Bishop Eddie Long Plans to Address Congregation in Wake of Sex Abuse Claims

Eddie Long issues statement, says claims from three accusers 'hurt me deeply.'

Sept. 23, 2010— -- The Georgia mega-church pastor accused by three men of sex abuse said today he is anxious to defend himself against the "ugly charges" from the pulpit Sunday.

Bishop Eddie Long, the powerhouse leader behind the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta, issued a statement today again denying that he coerced three teenage boys into sexual relationships and promising that the "truth will emerge."

"I am anxious to respond directly to these false allegations and I will do so," he said in the statement that was distributed by a publicist. " However, my lawyers have counseled patience at this time."

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.

His accusers have said they believe the bishop abused more young men that will eventually come forward. Many people at the church, they claimed, knew what was going on but covered for him.

Although the allegations against New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Long appear damning, some church members say they refuse to believe they could be true.

But B.J. Bernstein, the lawyer for the three men, has said that 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."

Berenstein's camp said today there would be no further statements and no reaction to Long's statement.

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 separate lawsuits filed in DeKalb County, Ga., by Robinson, Flagg and Parris, Long conducted what they called private spiritual ceremonies in which he "coerced certain young male members and employees" into sexual acts and relationships.

Now in their 20s, the men claim in their lawsuits that they were teenagers when Long showered them with "cars, clothes, jewelry and electronics," flew them across the world in private jets and booked them into luxury hotels, all the while pushing them into a sexual relationship.

"The allegations are that sexual things started to happen at 17 and 18 years old," Bernstein said.

Even though 17 is above the age of consent in Georgia, Robinson and Flagg claim that the bishop violated his "fiduciary duty as [their] spiritual advisor."

Long's attorney, Craig Gillen, countered the men's claims, writing in a statement that "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.

In the lawsuit, Robinson and Flagg claim that Long used Bible Scripture to "reinforce the God-like connection between himself and the young [men]."

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 Constitution-Journal 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."