Sunday, September 26, 2010
Accused pastor crusaded against homosexuals - CNN.com
Accused pastor crusaded against homosexuals
By John Blake, CNN
Two men accuse Bishop Eddie Long of sexual "coercion"
Long has built a reputation for ministering to young men
Long publicly condemned homosexuals
Pastor's spokesman says Long denies the allegations
Editor's note: CNN's John Blake first covered Bishop Eddie Long as a religion reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- As Bishop Eddie Long poked through a salad in his church office one summer day in 1999, he shot a weary look at a person ticking off his ministry's successes.
His Atlanta megachurch had already reached 25,000 members. He had been invited to the White House, built a global television ministry and drove around town in a luxury automobile.
But Long told the visitor who had come to write about him that the pressures of being a high-profile pastor could be brutal.
"You don't want any of this," he said in a raspy baritone as he shook his head. "You don't want any of this ..."
Long didn't get more specific about those pressures.
Today, the 57-year-old minister, known for his public crusades against homosexuality, faces serious allegations.
On Tuesday, two young men who were members of Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church filed lawsuits claiming he used his position as their spiritual counselor to coerce them into sexual relationships.
See PDF of lawsuit filed by Maurice Robinson
The men -- Anthony Flagg, 21, and Maurice Robinson, 20 -- allege Long used a private spiritual ceremony to mark a "covenant" between them, with both becoming his "spiritual son."
See PDF of lawsuit filed by Anthony Flagg
Flagg alleges that Long then used that relationship to take him on overnight trips where they shared a bedroom and engaged in kissing, masturbation and "oral sexual contact."
Robinson, who claimed Long engaged in oral sex with him, said the pastor would cite Scripture to justify their relationship.
"We categorically deny the allegations," Art Franklin, Long's spokesman, said in a written statement. "It is very unfortunate that someone has taken this course of action."
Franklin said "our law firm will be able to respond once attorneys have had an opportunity to review the lawsuit."
The men's lawyer, Brenda Joy (B.J.) Bernstein, would not make them available for comment.
Long's crusades against homosexuality
The allegations against Long run contrary to his public image.
He is a celebrity preacher in the black church world and a star in the evangelical world as well. His church is one of the largest in the country.
In the pulpit, Long seamlessly blends muscle and ministry.
He wears tight shirts that display his weight-lifter arms. He writes books such as "Gladiator, the Strength of a Man," that teach men how to be warriors for God. He says he has a special calling to reach out to men.
He's a married man who preaches about the sanctity of the union between a man and a woman. He denounces homosexuality. In 2004, he led a march in Atlanta against gay marriage. He once declared that his church had created a ministry that "delivered" people from homosexuality.
His public statements about gays and lesbians have helped reinforce homophobia in the black church, says Shayne Lee, a sociologist and author of "Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace."
"The homophobic atmosphere he helped perpetuate," Lee said, could "come back to possibly harm him."
Long's controversial ministry
Long has been the center of public controversy before.
In 2005, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a charity Long created to help the poor and spread the Gospel had made him its biggest beneficiary.
An examination of the nonprofit's tax returns and other documents revealed that the charity provided him with at least amillion dollars in salary over four years, and the use of a $1.4 million home and the $350,000 Bentley.
A frequent critic of black preachers (he once said they "major in storefront churches"), Long responded by saying he was a CEO of a global business who deserved his lifestyle.
"You've got to put me on a different scale than the little black preacher sitting over there that's supposed to be just getting by because the people are suffering," Long said, explaining the compensation he received from his charity.
In 2007, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to Long asking detailed questions about his financial operations. Long was one of six televangelists whom Grassley targeted.
After an initial flurry of publicity following Grassley's request, the investigation appeared to peter out.