Ga. Pastor's Youth Academy Preached Sexual Control

By Greg Bluestein
Associated Press
September 24, 2010

FILE -In this Monday, Aug. 3, 2009 file photo, Bishop Eddie Long speaks during a funeral service at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga. Long, the pastor of a nationally known Atlanta-area megachurch will wait until Sunday services to speak publicly about claims he has already denied that he coerced young men into sex.
(AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

Bishop Eddie Long's boys' academy guided teens through their "masculine journey" with lessons on financial discipline and sexual control, right down to a little card the students had to carry in their wallets reminding them why they shouldn't have sex.

Long himself, though, has been accused of contradicting those virtues. The bishop who's been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage in the past is being sued by two young men who attended the LongFellows Youth Academy and say Long used the program to groom them for sexual relationships.

The men, who were 17 and 18 at the time, say Long recruited them for the academy after they joined New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and lured them into trysts with cars, jewelry and cash.

"It became a place where the bishop could learn the intimate details about these young men," said attorney B.J. Bernstein, who filed the civil lawsuits against Long.

Long and his attorney have denied all the accusations, with Long remaining largely silent. On Sunday, he will speak publicly to his congregation at church for the first time since the lawsuits were filed.

The TV pastor bills the academy as a "rite of passage program for males," and it trains about 100 students during a four-month session for $500 a person. Long and his board of advisers, which includes NFL star Ray Lewis, created a daunting regimen.

Long, himself a stocky and muscular man, demands the students run 2 miles in less than 15 minutes and bench press and squat their weight. They even have to write a report on the documentary "Super Size Me," which chronicles a man who eats only fast food during every meal for a month.

Long whose church's finances have been investigated by Congress wants the students to keep a sharp fiscal mind, too. They have to understand social security, calculate interest rates on investments and work a job for at least three months.

Long also focuses on relationships, with students making a vow of sexual purity. The young men carry a "SEX Self-Check Card" in their wallets listing their vision for life, a favorite scripture and "3 things you could be doing instead of having sex."

"Our methodology here at LongFellows is to invade and bring about a culture with these young men that they start believing in a standard that they have something that they hold to, that they never give up or never give in, do the things that they are ordained to do," Long said in a promotional video.

FILE - In this Jan. 18 2007 file photo, Bishop Eddie Long, of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, in Lithonia, Ga. gestures during an interview in Lithonia. Two men on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010 filed a lawsuit accusing Long of exploiting his role as pastor of an Atlanta-area megachurch to coerce them into sexual relationships when they were members of his congregation.
(AP Photo/Gene Blythe, File)

That video has been removed from the academy's website since the lawsuits were filed, along with a list of testimonials.

In one of those testimonials, a graduate of the program extolled its virtues.

"Without the LongFellows, I don't know where I'd be," said a young graduate who identified himself as Fabian Stone. "I don't know whether I'd be dead, on the streets, selling drugs I don't know where I'd be."

A telephone listing for Stone could not be found.

Two of the three plaintiffs, though, said in the lawsuits that Long was too cozy with the academy's participants. A third man, who was not enrolled in the academy, has filed a lawsuit making similar accusations.

Anthony Flagg, who joined at age 16, said Long chose him as a "spiritual son" after learning of the young man's challenges growing up without a father. Flagg moved into another minister's home after being arrested on an assault charge when he was 18. Long would visit, crawl into bed with him and the two would engage in sexual acts, the lawsuit said.

A second plaintiff, Maurice Robinson, said his mother enrolled him in the LongFellows program when he was 14. Long started lavishing attention on him the next year, and a church employee soon rewarded the teen with a Chevy Malibu, the lawsuit said. The two began engaging in sexual acts after an October 2008 trip to New Zealand.

The Associated Press does not normally identify people who claim they are victims of sexual impropriety. But Bernstein, the attorney, has said her clients consented to being named publicly.

The academy's supporters say it was anything but a breeding ground for Long. DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown, who also sits on the academy's advisory board, said it helps keep kids out of trouble.

For instance, the teens learn about the dangers of guns by watching what happens when watermelons and cantaloupes are shot at a firing range. And the sheriff came up with a "verbal judo" course that teaches them how to defuse hostile situations.

"We try to make it so they can make healthy choices for their life," he said.


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