If the allegations in two lawsuits filed Tuesday in Georgia’s DeKalb County are true, staunchly anti-gay megachurch leader Bishop Eddie L. Long told two teenage boys that, according to Holy Scripture, it was cool for them to have sex with him.
Maurice Robinson, 20, and Anthony Flagg, 21, have accused Long, the leader of the Atlanta-area New Birth Missionary Baptist Church – one of the largest churches in the nation – of misusing his mentoring role of “pastor, counselor and bishop” to coerce them into sexual acts when they were teens. Their lawsuits allege that Long gave them gifts of cars, clothes, jewelry, electronics, college tuition and overnight trips to places including New York, Las Vegas, Dallas, the Caribbean and New Zealand – and that Long would share bedrooms with them in luxury hotels. Long allegedly would “sleep in the same bed” as Flagg while the teenager was living at the church (Robinson complaint, Flagg complaint).
The lawsuits describe Long as engaging in various sex acts with Flagg and Robinson.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today reported the filing of a third sexual exploitation lawsuit against Long. Jamal Parris, 23, another former member of New Birth, similarly accuses Long of using his leverage as a mentor and spiritual leader to compel the plaintiff into a sexual relationship. Parris, who now lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., joined New Birth at age 14 with his mother in 2001, and worked as summer camp counselor at the church, the newspaper reported.
Long’s attorney said the pastor “adamantly denies” all the allegations, telling Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “We find it unfortunate that these two young men have taken these actions. We are reviewing the complaint and will respond accordingly.”
The allegations are particularly stinging to a charismatic African-American pastor identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2007 as “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement” and who, along with other prominent clerics including Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C., embodies black religious resistance to gay rights progress. In a videotaped sermon described in an SPLC profile, Long declared, “The problem today, and the reason society is like it is, is because men are being feminized and women are being masculine! You cannot say, ‘I was born this way.’ … I don’t care what scientists say!”
Robinson and Flagg were enrolled in a tuition-based, New Birth ministry for boys 13 to 18 years old. The ministry, called the Longfellows Youth Academy, intended “to train young men to love, live and lead as they proceed on their ‘masculine journey,’ ” according to the lawsuits. The church’s website was down Wednesday afternoon.
The complaints allege that “Long has utilized his spiritual authority as Bishop and leader of Defendants’ ministries to coerce certain young male members and employees of Defendant New Birth … into engaging in sexual acts and relationships for his own personal sexual gratification.” Further, it alleges that “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 a point of engaging in a sexual relationship.”
“Defendant Long, through manipulation, coercion, deception and fraud resulting from the abuse of his confidential relationship with Plaintiff Robinson, convinced him that engaging in a sexual relationship was a healthy component of his spiritual life,” one of the lawsuits says.
The lawsuits are civil actions accusing Long, the church and church officials, among other things, of intentionally inflicting emotional distress, negligence, failure to intervene to protect the defendants from the sexual conduct, and fraud – for “representing that the Longfellows Youth Academy was a benevolent enterprise designed to foster the spiritual growth of young men.”
The question of criminal rape does not apply because the boys were older than Georgia’s age of consent, which is 16. However, the plaintiffs’ attorney, Brenda Joy Bernstein, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that some of the acts which occurred in other states could be considered criminal, which is why she has contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office. That agency will not comment on investigations as a matter of policy.
Of particular note is that the lawsuits identify by name two people working for New Baptist and the Longfellows Academy who, among others at the church, “knew of Defendant Long’s sexually inappropriate conduct and did nothing to warn or protect Plaintiff Robinson” and Flagg. That implies more than just an allegedly exploitative pastor – it describes a conspiracy to protect him.
Long took over a church of 300 parishioners in 1987 and turned it into a megachurch claiming 25,000 members. It is situated on a 240-acre campus in Livonia, Ga., about 18 miles outside Atlanta.