It’s a megachurch bombshell scandal reminiscent of the one that brought down Colorado evangelist Ted Haggard.
The much-celebrated preacher, Bishop Eddie Long, leader of the 25,000 member New Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta, has found himself caught up in accusations that he coerced two young men into sexual relations on two different occasions when they were 17 and 18 years old.
A spokesperson for Long said the two men, who are now 20 and 21, were trying to “shakedown” Long and had “some serious credibility issues.”
The suit, filed in DeKalb County Court, says alleges that Long engaged in “intimate sexual contact” with the first plaintiff during trips they took together, and had oral sex with a second plaintiff on a trip to New Zealand.
Craig Gillen, Long’s attorney told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the pastor “categorically denies” the accusations. “We find it unfortunate that these two young men would take this course of action,” adding the Long had not been served with copies of the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs say Long lavished gifts ranging from access to celebrities to college tuition in an effort to win their allegiance. Their lawyer, B.J. Bernstein said that although the alleged affairs started past the legal age of consent, which is 16 in Georgia, Long abused his influence with them.
“Defendant Long has utilized his spiritual authority to coerce certain young male members … into engaging in sexual acts and relationships for his own personal sexual gratification,” according to the lawsuits.
Late Wednesday, a new lawsuit was filed on behalf of a third male plaintiff, alleging the same coercion by Long and also names his youth organization Longfellows Youth Academy Inc., according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Ironically, like Haggard, Long had a lengthy record of blasting homosexuality before the allegations came up. The Southern Poverty Law Center in particular criticized him for his anti-gay rhetoric and actions: “Long is one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement,” a 2007 article on the organization’s website reads.