Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Bishop Eddie Long: “I Am Not Perfect”

By David Stokes

 
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
                                                                 Frederick Douglass

(NNPA) More young Black men are expected to step forward this week to follow in the footsteps of four former members of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church who claim to have been “coerced” into sexual relationships with Bishop Eddie L. Long, the mega-church’s well-known 55 year-old pastor.  Vowing to “vigorously fight the charges” against him, Long stood in the pulpit as nearly 10,000 members of the church applauded, promising to support him.

In September 21, 2010 court filings, in DeKalb County State Court, two of the plaintiffs alleged sexual harassment against Bishop Long, New Birth, Inc., and the church’s male youth ministry – Longfellows Youth Academy, Inc.  Maurice Robinson and Anthony Flagg, both students in the youth academy at the time of the alleged incident, stated in civil litigation documents that Bishop Long exerted his influence as pastor and spiritual advisor over the 14 year-olds, to engage in sexual relationships for (Long’s) own personal sexual gratification.  It was also alleged that Bishop Long furnished the plaintiffs with cars, cash, jewelry and other gifts, allegedly purchased with church funds.  In addition, the plaintiffs were allegedly put on the church’s payroll.  The other gifts were described as — airplane trips within the U.S. and abroad, luxury hotel stays, and access to numerous celebrities, including entertainment stars and politicians.

In separate 23-page filings by Robinson and Flagg, the Longfellows Youth Academy, Inc “purported to train young men, from 13 to 18, to love, live and lead as they proceed on their masculine journey.”  Bishop Long was the Academy’s “pastor/counselor/confidant” to the teens in the program.  The plaintiffs allege the academy is Bishop Long’s method to influence and exploit vulnerable teenage males who, in the case of Flagg, have no father, or father-figure.

Court documents state that after the then-teenagers were pronounced as Long’s “spiritual sons” within the program and church congregation, “defendant Long has a pattern and practice of singling out a select group of young male church members, and (uses) his authority as Bishop over them to ultimately bring them to a point of engaging in a sexual relationship.” 

Shortly after Robinson and Flagg, now both 21, joint lawsuit became public, a third plaintiff, 23 year-old Colorado resident Jamal Parris filed a sexual harassment lawsuit, alleging similar charges. However, in his lawsuit, Parris is claiming that while he was occupying Bishop Long’s guest house in DeKalb County, the pastor would regularly request Parris be nude for pastoral visits.  All three men are being represented by Brenda Joy (B.J.) Bernstein a lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia. 

At press time, a fourth male, Spencer LeGrande filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Long, alleging similar charges occurred when he was a member of New Birth-Charlotte, a satellite church based in North Carolina.  The then-17 year old LeGrande, in the lawsuit, claims to have engaged in sex with Long in 2005, after being given a sleeping pill and continued the relationship until 2009, according to Associated Press reports.  Attorney Bernstein was unavailable for comment.

Bishop Long is denying the allegations.  The first Sunday after the allegations came to light, Long stood before his congregation, denouncing the accusations. “I am going to fight this thing. I am not a perfect man, but I am not the man being portrayed” as a “sexual predator.”  Although Long did not definitively deny the allegations to his congregation, he spoke to all people having to “face painful situations”.  “This is the worse time of my life,” the pastor proclaimed at the morning service, dressed in beige-tan garments with New Birth insignia.

Following the service, Long addressed local and national news media at a press conference in New Birth’s chapel. Bishop Long cancelled all media interviews prior to the church press conference and taking no questions from reporters, he said the civil lawsuits ”would not be fought in the media, but within a court of law.”  After the brief press conference, Bishop Long left with his wife, Vanessa, and his attorneys; Craig Gillen and Dwight Thomas, of Atlanta.  In statements to the radio media, attorney Gillen, said, “It is unfortunate these young men have chosen to take this course of action.” Gillen added, “Bishop Long adamantly denies these allegations.  We’re reviewing the complaints… and will respond in the proper venue.”  Gillen announced Bishop Long, the father of four, wanted to “be clear. The charges against me and New Birth are false. I have been through storms, and my faith has always sustained me.  I have devoted my life to helping others and these false allegations hurt me deeply.”  

The plaintiffs’ attorney who is remembered for successfully defending Genarlow Wilson in a sexual sodomy case brought by Douglas County and the state of Georgia told The Atlanta Inquirer, “the courage of these young men to stand up is testimony to (obliterate) Bishop Long’s great influence, as well as they trying to get to the truth of the betrayal …for a productive life.”  She also warned, “There are kids right now at risk (at New Birth).”  Bernstein refused a request by a reporter to speak with the plaintiffs last week, indicating, “They’ve relocated for the moment… To (initiate litigation) was very emotional for them,” stating that e-mails, text messages, and pictures provided to the young men “will speak for the cases against the Bishop.” Bernstein stated she had no comment after Bishop Long’s sermon.

Bishop Long, a native North Carolinian, arrived in Atlanta in the mid-1980s, prepared to brandish his small-town reputation for the big city and suburbs of Atlanta.  From 1987, after being appointed New Birth’s pastor, membership grew from hundreds to nearly 30,000. Primarily teaching God’s promise of prosperity, Long’s popularity has made him a sought-after counselor among the rich and powerful, including former Georgia governors, U.S. presidents, and local county leaders.

Particularly during the out-of-town trips, the plaintiffs allege Long shared a bedroom to “engage in sexual touching, and other sex acts” with Robinson. “Defendant Long would use Holy Scripture to discuss and justify the intimate relationship between himself and friend,” thereby, “causing Robinson great anger and anguish.” With both plaintiffs Flagg and Robinson, character could become a key issue, if the lawsuit goes to court. In 2007, Flagg was arrested for simple assault, and later, his mother agreed for him to live in New Birth’s “Golod House,” a residence for troubled teens, as suggested by Long.  The living arrangement was “to provide stability and an opportunity to learn and grow with an important spiritual mentor.” Flagg also alleges Bishop Long was “situated to exercise a controlling influence over the will, conduct, and interest” of Flagg, and shared the same bed “to engage in sexual massages, where increased sexual contact included oral sodomy, kissing, masturbation, and oral sexual contact.” 

As a result of Robinson and an accomplice, being arrested last June for breaking into Long’s personal office on the New Birth campus the plaintiffs are seeking multiple damages.  Specifically, the plaintiffs are seeking punitive and compensatory damages for; “breach of fiduciary,” various counts of fraud and negligence, ”intentional infliction of emotional distress,” “negligent failure to protect,” “negligent failure to warn” and “negligent failure to intervene supervise” against youth academy officials, all under the auspices of New Birth, Inc., and its registered agents.

While attorneys debate Bishop Long’s intent to allegedly “coerce” the then-teens into sex, New Birth members, past and present, are “shocked” and “in disbelief” of the salacious accusations.   “It’s nothing but a set-up,” said a former member.  “Big money, power, and success attract devilish acts.”  Nevertheless, the irony of a popular Pentecostal/Baptist-style preacher leading an anti-gay ministry… has rocked New Birth, along with the local and national black clergy.  

Sources indicated to The Atlanta Inquirer that several church administrators recently resigned from New Birth, stating ”their pay and benefits were good, but they didn’t want to go out like that.”

The Rev. Bernice King, youngest offspring of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a New Birth elder, helped lead the anti-gay march.  According to the church’s website, counseling services for members “struggling with homosexuality” are offered by Long, “a man of vision, revered locally, nationally and internationally as a dynamic man of leadership, integrity and compassion.” Repeated requests for comment from Rev. King went unanswered.  

Also, local ministers gathered at a local restaurant to organize a “lock-in” — an initiative where pastors will sit and pray with Bishop Long for seven days to respond to the church  and “to show and provide open arms,” as rendered in scripture, according to coordinator Rev. Jasper W. Williams, Sr., senior pastor of Salem Bible Church of Atlanta and Lithonia. “We are all sinners… and we are all the body of Christ, including Bishop Eddie Long,” said Williams.

Declaring he has “no opinion, either way” of Long’s innocence or guilt, Rev. Williams, said he has known Long ”since he’s been in Atlanta.”  He expressed “mixed emotions” upon viewing the cell phone pictures, allegedly transmitted by Long to Robinson and Flagg, in one photo Long was dressed in a red skin-tight muscle shirt, and in another, Long was posing in a black form-fitting gym suit.  As Williams calls on the nation’s pastors to come to Atlanta “to pray with and for Bishop Long”, saying a rush to judgment is premature, and to remember Long’s admirable community service in Atlanta. “He’s done tremendous works here. This negativity has had a tremendous affect on him and on New Birth, but the church will sustain itself.”

“I feel like David against Goliath, but I have 5 rocks, and I haven’t thrown one yet,” Long concluded.  Although Concerned Black Clergy of Metro Atlanta president Rev. William Cobble chose “to reserve comments until later”, former president Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley said he felt, ”It was mostly shock and disappointment” when he learned of the allegations against his friend of 20 years.  Nevertheless, “we should be extremely prayerful for him, his family, and New Birth. This is a precarious time.” Durley also commended Long’s “tremendous amount of work” within Atlanta and beyond. “We must look at the good he’s done, too,” as well as comment on the allegations.

Regional Council of Churches co-chair Durley added that “whether they (allegations) are true or false, they will have an impact.  As clergy (members), we need to continue lifting up the flock, as well as move forward toward healing and redemption. Overall, the black churches will not be negatively impacted. We’ll come out of this stronger.”

Although Bishop Long is not speaking to media about the allegations, his children are defending their father on the social network Twitter. “We are doing great; keep my pops lifted up in prayer!” exclaimed Edward Long. Daughter Taylor Long declared, “Man, my dad does NOT deserve this!”

1 COMMENT

  1. You are in my prayers Bishop Long along woth your church. I have no room to judge anyone nor voice my opinion. The word says that God is the judge. My job is to keep you lifted in prayer.

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