|4th Man Accuses Bishop Long|
|By STEVE OSUNSAMI (@SteveOsunsami) and SARAH NETTER||Sep 22, 2010, 10:15 AM|
Spencer LaGrande, 22, filed suit against Long and his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and, like the other three alleged victims, accused the powerhouse pastor of forcing him into a sexual relationship while treating him to trips around the world, travel in private planes and stays in luxury hotels.
Long has vehemently denied the accusations and said in a statement this week that the charges in the lawsuits have "hurt me deeply." He has said that he plans to himself against the "ugly charges" from the pulpit Sunday.
In a separate statement issued shortly after LaGrande's lawsuit was filed, Long again denied the charges. Echoing his comments after the first two lawsuits, he said, "We believe that it is unfortunate the young men have chosen to take this course of action."
LaGrande's lawsuit alleges he met Long in March 2003 during the very first service at a branch Long's Georgia-based church that opened in a suburb of Charlotte, N.C.
LeGrande said Long agreed to be a father figure for him because his own father was an absentee father, according to court documents, and that Long began asking LaGrande to call him "dad."
LaGrande was 17 when, according to the lawsuit, Long first made sexual contact with him during a trip to Nairobi, Kenya. The lawsuit alleges several more instances of sexual contact, both before and after LaGrande graduated from high school.
Long's accusers have said they believe the bishop abused more young men that eventually will come forward. Many people at the church knew what was going on but covered for Long, victims claimed.
The men, now all in their 20s, came forward this week with separate lawsuits alleging that Long lavished them with expensive jewelry, a private plane and luxury hotel rooms, and then used his status as a spiritual leader to force them into sex.
Maurice Robinson and Anthony Flagg were the first two accusers, followed a short time later by Jamal Parris.
Parris alleged in the documents, obtained by ABC News, that the bishop would request he be nude while in his presence and would request "sexual massages" and "oral sodomy" when they traveled.
In his statement, Long said that he had devoted his life to others and relied on his faith to get him through life's troubles.
"All I ask is for your patience as we continue to categorically deny each and every one of these ugly charges," the statement read. "Finally, as I have done for thousands of others over my decades of preaching, I ask for your prayers for me, my family and our church."
Long, who once marched the streets of Atlanta to protest same-sex marriage, is considered a major figure in the black church. His New Birth Missionary Baptist Church has approximately 25,000 members, and sits on 240 acres in Lithonia, Ga.
Although the allegations against New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Long appear damning, some church members refuse to believe they could be true.
However, B.J. Bernstein, the lawyer for the four men, has said she has photos, texts and e-mails that show a relationship between her clients and the bishop.
One of those photos depicts Long posing in what appears to be a bathroom stall in a red muscle shirt. The photo was sent via e-mail in November 2008 and is signed, "Eddie L Long, Amazed by His Grace."
"What pastor in his right mind sends a picture from himself, posing in his bathroom in a muscle shirt?" Bernstein said. "None that I know of -- especially one who is a committed homophobe."
Church Members Defend Embattled Bishop Against Allegations of Sexual Abuse
Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church is the same church that hosted Coretta Scott King's funeral in 2006, a ceremony that some civil rights leaders refused to attend because Long is so anti-gay.
According to the separate lawsuits filed in DeKalb County, Ga., by Robinson, Flagg, Parris and LaGrande, Long conducted what they called private spiritual ceremonies in which he "coerced certain young male members and employees" into sexual acts and relationships.
Long's attorney, Craig Gillen, countered the men's claims, writing in a statement, "Bishop Eddie Long adamantly denies the allegations.
"It's unfortunate the two young men have chosen to take this course of action," the statement said, adding that Long's legal team is reviewing the charges and plans to respond.
The accusations, according to court documents, also claim that Long would try to block sexual relationships the young men had with women.
The allegations have especially surprised the community that knows Long best.
Church members coming out of Bible study said they simply didn't believe the allegations, speaking of Long's love and passion for his wife.
Atlanta-area radio host Frank Ski, a 12-year-member of Long's church, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had "extreme support" for the man he's known for more than a decade.
"It's difficult for me because Bishop Long and I are very close," he told the paper. "I'm one of these people who's really old school. When you're a friend and I support you, I support you. Right now, it's allegations."