Bishop Eddie Long: Did He Do Enough to Defend Himself Against Sex Abuse Claims?

Reaction was mixed to Atlanta megachurch Bishop Eddie Long who used his pulpit at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church to answer accusations that he forced sex on four young men when they were teenagers.

BySteve Osunsami and Sarah Netter via via logo
September 22, 2010, 10:15 AM

Sept. 27, 2010— -- A sermon that was supposed to have reassured the congregation of an Atlanta megachurch pastor accused of sex abuse has left some wondering if he said enough to defend himself.

"This is probably the most difficult time in my entire life," Bishop Eddie Long said during the service.

Long, the powerhouse leader of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, has been accused of sex abuse by four men, who claim in separate lawsuits that he lavished them with expensive gifts and trips and then forced them when they were teenagers into sexual relationships.

He had promised to answer the accusations on Sunday and it was one of his most well-attended services in years with some 8,000 parishioners coming to hear him speak, some of whom waited in traffic for hours.

Reverend Timothy McDonald III, the senior pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, has known Long for more than 20 years. He called reaction to his sermon "mixed."

"Of course we wanted to hear more, but we were just glad that the bishop took the opportunity to speak," McDonald told "Good Morning America" today. "I think he did a good job of combining the legal, the spiritual, the moral aspects of all that is going on."

Long has vehemently denied the men's claims in written statements released last week, but he didn't do so on Sunday.

"It will be tried in the court of justice, and dealt with in the court of justice," he said Sunday. "I feel like David, against Goliath, but I've got five rocks, and I haven't thrown one yet."

Though parishioners were seen applauding thunderously for Long during the service, others said they are losing some faith in their pastor.

"He wasn't genuine," one woman said as she left the church Sunday. "It was very heartbreaking."

And there may be more lawsuits on the way.

"We heard perhaps that there are even others coming," McDonald said. "But we don't know all the details. Everything is not as it seems."

McDonald said the accusations have implications that will eventually reach far beyond Long and the New Birth church in terms of how the country views the black church and the role of the mega church.

"Our prayer is that there will be wholeness at the end of the day," he said. "My prayer is that it doesn't go to trial."

Long's accusers -- Spencer LaGrande, Jamal Parris, Maurice Robinson and Anthony Flagg -- haven't spoken publicly since the lawsuits were filed over several days last week. One was arrested over the summer for breaking into Long's office. His lawyer said he was searching for more evidence.

Lawyer for Pastor's Accusers Says She Has Photos and E-mails as Evidence of Alleged Wrongdoing

LaGrande, 22, was the most recent man to file suit against Long and his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, claiming, like the other three alleged victims, that Long forced him into a sexual relationship while treating him to trips around the world, travel in private planes and stays in luxury hotels.

In a separate statement issued shortly after LaGrande's lawsuit was filed, Long 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 absent, 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.

Robinson and Flagg were the first two accusers, followed a short time later by 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.

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.

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."

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