by Errin Haines
ATLANTA (AP)–Two men have filed a lawsuit accusing Bishop Eddie Long of exploiting his role as pastor of an Atlanta-area megachurch to coerce them into sexual relationships when they were young members of his congregation.
|In this Jan. 18 2007 file photo, Bishop Eddie Long, of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, in Lithonia, Ga., gestures during an interview in Lithonia.
Lawyers for the men, now 20 and 21, say they filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in DeKalb County Court. The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they were victims of sexual impropriety.
Craig Gillen, Long’s attorney, said Tuesday the pastor “categorically denies the allegations.”
“We find it unfortunate that these two young men would take this course of action,” Gillen said, adding that Long had not yet been served with copies of the lawsuits.
The men were 17- and 18-year-old members of Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, when they say Long abused his spiritual authority to seduce them with with cars, money, clothes, jewelry, international trips and access to celebrities.
B.J. Bernstein, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said that when the relationships started, the plaintiffs were past the legal age of consent in Georgia, which is 15.
“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 grafitication,” the lawsuits read.
When asked about a possible motive for the accusations, Gillen referred to a break-in at Long’s office in June.
Bergstein said one of the plaintiffs is facing a criminal burglary charge in the incident. She said the break-in was a way of lashing out at Long.
Bernstein said she contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office earlier this month when she became aware of the young men’s allegations. She did not know what action, if any, the agency planned to take.
Orzy Theus, a spokesman for the DeKalb County district attorney’s office, said she was not aware on Tuesday of an investigation in that office related to the allegations.
Long was appointed pastor of New Birth in 1987. Then, the church had about 150 members. Less than four years later, the church had grown to more than 8,000 members, many of whom reside in DeKalb County, home to many affluent African-Americans. Athletes and entertainers claim membership at the church, and among its prominent clergy is the Rev. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Today, New Birth sits on 250 acres and has more than 25,000 members, a $50 million, 10,000-seat cathedral and more than 40 ministries ‚Äî including the Longfellows Youth Academy, a tuition-based program for young men 13 to 18.
(Associated Press Writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this story.)