Ge­or­gia pas­tor vows to fight sex charges

From the pul­pit, Ed­die Long speaks for the first time about suits al­leg­ing that he co­erced young men into sex­ual sit­u­a­tions.

Los Angeles Times - - The Nation - times wire ser­vices

Litho­nia, ga. — Bap­tist tel­e­van­ge­list Ed­die Long said Sun­day from the pul­pit of his packed megachurch that he would fight al­le­ga­tions that he co­erced young male church mem­bers into hav­ing sex with him.

“I’m not a per­fect man, but this thing I’m go­ing to fight. I feel like David against Go­liath, but I’ve got five rocks and I haven’t thrown one of them yet,” Long told his con­gre­ga­tion of about 6,500 in his first pub­lic com­ments on the scan­dal.

Four men filed civil law­suits last week al­leg­ing that Long had used his sta­tus as pas­tor of New Birth Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church to co­erce them into re­la­tion­ships when they were in their late teens.

Speak­ing pub­licly about the ac­cu­sa­tions for the first time, Long did not ad­dress the spe­cific al­le­ga­tions con­tained in the four law­suits.

“I’ve been ac­cused, I’m un­der at­tack,” he said, bow­ing his head and soft­en­ing his voice from be­hind the pul­pit at the sub­ur­ban At­lanta church.

Af­ter his 20-minute ser­mons, de­liv­ered at two ser­vices, the 57-year-old pas­tor put down his mi­cro­phone and walked off­stage to deaf­en­ing ap­plause from the thou­sands who had come to hear him.

The law­suits ac­cuse Long of us­ing his power and in­flu­ence within the 25,000mem­ber church to lure young male church mem­bers into sex­ual re­la­tion­ships. The suits al­lege that the re­la­tion­ships, which be­gan when the men were in their teens, lasted over many months.

Plain­tiffs An­thony Flagg, 21, Mau­rice Robin­son, 20, and Ja­mal Par­ris, 23, filed law­suits Tues­day seek­ing un­spec­i­fied dam­ages. A suit by Spencer LeGrande, 22, was added Fri­day.

“Long has a pat­tern and prac­tice of sin­gling out a se­lect group of young male church mem­bers and us­ing his author­ity as bishop over them to ul­ti­mately bring them to en­gage in sex­ual re­la­tion­ships,” ac­cord­ing to the law­suits filed Tues­day.

Long took the young men on trips to Kenya and other places, ac­cord­ing to the suits. He al­legedly paid for their ho­tel rooms and gave the young men gifts, in­clud­ing a car, cash and jew­elry — all in ex­change for sex­ual fa­vors such as mas­sag­ing, mas­tur­ba­tion and oral sex.

Long, who is mar­ried, has preached pas­sion­ately against ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity over the years.

In 2004, he led a march to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s grave in At­lanta in sup­port of defin­ing mar­riage as be­ing be­tween a man and a woman.

He once de­clared that his church had cre­ated a min­istry that “de­liv­ered” peo­ple from ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

Long has a na­tional pres­ence. He has been in­vited to the White House, runs a pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion min­istry and over­sees a wor­ship cam­pus that in­cludes a school.

In the park­ing lot af­ter ser­vices Sun­day, church mem­ber Juan Davis de­scribed him­self as “very sat­is­fied with what I heard.”

“It’s a very dif­fi­cult moment for the church, for the pas­tor, but I know for sure they’re go­ing to over­come it — over­come it in a big way,” Davis said.

Be­tween ser­vices, Long spoke briefly to re­porters, say­ing he wanted the law­suits to be dealt with “in the court of jus­tice and not by pub­lic opin­ion,” he said.

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