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

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The case isn't just of interest because of Long's alleged hypocrisy, with a large and influential church empire hanging in the balance, but because it's taking place in Atlanta, home to a number of conservative black megachurches as well as the largest population of gay blacks in the US.

That battle came to a head in 2006, when some prominent black leaders, including Julian Bond, then chairman of the NAACP, refused to attend the funeral of Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow, at New Birth, given the church's anti-homosexual stance. Ms. King was an outspoken defender of gay rights.

Mr. Bond, who previously served in both houses of the Georgia legislature, told the Georgia Voice gay newspaper on Saturday that he hoped that the allegations against Long would force many blacks to honestly confront their attitudes toward homosexuality.

"It's sad to say, but if the charges against Bishop Long are true, it's going to be a victory for gay rights in black America. A sad victory," Bond said.

On the other hand, the full-throated support of Long given by the New Birth congregation on Sunday hinted that the case will more likely polarize the black community – at least in the short-term.

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