Accused child molester Eddie Long is bishop of a Baptist mega-church. When did Baptists start consecrating bishops?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Sept. 29 2010 6:14 PM

How Do You Get To Be a Baptist Bishop?

First, start a mega-church.

Bishop Eddie Long. Click image to expand.
Bishop Eddie Long

Bishop Eddie Long, leader of the 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, is facing allegations that he molested four teenage boys. The Baptist Church started as an anti-authoritarian religious movement and is known to this day for its self-governing, egalitarian congregations. When did Baptists start consecrating bishops?

Within the last 20 years or so. The recent rise of mega-churches has changed the way some Baptists practice their faith. In the 1990s, popular leader Paul S. Morton broke away from the National Baptist Convention to form his Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. He stitched his member churches into a centrally run organization and consecrated those who oversaw multiple congregations or held leadership positions (including Eddie Long) as bishops. Today, the practice has spread far beyond Full Gospel, to other mega churches and even to smaller congregations that want to recognize their leader's contributions. (No one polices use of the honorific.)


While St. Paul speaks of bishops approvingly in his first letter to Timothy, Morton probably got the idea from the Pentecostal or Charismatic tradition, where many leaders dub themselves bishops. In those denominations, the practice of consecrating bishops isn't limited to African-Americans, as it seems to be among Baptists.

The Baptist bishop is mostly an American phenomenon, but there is at least one example abroad. Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili heads the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia. (That's the former Soviet republic, not the state.) The influence of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which employs 35 bishops and archbishops to minister to the country's 35 eparchies, or spiritual districts, seems to have outweighed the Baptist egalitarian resistance to titles.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks David W. Key of the Emory University Candler School of Theology, Bill J. Leonard of Wake Forest University, and Doug Weaver of Baylor University.

Like  Slate  and the Explainer  on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

Brian Palmer writes about science, medicine, and the environment for Slate and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Email him at Follow him on Twitter.


The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

Walmart Is Crushing the Rest of Corporate America in Adopting Solar Power

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.