A high-profile black church leader vowed Sunday to fight accusations that he bribed and coerced four young men into having sex with him. "I feel like David against Goliath," Bishop Eddie Long told the assembled congregation at his Atlanta-area megachurch. "But I've got five rocks, and I haven't thrown one yet." His accusers also feel like Davids, going up against a towering figure like Long, their lawyer says. Who is Long, what's he accused of, and why do people call him homophobic? (Watch a CNN report about the allegations)
What's Long's story?
Long, 57, was born in Charlotte, N.C., the son of a Baptist preacher who also owned a service station. He is married to his second wife, Vanessa, and has four children. Long earned a business degree from North Carolina Central University, then worked as an auto sales rep until he was fired for inaccuracies in his expense reports. Later, he turned to religion, studying theology and preaching at a number of churches in the Atlanta area.
What is he known for?
Building up his current church, New Birth Missionary Baptist, from a small, 300-member congregation in 1987 to a sprawling, multimillion-dollar empire with 25,000 members, a lavish 240-acre suburban Atlanta campus, and several satellite churches in other cities. The funeral for Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow, Coretta Scott King, was held at New Birth in 2006, with four presidents in attendance. His congregation includes celebrities, socialites, and star athletes.
What is he accused of, exactly?
Four young men who belonged to Long's exclusive LongFellows Youth Academy have filed lawsuits accusing him of using his authority — along with cars, cash, and other gifts — to coerce them into sex acts, including oral sex and masturbation. Some of the alleged abuse happened on trips abroad to New Zealand and Kenya. All four say they were 17 or 18 — past the legal age of consent — when the incidents occurred.
Has he denied it?
On Sunday, in his first public comments since the lawsuits, he said that he is "not a perfect man" and has been advised by his lawyer not to "try this case in the media." But in an earlier statement to a radio station, Long said, "We continue to categorically deny each and every one of these ugly charges."
Why do critics call him homophobic?
Long is outspoken in his opposition to same-sex marriage, and was a driving force behind Georgia's move to prohibit gay marriage in the state constitution. New Birth Missionary Baptist also hosts seminars on "curing" homosexuality. These stands explain why Long is "one of the most outspoken homophobes in the black church," says gay, black Atlanta resident Joshua Alston in Newsweek.
What else does he preach?
Long adheres to a gospel of personal wealth, teaching that Jesus Christ was not poor and encouraging his flock to pray for prosperity. Another tenet of his "muscular Christianity" encourages men to become spiritual warriors by tapping their inner "wild man" to protect their families and take control of their own lives. Women, Long says, should be submissive to their husbands.
Has he been involved in other controversies?
In 2007, a Senate committee investigated Long's church for possible violations of its tax-exempt status. Two years earlier, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had reported that Long — known for his lavish trappings, including big diamond rings, Bentleys, bodyguards, etc. — earned $3 million in salary and perks over three years from a charity he controlled. His response: "We're not just a church, we're an international corporation. We're not just a bumbling bunch of preachers who can’t talk and all we're doing is baptizing babies. I deal with the White House. I deal with Tony Blair."
Will Long weather this storm?
Most experts believe he'll survive, no matter what happens with the lawsuits. I'm not so sure, says Alston in Newsweek. "If Long's accuser were a woman," he would be okay — but the fact that it's young men means the charges could fatally compromise Long's standing with his followers. In the short term, he'll probably just "settle [the suits] and still stay in the pulpit," albeit with a smaller congregation, says University of Pennsylvania religion professor Anthea Butler. And there's reason to believe he may survive beyond that. After all, "Jimmy Swaggart is still preaching."