I’ll admit to having watched with some pleasure as “Daddy” Eddie Long’s sex scandal has unfolded. There is of course nothing joyful about this whole sad spectacle. But the flesh is weak, and it’s satisfying to see someone who makes a career popularizing divisive ideas about sex and gender in the black community get his comeuppance. Jamal Parris’ interview with an Atlanta TV station has finally wiped the sneer off of my face. (Watch it for yourself above.)
Parris was the third of four young men who have sued Long, charging that the pastor used his position to coerce them into a sexual relationship. Parris’ suit says he was 14 when the emotional relationship began, and the sex itself started a few years later. It repeats themes found in all four suits–that Long mined his youth ministry for young men with emotional holes in their lives; took them under his wing as a father figure and spiritual mentor; brought them into his celebrity world with international trips and expensive gifts, and then moved the relationship into sex.
None of the young men had spoken beyond their court filings until last night, when Atlanta’s Fox affiliate, WAGA-TV, cornered Parris in the parking lot of a grocery store in Colorado, where he now lives. The interview is wrenching and feels utterly genuine. More than anything else, Parris appears as a person who is confused and deeply hurt by a lost love. He repeatedly professes unabashed love for Long–and in the next breath describes him as a monster.
“I cannot get the sound of his voice out of my head. And I cannot forget the smell of his cologne,” Parris says with tenderness, which turns quickly to anger. “And I cannot forget the way that he made me cry many nights when I drove in his cars on the way home, not able to take enough showers to wipe the smell of him off my body.”
Parris repeatedly mentions the shame he and his fellow accusers feel for letting “another man touch on us.” That shame is likely an easier emotional focal point than the pain of having lost a love that anchored his life. Many people will see homosexuality as the crime of which Long stands accused. It is not. Long’s moral crime, if the allegations are true, is defiling love. It is targeting people who are in desperate need of love–that of a father, or something else, who knows–and using that need to fuel his selfish, destructive pursuits.
And in that, Long’s alleged predation on Parris was not so different from the way he still feeds his grotesque personal wealth–by mining a community’s deep faith in God. Both sins leave the sort of lasting damage that’s evident in Parris’ eyes.