BishopAccountability.org
Ga. Megachurch Pastor: I'Ll Be Here Next Week

By Errin Haines
Washington Post
September 26, 2010

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/26/AR2010092600415.html

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.

LITHONIA, Ga. -- The famed pastor of a Georgia megachurch said Sunday that he will fight allegations that he lured young men into sexual relationships, stressing that he'd be back to lead the church the next week.

Addressing a New Birth Missionary Baptist Church sanctuary packed with thousands, Bishop Eddie Long declined to discuss specifics of lawsuits filed against him - or flatly deny the accusations. But he drew thunderous applause when he told his church that while he's not perfect, the picture painted by the allegations is far from accurate.

"There have been allegations and attacks made on me. I have never in my life portrayed myself as a perfect man. But I am not the man that's being portrayed on the television. That's not me. That is not me," he said as applause interrupted him.

Long told the crowd that his lawyers had advised him not to "try this case in the media." While the remarks were short on details of the legal case, Bishop spoke at length about enduring painful situations.

"We are all subject to face distasteful and painful situations. Bishop Long, Eddie Long - you can put your name in that blank - will have some bad situations," he said. "The righteous face painful situations with a determined expectancy. We are not exempt from pain, but He promises to deliver us out of our pain."

Long also invoked the biblical story of David and Goliath - casting himself as being under attack.

"I've been accused; I'm under attack. I want you to know, as I said earlier, I am not a perfect man," he said, briefly pausing for effect. "But this thing I'm going to fight."

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.

"I want you to know one other thing, I feel like David against Goliath. But I got five rocks, and I haven't thrown one yet."

Long is scheduled to speak again at a 10 a.m. news conference and 11 a.m. service.

About 100 people waited at the doors of the church more than an hour before the first service. Some held signs of support, while others prayed for their embattled leader. A small group sang the hymn "White as Snow" while outside.

Members in their seats clapped and swayed as the service began around 8 a.m., with several people with microphones singing on stage. Later in the service, hundreds began dancing and chanting, "Jesus, Jesus." A small group of young people held Apple iPads high over their heads, with the screens scrolling white letters against a black background reading, "It's time to praise him."

Long came to the stage holding hands with his wife, Vanessa, and wearing a cream-colored suit. People edged toward the front of the cathedral as he prepared to speak. Long read from an iPad before tossing the microphone onto the podium, and then walking down the aisle hand-in-hand with his wife.

The lawsuits claim Long - who is an outspoken opponent of gay marriage - lured the four into sexual relationships with gifts including cars, cash and travel.

Long, a married father of four, previously denied the allegations through his lawyer. He had not spoken publicly until Sunday's service.

FILE - In this June 2, 2010 file photo, Ted Haggard, the former megachurch pastor who fell from grace amid a sex scandal, stands with his wife Gayle at his side while talking about the new church that he is starting up during a news conference at their home in Colorado Springs, Colo. It's too early to say whether the sex allegations against Bishop Eddie Long, the famed pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta, will spur the kind of soul-searching that followed the downfall of Haggard. Regardless, pastors and experts say the Long case demonstrates how vulnerable the country's independent churches still are to being damaged by the misbehavior _ sexual, financial or otherwise _ of leaders whose considerable influence often comes with temptation and little accountability.

Over the past 20 years, Long became one of the most powerful independent church leaders in the country. He led New Birth as it grew from a suburban Atlanta congregation of 150 to a 25,000-member powerhouse with a $50 million cathedral and a roster of parishioners that includes athletes, entertainers and politicians.

He flashed his prosperity by wearing diamonds and platinum jewelry, while building strong political ties and a close relationship with the family of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The 2006 funeral for King's widow, Coretta Scott King, was held at New Birth. Their daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, is also a pastor at Long's church.

Bernice King took the stage at the first of Sunday's services.

Three of the young men who filed lawsuits this week live in Georgia, while the other was a member of a satellite church in Charlotte, N.C., run by Long.

Two of the plaintiffs were once members of a youth program called the LongFellows Youth Academy, which teaches teenage boys lessons on financial discipline and sexual control. In their lawsuits, the men say Long used the program to groom them for sexual relationships and lured them into trysts with cars, jewelry and cash.

The other two plaintiffs make similar claims that Long served as a mentor, gave them gifts, then convinced them to engage in sexual acts.


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