Atlanta-based megachurch pastor Eddie Long, accused of coercing young men into sexual relationships, will go on radio and make a statement Thursday following civil lawsuits a spokesman has termed a “shakedown” for money.
Long’s appearances will follow Wednesday’s filing of another lawsuit, in DeKalb County State Court. It was brought on behalf of Jamal Parris, now 23, who was a teenager at the time he joined Long’s church.
The suit, which claims Long encouraged Parris to call him “Daddy,” also names the church and a youth academy as defendants.
Allegations that Long coerced young male church members and employees into sex are “a case of retaliation and a shakedown for money by men with some serious credibility issues,” Art Franklin, the pastor’s spokesman, said Wednesday.
Lawsuits filed Tuesday in DeKalb County by two men allege that Long used his position as a spiritual authority and bishop to coerce young male members and employees of his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church into sex. CNN was the first to report on the lawsuits.
“Defendant 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,” the suits allege.
Long is considered one of the nation’s top African-American preachers. His church has more 25,000 members, according to the suit, and was the site of Coretta Scott King’s 2006 funeral, attended by then-President George W. Bush and three former presidents. King was the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
[Attorney B.J.] Bernstein, who represents Parris, Flagg and Robinson, said Wednesday that the youths’ accounts are “really strong.”
She said she has worked with sexual abuse victims and finds the two believable because of “the emotion. The intensity. The very strong description of what sexual acts occurred. … This is not just someone giving a vague thing, ‘Oh, yeah, one time he did this,’ or a couple of times.”
But Franklin told CNN’s”American Morning” on Wednesday that the two men “are not innocent victims” and that they have known “the wrong side of the law” before, including being charged with breaking into Long’s office in June to steal items, such as jewelry, that could be sold for cash.
Asked how she can prove that sexual contact took place, Bernstein said, “I am ready to put them under oath. Bishop Long can spend money on the best attorneys in this world, and they can question those young men, and then I’ll get to question the bishop, and then we’ll really see what’s going on.”
She said she will subpoena records of an “excessive number of phone calls” between Long and the young men, along with e-mails, credit card receipts and other items. Bernstein said she had alerted federal authorities about the situation.
Long frequently denounces homosexual behavior. A 2007 article in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s magazine called him “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement.”
Both plaintiffs said the pastor, his church and church employees gave them cash and lavish gifts that ranged from cars to college tuition.
The lawsuits also said that Long framed the sexual relationships as religious in nature.
The suits allege that Long chose the plaintiffs to be his “Spiritual Sons,” a program that allegedly includes other young men from the church.
“Spiritual Sons are taken on public and private jets to U.S. and international destinations, housed in luxury hotels and given access to numerous celebrities including entertainment stars and politicians,” the suit alleges.
Charges could be difficult to prove
Sexual coercion accusations, such as the ones leveled at Bishop Eddie Long, can be difficult to prove in court, but cases have been won against other religious leaders, experts say.
There must be proof that the religious leader compromised the will of his victim, said Atlanta attorney Lee Parks, who has represented people coerced into sex.
“It is not enough to say they got enough gifts until they said yes,” Parks said. “That is still yes.”
Proving that in the Long case will be difficult, because the plaintiffs were of legal age of consent, and don’t assert they were forced to submit, made drunk or drugged, Parks said. Consequently, there must be proof that Long had so much control over his accusers they had no power to resist, the attorney said.
If the Long case survived a judge’s initial review, it could go to a jury trial and take two years to be decided and another two years in appeals, Parks said. These cases often end in a financial settlement between the parties.
Ronald Carlson, a University of Georgia law professor, said there have been major judgments against religious figures who coerced church members into sex. Those cases stressed the religious leader’s power over the person as a father figure and religious adviser.
Bishop Eddie Long Denies Sexual Abuse as Plaintiffs’ Lawyer Promises More Evidence
His accusers believe more young men will come forward from a youth ministry that numbered in the hundreds. The young men say that many people at the church who were close to Long knew what was going on but covered for him and kept quiet for years.
Although the allegations against New Birth Missionary Baptist Church Bishop Long appear damning, some church members say they refuse to believe they could be true.
But B.J. Bernstein, the lawyer for Robinson and Flagg, has said that she has photos, texts and e-mails that show a relationship between her clients and the bishop.
One of those photos viewed by ABC News depicts Long posing in what appears to be a bathroom stall in a red muscle shirt. The photo was sent via e-mail in November 2008 and is signed, “Eddie L Long, Amazed by His Grace.”
“What pastor in his right mind sends a picture from himself, posing in his bathroom in a muscle shirt?” Bernstein said. “None that I know of. Especially one who is a committed homophobe.”
Long has been an outspoken critic of what he has described in his writing as “fractured families,” “with openly gay family members and relationships.”