What happens when charismatic and doctrinal nonprofit founder/leaders die?
The following article about Bishop Eddie Long is one of those founder/leaders who, having died this weekend, will provide some insight as to how, if succession planning has not prepared for this event, an organization moves on. The story of Bishop Long also raises other questions about leader accountability and board responsibility but these topics are reserved for a future article.
But regarding succession planning, another job of a nonprofit board (think Fiduciary Duty of Care) in the case of Bishop Long, the LA Times/Atlanta Jounal-Constitution article provides no information about "what next" for the church. Such lack of information about who will be the next leadership makes me think that the discussion was never completed. After-all, Bishop Long was only 63 years old. But the lesson should be clear for all nonprofit boards: executive director succession planning matters for the future life and well-being of a nonprofit.
Here's the article and if you want to learn more about developing an executive succession plan, you can start with the National Council of Nonprofits.
ATLANTA Bishop Eddie L. Long, a former corporate salesman who went on to build Georgia's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, one of the most prominent ministries in the nation, if not the world, died Sunday after a battle with cancer.
He was 63.
Long was loved by many, yet also reviled. He was involved in one of the biggest church scandals in the nation in 2010, when four young men accused him of sexual coercion in separate lawsuits. Before that infamous scandal, he had also faced criticism by the LGBTQ community for his views against homosexuality. In 2004, he led a march in Atlanta against same-sex marriage and other issues.
"Bishop Long, senior pastor of New Birth, transitioned from this life early Sunday morning after a gallant private fight with an aggressive form of cancer," the statement said.
There had been much speculation about Long's health after he posted a video last year of him looking extremely thin. He never publicly disclosed the nature of his illness.
Bishop Dale Bronner, senior pastor of Word of Faith Family Worship Cathedral, said he knew Long was very ill but continued to hope for a better outcome. "I knew he was dealing with pancreatic cancer, which is an aggressive form of cancer," he said. "We were praying for a miracle." Many supporters and church members have speculated for a long time about Long's illness, but the type of illness has not been officially confirmed by New Birth.
Before his illness, Long, the son of a Baptist minister, was a physically imposing figure known for wearing clothes that accentuated his physique, particularly his bulging biceps and pectoral muscles.
In a previous story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Long joked, "It helps in the board meetings. In the old days, the deacons ran everything. So the pastor had to come into the board meeting pretty buffed."
He was a business major who graduated from North Carolina Central University in 1976 and maintained his close ties to that state. He was sometimes called "daddy" by the congregation, had several spiritual sons who now pastor other churches and inspired fierce loyalty.
His voice, a rumbling, sometimes warbly and baritone, was unmistakable, and he often punctuated his sermons with "watch this ... watch this" a habit sometimes picked up by other pastors.
Long recently celebrated his 29th pastor's anniversary with a grand fete at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, followed closely by a three-day summit at the church that brought pastors from both New Zealand and the Bahamas, and was topped off with a performance by gospel giant Israel Houghton.
New Birth was a place often visited by local, state and national politicians, including former Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker and former Gov. Roy Barnes. His church had a vibrant ministry, which supported youth programs and an academy, and provided services for the poor and those in prison.
Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania, said Long's influence cannot be dismissed.
"He was a big proponent of the prosperity gospel," she said. "He was able to grow a church from 300 people to more than 25,000. He sits alongside pastors like Creflo Dollar, Ted Haggard and T.D. Jakes in a way. He was a big part of the megachurch movement."
He also placed a big emphasis on "hyper-masculinity, which attracted a lot of men to the black church in a time when women were the primary focus," Butler said. Part of his ministry was also opposing same-sex marriage and homosexuality. "For this unfortunate ministry, which ended up culminating in four young men filing suit against him for coercion (and) the very thing he preached against, his ministry never really recovered from that," Butler said.
People described Long as personable and friendly and said he was committed to helping his members achieve financial stability.
However, he was also very guarded when it came to personal matters and, later, his health.
Elisabeth Omilami, CEO of Hosea Helps, had known Long for several years. She said he and the church often donated to her nonprofit that feeds and clothes the poor, among other things.
"He was the first one to ever provide financial assistance at the level of $100,000 a year for about four or five years," she said. "He was the first and only person that did that and continued to support us even after his own personal struggles. He made us open our eyes to what kind of funding that we should be getting."
She also came to know generosity of another sort. Years later, she found out that Long had donated money to help bury her father, civil rights veteran the Rev. Hosea Williams. "We didn't found out about that until later," she said. "We assumed that since Dad was a veteran that there was enough money to pay for his funeral, but that was not the case."
Questions about Long's health were raised in August after he posted a startling video that showed a dramatic weight loss. In it, he said he was eating raw vegan, which had contributed to the weight loss.
It was still enough to raise concern.
Just months before a much bigger, healthier-looking Long appeared on the "Steve Harvey" show to promote his book, "The Untold Story: A Story of Adversity, Pain and Resilience." Long finally conceded that he was suffering an unspecified "health challenge."
He later told the congregation that God had healed him and that "the manifestation was coming through."
As his illness progressed, Long was sometimes absent from the pulpit as rumors circulated about his condition. Most recently, during Christmas and New Year's Eve, Long, looking even more gaunt and fragile, returned to the pulpit.
At its height, New Birth had more than 25,000 members, but it declined after the lawsuits filed by Jamal Parris, Maurice Robinson, Anthony Flagg and Spencer LeGrande. All four alleged that Long gave them gifts and took them on trips and when they reached the age of consent, developed sexual relationships.
Settlements were reached in the lawsuits that included a fifth person.
Long repeatedly denied all allegations.
(c)2017 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)
Visit The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) at www.ajc.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.