Eddie Long, the anti-gay preacher who was accused of sexually abusing four young men in his youth ministry, announced he is taking a leave from his Atlanta megachurch to spend time with his family.
The announcement came after his wife, Vanessa Long, 53, filed for divorce Thursday. Friday, she recanted after “prayerful reflection” but later in the day changed her mind and said she did intend to end their marriage of 21 years. They have four children.
“Vanessa and I are working together in seeking God’s will in our current circumstances,” Bishop Long, 58, said in a statement issued by the church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.
During services on Sunday, he told congregants that he was still their senior pastor and would continue to provide spiritual direction, but that he needed time to take care of “some family business.” Members attending services pledged support and said they would stay until his return.
The divorce filing comes more than a year after allegations last year that Long used his lavish lifestyle and position of spiritual authority to lure four young men into sexual relationships. Long settled the cases but has never admitted to any wrongdoing. Details of the settlement were not disclosed.
The scandal has tainted Long’s reputation as an influential spiritual leader 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. [...]
Eddie Long, who has been a vocal opponent of gay marriage, built his empire with charisma and a prosperity Gospel message that told followers God would reward the faithful with wealth. It was an idea he embodied, sporting jewels on stage, living in a mansion and driving a luxury car.
The New York Times writes
There have been other legal battles. Ten former members who attended church investment seminars are suing him, claiming he coerced them into investment deals that cost them their retirement savings. He recently reached a settlement in a lawsuit over a $2 million bank loan, much of which went unpaid after a real estate deal that went bad.
In 2007, Bishop Long was one of a half-dozen ministers whose tax-exempt status was investigated by a Senate committee.
Congregants interviewed after Sunday’s 11 a.m. service said they remain supportive of Long.
“What he does in his personal time, he does,” said Adrian Jackson, a New Birth member for 21 years. “As long as he’s in there preaching, that’s what matters to me.”
Kevin Reddick, a church member since 1994, said Long is simply following the Bible’s instructions.
“I think it’s wise to take time off because Scripture tells us that ministry starts at the home,” Reddick told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“We love Bishop Long and we’re certainly supportive of our family, our spiritual family and we are praying for him and we are praying for those who are in connection with Bishop Long and the Kingdom of God,” Dr. Cathryn Lafayette, a church member of more than 11 years told Channel 2 Action News.
But protesters picketing outside New Birth Sunday morning said Long should have gone further.
“We don’t want him to take a few weeks off … we want a permanent absence,” said demonstrator Isaac Richmond. “Bishop Long has a serious moral character flaw.”