Two separate lawsuits filed against Bishop Eddie Long of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church alleging that he had coerced the accusers into having sex with him rocked Atlanta’s religious community Tuesday. According to CNN, the lawsuits allege that Eddie Long, the leader of the Atlanta megachurch, used his position and authority to sexually coerce male members and employees of the megachurch to have sex with him.
The lawsuits contend: “The Defendant Long has a pattern and practice of singling out a select group of young male church members and using his authority as Bishop over them to ultimately bring them to a point of engaging in a sexual relationship.” Both suits also claim that members and employees of the church had knowledge of Eddie Long’s “inappropriate conduct and did nothing to warn or protect [the plaintiffs].”
Long, through a spokesman, “categorically and adamantly” denied the allegations, calling the scandalous situation “a case of retaliation and a shakedown for money by men with some serious credibility issues.”
The plaintiffs, Anthony Flagg, 21, and Maurice Murray Robinson, 20, claim that Bishop Eddie Long had intimate sexual relations with them and made them “Spiritual Sons,” a program that allegedly included other church members, taking them on lavish trips to domestic and international destinations. The young men were also given cash, cars, and money for college tuition. Although many of the allegations are similar, Flagg and Robinson have filed separate lawsuits.
In Flagg’s suit, he claimed he lived with Long and shared a bed with him at times. He also stated that he participated in a covenant with Bishop Long that amounted to a marriage ceremony.
Robinson’s suit alleges that he was taken to New Zealand on his 18th birthday in October 2008. The two engaged in oral sex. Afterward, Long continued the relationship, including having sex with Robinson.
Robinson was arrested in June for breaking into Eddie Long’s office and stealing several items. B. J. Bernstein, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said Tuesday that the burglary was done in retaliation when Robinson discovered, after telling others about his relationship with Long, that he was not the only person the Bishop was favoring.
The suits are for unspecified punitive amounts.
But the sex scandal has been particularly shocking to those who know and follow the work of Bishop Eddie Long, who is known for his openly anti-homosexual messages in his sermons. An article in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s magazine in 2007 noted that Long was “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement.”
Long’s sex scandal is the second to jar an Atlanta megachurch in three years. In 2007, the Chapel Hill Harvester Church was hit with several lawsuits against their leaders for allegedly having pressured female members into having sexual relationships. Many of the lawsuits were dropped when the church countersued the plaintiffs. Another lawsuit against the church’s patriarch, Archbishop Earl Paulk, claimed he had pressured an employee to have sex with him for 14 years, convincing her that her path to salvation was having sex with him.
The series of sex scandals and related lawsuits saw the fortunes of the church, which at one time boasted a congregation of 10,000, a college, and a worldwide ministry, reduced to selling off its property and restructuring itself.
The gay sex scandal allegations of Eddie Long, though, aren’t so much akin to the Paulk sex scandals as they are reminiscent of the sex scandal that befell Pastor Ted Haggard, spiritual adviser to former president George W. Bush and leader of the Colorado Springs megachurch New Life Church. Haggard, who was also instrumental in lobbying against gay rights legislation in Washington, was accused in November 2006 by Mike Jones, a male prostitute and masseuse, of having consensual sexual relations and dabbling in the recreational use of crystal methamphetamine with him for three years.
Haggard, a married father of five who has gone through what he calls a “spiritual reconditioning” and now claims to be completely heterosexual (and has always maintained he never had sex with Jones), told AOL News in a phone interview that Bishop Eddie Long wasn’t guilty until “the court says he’s guilty.” He noted that Long, whom he had met and spoken to a few times, had good counselors and that, if the allegations were untrue, the Bishop would survive the ordeal.
“Public perception becomes more important than the facts,” Haggard noted, and can tarnish one’s reputation.
Bishop Eddie Long is married and has four children.
Craig Gillen, Long’s attorney, read from a statement from the Bishop: “Let me be clear. The charges against me and New Birth are false.”
Gillen also said that Long planned to speak to his megachurch congregation about the sex scandal at Sunday’s service.