Bishop Eddie Long, leader of the 25,000-plus member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., has been accused of sexual coercion and abuse by members of his church-affiliated youth academy.
Two suits, filed Sept. 21 in the DeKalb County Court, list 11 counts they want a jury of 12 to rule on including: breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Co-defendants in the cases are the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church Inc. and the Longfellows Youth Academy, a non-profit organization operated by the church, which the lawsuit says "purports to train young men to love, live and lead as they proceed on their 'masculine journey.'" Specific charges against the church and the youth academy include negligent failure to warn, negligent failure to intervene and negligent failure to protect.
According to the lawsuits from Maurice M. Robinson, 20, and Anthony A. Flagg, 21, Long singled them out from other members of Longfellows Youth Academy for a special designation as "Spiritual Sons." This designation, the lawsuit posits, afforded the young men privileges like special trips and gifts of jewelry, clothes, electronics and cars. These young men were also employed by the church, and were in what the lawsuits call "covenant relationship" with Long, in which he sought to have them follow his direction.
Another lawsuit was filed on Sept. 22 for a third young man. Jamal M.M. Parris, 23, was, according to his lawsuit, 14 years old when Long gave the boy his personal cell phone number and asked Parris to call. The lawsuit indicates Long asked Parris to call him "daddy" and promised to protect him and not let another man hurt him like Parris' father had.
All three lawsuits allege Long used coercion over time to lead these young men into a sexual relationship that included manual manipulation, oral sodomy and other sexual acts for Long's gratification.
In an interview on CNN, Art Franklin, a spokesman for Long, called the lawsuit "retaliation and a shakedown for money" from men with serious credibility issues. He added, "Bishop Long categorically and adamantly denies the allegations."
Franklin, in this interview, suggested the lawsuit was subverting some standard practices of the church including hiring its younger members and having people travel with Long. He continued saying that information about the lawsuits was coming to the church through the media and they had not yet seen the documents.
Calling on people to consider the source of the initial accusations, Franklin indicated that Flagg and Robinson were troubled young men who "made these allegations against someone who has helped them."
"[The plaintiffs] are not innocent victims," he said. "These are men who have been on the wrong side of the law several times before, which includes being charged with breaking into Bishop Long's office back in June of this year to steal items such as jewelry and property they could get cash for."
While Franklin calls the lawsuits a shakedown for money, the documents do not list any specific monetary relief requests. Instead it asks that the issue be resolved by a jury, with plaintiffs awarded court and attorney costs and compensatory, special damages and punitive damage amounts entered against the defendants as determined reasonable by the jury.
Calls to Long's attorney Craig Gillen and the plaintiffs' attorney Brenda Joy (B.J.) Bernstein had not been returned by the AFRO's deadline.
The allegations against Long in this lawsuit are very surprising in light of his very public stance against gay marriage and homosexuality. He has called for a national ban on gay marriage and in 2004 marched with Bernice King in support of amending the Constitution to say marriage is between a man and a woman.
Both print and news reports show Long has many supporters who believe the allegations are false. "Bishop Long has done so many great things," Franklin said during the CNN interview. "He has lots of friends and supporters standing with him."