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Bishop Eddie Long: Will case force open talk in black church about sexuality?

Bishop Eddie Long says he will fight gay sex accusations. But black theologians say the bigger issue for black churches is whether they can have a frank discussion about sexuality at all.

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"You're not going to convince black Christians to be more open to accepting homosexuality; it's always going to be 'don't ask, don't tell,'" says Shayne Lee, a Tulane University sociologist and author in 2009 of "Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace." "Even when it's visible, like the rumors about choir directors, the view is, 'Hey, you're not going to come out, we'll accept you. We'll pretend that you're hetero and you love women, and we're not going to confront you.'"

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"In the particular case of black Christian leaders, exiting the closet is absurdly akin to entering an inescapable dungeon," Mr. Lee, who is black, added in a commentary on CNN on Monday.

Unlike other gay groups, black gays are more likely to stay in their traditional churches over joining a more gay-friendly congregation, reinforcing a pattern of "self-loathing," Bond, the former NAACP chair, said Saturday.

"The unspoken agreement is that gay men get to act as Seraphim, so long as they are willing to shout in agreement as they are being flagellated from the pulpit. It’s an indignity some gay men subject themselves to each and every Sunday. Why should they have to live this way?" Joshua Alston, a self-described member of Atlanta's black gay community, writes in Newsweek.

To many of his supporters, claims that Long quoted scripture to entice the four men into sexual acts is simply part of a longer-term campaign to falsely "out" Long in retaliation for his strident views against homosexuality. In 2005, Long was included on an internet "outing" campaign where bloggers pointed out the alleged hypocrisy of major black church figures condemning gays for their lifestyles.

In 2007, Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., president of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, a conservative black Christian group, defended traditional religious views of many black congregants, telling The New York Times: “I see the growing gay movement in the black community and our culture as almost evangelistic in nature, with what’s on television, with their legal agenda, all those things that have made homosexuality more acceptable.”

Others are optimistic that the Long case will force black congregations to look more deeply into Biblical and historical perceptions of both gay and straight sex.

Ms. Douglas says the fear of sexuality in the black church harks to historic white oppression of blacks, where the black church came to internalize – and try to correct – white society's view of blacks as hypersexual.

"When you couple the historical narrative with a religious piece, this evangelical Protestant piece that things of the body are bad, you get this reticence to deal honestly and frankly with matters of sexuality," Douglas says. "Until the black church can more honestly deal with these matters of sexuality, we're going to continue to see these kind of issues erupt."