her shoes, particularly as a Christian woman–as the “first lady” of the church. She is in a tough spot no doubt. Much like Hillary Clinton was in 1998, if she left the president his presidency would have ended and all of their hard work would have been for not. Much like the work at New Birth Baptist. If Vanessa Long does not stand by her man, that will signal to everyone else that he is guilty as charged. If she leaves him, it will be the end of his ministry at New Birth. I get it. I truly do.

But as a 40 plus-year-old woman myself who tries to mentor young women everyday, I think Vanessa Long must consider the commands of Titus 2 (which is for the older wiser women to teach the younger ones how to live, be married, and conduct themselves). She must consider the example she is setting for thousands of young sisters in that congregation.

When is enough enough? When do we sisters say that marriage is sacred and honorable and that when our husbands violate their vows in such a public, reckless and egregious way that we will not stand by them and support their dysfunction. Look, I too believe in redemption and forgiveness. I need it everyday myself. But scripture is clear that those who are called to be evangelist, elders, prophets and the like are called to a higher standard (see Ephesians 4). They must practice what they preach. I can only think of one woman recently who kept her dignity when her cheating husband was busted — Jenny Sanford, wife of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. She did not go to his press conference, she did not stand by him, she signaled to her four sons that their mother had some dignity and self respect. Although she may have loved their father, she would not let him make a fool of her in public.

I hope that Vanessa Long does not join a long list of other humiliated and silenced wives like Silda Spitzer, Gayle Haggard, Dina Matos McGreevey and a host of others who all stood by their husbands in utter humiliation. Their initial silence unwittingly sends a message to girls and young women around the world that maybe women really haven’t come such a long way after all.

Written By Sophia A. Nelson

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