The pastor of an Atlanta mega-church who once described homosexuality as a “spiritual abortion,” was cheered by a congregation of 10,000 on Sunday while he fights accusations of sexually abusing four teenage boys in his ministry.
“I am not the man that has been portrayed on television,” said Pastor Eddie Long, leader of the New Birth Missionary Baptist church in Georgia, one of America’s largest black congregations.
“I’ve been accused, I’m under attack,.” he told his congregation, speaking publicly about the accusations for the first time.
Long, 57, an outspoken opponent of gay marriage and vigorous advocate of sexual abstinence, is facing civil lawsuits claiming he lured the four young men into sexual relationships when they were 17 and 18, rewarding them with gifts of cash, exotic trips, jewelery, cars and electronics.
Long “adamantly denies” the claims, said they are “without merit,” and vowed to fight the allegations.
Anthony Flagg, one of the plaintiffs in the case against Long, said he moved in with the Bishop after being arrested of an assault charge when he was 18 years old. According to Flagg’s suit, Long would come into his bed at night and the two would engage in sex acts.
Another plaintiff, Maurice Robinson, who was enrolled in the youth academy at age 14, and became the focus of Long’s attention. According to the lawsuit, Long and Robinson began engaging in sex acts in 2008 after a trip to New Zealand.
In another suit, Spencer LeGrande — a member of New Birth Charlotte, one of Long’s satellite churches in Charlotte, NC — claims that he accompanied Long on a trip to Kenya when he was 17 years old, where he gave him a sleeping pill on the trip, and they engaged in sexual acts.
The plaintiffs — Flagg, 21, Robinson, 20, LeGrande, 22, and Jamal Parris, 23 — seek unspecified damages.
The New Birth Missionary Baptist Church has grown since 1987 from 300 to 25,000 members, with satellites as far afield as California. Long reportedly drives a $365,000 Bentley, has a $1.46 million home and was paid $3.1 million between 1997 and 2000 by his charity.
And like many conservative black preachers, Long has openly condemned homosexuality.
In 2004 he led a march in support of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and his church holds “sexual reorientation” conferences aimed at “curing” gay men and lesbians.
A 2007 article in the Southern Poverty Law Center‘s magazine called him “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement.”