by Errin Haines
Associated Press Writer
LITHONIA, Ga. (AP)—Bishop Eddie Long was focused on a message of moving forward on the first Sunday since he resolved the lawsuits brought against him by four former members of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.
At his 8 a.m. service, several hundred congregants clapped and cheered as Long appeared. Long did not address the allegations or the settlement, which was reached Friday.
BISHOP EDDIE LONG
Last fall, the four young men alleged Long abused his spiritual authority and coerced them into sexual relationships with gifts including cars, cash and travel.
The scandal tainted Long’s reputation as one of the nation’s most powerful church leader s who transformed his suburban Atlanta congregation of 150 into a following of 25,000 members and an international televangelist empire that included athletes, entertainers and politicians.
The 58-year-old husband and father of four has championed strong families and been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, and his church has counseled gay members to become straight. But the TV preacher’s empire was threatened in September when the four men sued. The men claimed Long abused his spiritual authority and used cars, jewelry and cash to lure them into trysts when they were 17 and 18. Local and state authorities did not investigate any possible crime because Georgia’s age of consent is 16.
Two of the young men claimed he targeted them after they enrolled in the church’s LongFellows Youth Academy, a program that taught teens about sexual, physical and financial discipline. The other two—one of whom attended a satellite church in Charlotte, N.C.—have made similar claims.
Long said in court documents that he often encouraged his church members to call him “daddy” and that some even called him “grandaddy,” but he said the term was a sign of respect.
The pastor also said in the documents that he has shared rooms with some of his church members, and that his parishioners often hug him. And while he admitted to giving the plaintiffs gifts, he said he often provided many members of his church with financial help.