Rev. Eddie Long (or “Schlong”) is the latest homophobic preacher to turn out to be having covert sex with young men.
I’ve written a lot over the years about the process behind such behavior. It’s called a reaction formation and it is extremely common. Whenever you hear someone taking a very extreme position on something, you can be sure they are trying to cover up their own impulses to do the very thing they condemn. That’s the heart of a reaction formation.
However, a reaction formation is rarely effective over the long term. The repressed, condemned desire tends to keep asserting itself. That’s why people like Long, with so much to lose, still can’t keep their desire fully repressed, no matter how much they try to keep it under control by demonizing it. And the more they demonize it and struggle to repress it, the more it asserts itself.
It’s important to understand that a reaction formation is a defense and, as such, rarely disappears simply because it’s confronted. That’s why you see people like Ted Haggard take two weeks to admit the truth and then claim to be “cured” overnight. And it’s why Bishop Long, at this writing, still denies his sexual adventures despite their documentation.
Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that Long’s 33,000-member congregation kept silent about his behavior for years. Of course, not every member knew about it, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that a lot of people did.
One of those is a friend. He doesn’t attend Long’s church, but he knows many people who do. He told me the behavior has been rumored for years “in certain circles.” I asked him why nobody has made it public before, since Long’s attacks on gay people have been so virulent — to say nothing of the fact that he was targeting young men in their late teens and 20s.
My friend shrugged and rubbed his fingers together in that gesture that means “money.”
Good Old Denial
Perhaps, but my guess is that it’s a lot about good old denial, another common, if not the most common, defense mechanism. It is often unconscious. As Wikipedia says:
Denial is a defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.
The very nature of denial is something the unscrupulous exploit in other people. It’s the specialty of politicians, especially conservative ones. They tell outright scary lies, for example, to keep people under control with fear. That’s why so many Republican voters will support policies that are actually detrimental to themselves. The best recent example is the way so many people oppose letting Bush’s tax holiday for the very rich expire, despite the likely consequences.
Even though they are shrieking about the deficit, Republican politicians know very well that not restoring the tax on the wealthy will increase the deficit hugely and probably result in more death throes for the middle class.
But by screaming lies about the tax issue and the deficit, the Republican politicos effectively exploit the denial of many voters, who do not want to face the truth that they have been exploited since the Reagan administration, that upward economic mobility is more difficult than ever. (See the denial of Joe the Plumber.)
One of the funniest examples of how incredibly duplicitous denial can be occurred during the debate over nationalized health care. Out one side of their mouths, the Tea Party peeps shrieked about socialism….and outside the other, they screamed that it would be political death to any candidate who supported cutting back or eliminating Medicare.
That’s denial in action.
So, we’ll see whether Eddie Long’s reaction formation is affected by the public scandal. And we’ll see whether his congregation chooses to sink deeper into denial or deal with the truth that they have been royally scammed.