By Deaundra Cash
As I watched one of the most powerful Bishop’s in the country address his congregation and the entire world last Sunday, I couldn’t help but think that this scene was all too familiar. Bishop Eddie Long, the senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, stood in the 10,000-seat sanctuary and defended his name saying, “I have never in my life portrayed myself as a perfect man, but I am not the man being portrayed on the television. That’s not me.” He also defended his reputation and let it be known that he will not sit quietly. “I’ve been accused. I’m under attack and will fight,” he said. But even as the crowd stood to their feet, clapping as the 57-year-old minister expressed that he was not stepping down as pastor, the idea of a minister using their pastoral influence to coerce members of their congregation into sexual relationships is not a new story.
Bishop Eddie Long just happens to be the most recent case of sexual allegations forming against men of authoritative power in the church. Last week, four young men filed lawsuits against the minister on the grounds that he coerced them into sexual relationships while they were teenagers. Anthony Flagg, 21; Maurice Robinson, 20; Jamal Parris, 23; and Spencer LeGrande, 22 have all accused Long of giving them lavish gifts, such as cars and jewelry, in exchange for sexual favors. Flagg, Robinson and Parris say their relationships began when they joined a church ministry called LongFellows Youth Academy. They were named “spiritual sons” and encouraged by Long to call him “daddy.” LeGrande’s suit said his relationship with Long began after he met the pastor at the first service held at his satellite church in Charlotte and continued after LeGrande moved to Atlanta.
Since the lawsuits were filled earlier last week, Long has vehemently denied these allegations. “Let me be clear,” a statement released by Long said. “The charges against me and New Birth are false.” Long’s attorney, Craig Gillen, also made calls into radio shows including the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show where Roland Martin interviewed him. Gillen denied the claims against Long saying, “These false allegations are an attack on Bishop Long personally. They are an attack on New Birth and all of the 25,000 good people who attend that church, and it’s an attack on the mentoring program that has helped thousands of young men.”
Bishop Long is not the first pastor to have claims of this magnitude to be brought against him. Atlanta, alone, has witnessed scandal of this degree. In 2007, the Archbishop Earl Paulk of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Decatur, Georgia admitted to having sexual relationships with several women in his church including his brother’s wife and fathered her child. Paulk later died in 2009 after a long battle with cancer. At his funeral, Long spoke about the role of the minister and their calling as a spiritual leader. “We did not, in case you didn’t know, fall down out of heaven,” Long said. “We were taken from among men so we could minister to men.” The lawsuit alleges that Long, like Paulk, used his power as the head of the ministry in order “to justify and support the sexual activity.”
This scandal, however, is the first of its kind to publically rock the largest church in Georgia. New Birth Missionary Baptist Church had humble beginnings when Bishop Eddie Long became pastor in 1987. With 300 members at the time, Long, who received his Master of Divinity degree from Atlanta’s Interdenominational Theological Center in 1986, brought a charismatic attitude and used his message of biblical reform to increase the congregation size and their ministry work.
According the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in 1994, Long expanded the ministry through TV with a New Birth News local broadcast. The following year, he produced “Taking Authority” TV broadcasts that reached 170 countries. In 2000, New Birth reported a membership of 25,000 and opened a $50 million church complex, which included administrative offices, library, bookstore, computer lab, kitchen, audio and video studios and nursery. There is no doubt that Bishop Long has built New Birth from the ground up into the mega church it is today while gaining a strong following of Christians around the world. His leadership in and out of the church continues to be questioned as these four men speak out against Long, including the latest victim, Parris, telling Atlanta’s Fox 5 news channel that he manipulated them from childhood. “This was our father and we loved him,” Parris said. He even called his former pastor “a monster.”
Although Long faces no criminal charges because all the plaintiffs were at least 16 when the incidents alleged occurred, he does risk his reputation as a well-respected pastor if the allegations are true. The attorney representing the young men in this case, B.J. Bernstein, best known for representing Genarlow Wilson, a Douglas County teenager who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual sex with a minor female, has already made public statements about her client’s allegations towards Long and continues to sympathize with what they have gone through. “To say to the world as a young man that you had that happen, the ridicule and scorn that these young men are willing to put themselves through for the truth, is extraordinary,” Bernstein said to Roland Martin on the Tom Joyner Morning Show.
If the allegations are true, Long faces a lot of criticism from people in and out of the church. Long has been known for his strong opinions against homosexuals and in 2004, he led an anti-gay march against gay marriage.
Long’s followers continue to speak out in support for the Bishop. Atlanta radio personality, Frank Ski, of the Frank and Wanda Morning Show, expressed his extreme support for his close friend when the allegations were first made public last week. Ski allowed cameras into his studio and boldly backed up his pastor. “I am loyal,” he said. “No matter where this goes to, I will remain a loyal friend.” Ski has been a member of New Birth for 12 years.
Like Ski, the members of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church are standing behind their leader. Tiffanie Mackie, 23, says she is a longtime member of the church and will continue to pray for her pastor. She expects other members to do the same. “Satan is trying to attack the shift in New Birth and in Bishop Eddie Long, but we will fight this,” she said. She also said that on Sunday she and several members attended both services in order to remain prayerful with the bishop.
This case is just getting started. As Bernstein continues to confiscate emails, texts and other evidence against the pastor, in the following weeks, up to 30 men have been said to come out supporting the claims of the four men. Although he has yet to completely deny the allegations, as I watched Bishop Long deliver his Sunday message, I could feel the fire from his congregation and his supporters. As he boldly stated, “I feel like David against Goliath. But I got five rocks, and I haven’t thrown one yet,” I realized Bishop Eddie Long has a long journey ahead.