Dozens of parents said they are left scrambling to find a school for their children after leaders at New Birth Christian Academy said the campus will not reopen next week.
School officials told Channel 2 Action News that money and not enough students are the main issues, but some parents said they believe it’s more than that.
How much more than that?
The academy is housed inside the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. A spokesperson made it clear that the school closure has nothing to do with the sex abuse allegations against Bishop Eddie Long.
“I don’t believe that. I believe that this last straw with the divorce, the sealed settlement, it just does not look good,” said the parent.
Parents received the letter on Dec. 22. School reopens there on Jan. 4. The DeKalb County, Ga., school system has said it will help place the refugee students.
In responses to the four lawsuits filed against him and New Birth Baptist Church, Bishop Eddie Long denied coercing the young men into sexual relationships, but admitted other key aspects of their accounts. The responses were filed in DeKalb County (Georgia) State Court on Monday.
In September, four young men — Maurice Robinson, Anthony Flagg, Jamal Parris and Spencer LeGrande — filed suits against Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. The young men claimed Long coerced them into having sex with him in exchange for lavish gifts, trips and jobs. In the filings, Long said it has been a practice of his to occasionally share a room with members of his congregation. However, he said “the plaintiff’s claims of sexual misconduct are not true.
He admitted that he took the men on trips, but he denied the complaints of sexual contact. He did admit to hugging some of the men.
Long also admitted to giving the plaintiffs gifts, including cars, and helping them financially, but he denied that it was in exchange for sex. He said he has “provided sporadic financial assistance,” and he routinely pays for rent and other expenses for New Birth members, according to the filings.
Almost 75 people led by Bishop “Prophet” H. Walker of True Light Pentecost Church in Spartanburg, S.C., called for Long’s resignation in a ralliy “on the steps of the Georgia state Capitol” Sunday,
When Independent Baptist Bishop Eddie Long declared “spiritual warfare” was at the center of his scandal, he inadvertently summarized arguments against his ministry and the ministries of others like him.
In Charisma magazine, J. Lee Grady wrote that a even before the Long scandal, he had noticed a “sinister spirit of perversion has invaded the ranks of charismatic churches.” While careful not to pre-convict Long, Grady offered examples:
- The leader of one supposedly Christian ministry encouraged the wives of two men to have adulterous affairs, and then asked the women to provide detailed descriptions of their activities
- A group of traveling ministers routinely met for weekend getaways that included wife-swapping
- The male leader of a “prophetic” church on the West Coast seduced several men in his core leadership team. (The church shut down after the sin was exposed.)
- A pastor learned that members of his staff were having sexual affairs in the sanctuary of his church, and he did nothing to stop the debauchery.
- A church in the Southeast hosted a marriage seminar in which Christian couples were encouraged to install poles in their bedrooms so wives could engage in pole dancing prior to sex. (Question: Didn’t pole dancing originate in strip clubs? Did someone visit a strip club to get this idea?)
But such power also has its financial uses.
Keith Burton, director of the Bradford-Cleveland-Brooks Leadership Center at Oakwood University, said there is an undeniably “spiritual warfare” swirling around Long:
Like many other mega-church moguls, Eddie Long’s empire was built like a massive pyramid scheme maintained by a host of tithe paying downliners – many of whom give sacrificially with the hope that next Sunday morning their spiritual lottery number would be called. This scandalous gospel of wealth with its “name it and claim it” heresy has the masses so mesmerized that – even now – they fail to hold their leader accountable. Together with the millions of gullible who contribute to similar clergy greed, they allowed him to build his kingdom on their unquestioned loyalty. They defended the right of the “man of God” to have a $350,000 Bentley, multiple items of jewelry, six to seven figure salary, and expensive suits; and gave no thought to the fact that excessive materialism has long been successful in transforming “men of God” into “men of gods.” This, my friends, is the undisputed scandal – a scandal for which neither the Bishop nor New Birth have a defense.
And as Wall Street bankers, megachurch preachers and other prosperity pimps live like lottery winners, people in America are suffering. The Census Bureau recently reported that poverty is higher than it was 10 years ago, with nearly 15 percent of Americans in poverty. The gap between rich and poor has tripled in three decades, and is the highest it has been since the 1920s. Meanwhile, unemployment is entrenched and not going anywhere anytime soon.
Surely, Bishop Long and his supporters would maintain that his reputation is being dragged through the mud. But his reputation was already muddied via his homophobia and corrupt bling theology. Rather, Long should worry far more about what Dr. King would say about him.
lthough King fought against and even disobeyed unjust laws, Long supports them. Dr. King decried the triple evils of racism, materialism and militarism, and called for a radical revolution of values, from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. Figures such as King and Malcolm X walked the talk by fighting for the people — and for causes greater than their personal bank account — through great personal sacrifice and a modest existence. Remember that Dr. King donated all of his $54,000 Nobel Peace Prize money to the civil rights movement.
Weigh Dr. King’s philanthropy against Rachel Tabachnick’s detailed account of how Long’s ministry is apparently structured to make him wealthy. It may indeed be a “pyramid scheme,” accumulating revenue from perhaps 275 churches in 38 states.
That self-serving corporate structure appears to be what the conundrum of being a Baptist bishop means to Long.
Openly gay and bisexual Rev. Dennis A. Meredith, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Atlanta, has posted a YouTube video admonishing scandal besieged Lithonia Eddie Long to “tell the truth:”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Shelia M. Poole wrote:
The nearly four-minute video was posted on YouTube on Monday, the day after Long made his first public comments about the scandal in which four young men sued the pastor, accusing him of coercing them into sexual relations.
. . .
Meredith said he decided to make the video because he was “saddened and disappointed” that there seemed to be little concern for the four men by Long and members of the 25,000-member church, who were interviewed later by the media. Meredith, who describes himself as openly gay and bisexual, said he called on a film crew, that’s also making a documentary about himself and his church, to shoot the video with downtown Atlanta as a backdrop.
Meredith said his congregation is about 85 percent gay, lesbian and bisexual. Meredith said he has lost some members to New Birth because they disagreed of his views about welcoming gays in the church.
For Eddie Long, whatever remains in his metaphoric sack of rocks, important words remain unspoken. Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes:
Yet, after days of awkward silence, Long could not look the members of that family in the face and tell them plainly that he was innocent, that he had not engaged in sex with four young male church members who looked to him for guidance.
Other pastors at the church have things to say:
In the latest news update, the Chief Minister Elder Darius Wise at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, told WSBTV that they got pictures of Bishop Eddie Long over the past week and he doesn’t know that guy being portrayed. Wise stated that the man that he knows wouldn’t do what he is being accused of in the lawsuits.
His ex-wife has joined the fray via divorce documents. Christian Boone and Ty Tagami of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution write:
Dabara S. Houston said she was the victim of “cruel treatment” and was afraid of Long’s “violent and vicious temper,” according to Fulton County Superior Court records. She and her son “had to flee [the couple’s Fairburn home] in order to ensure their safety,” the documents say.
The couple was married in 1981 and separated after a couple years, according to the documents. Long’s first wife made the abuse allegation in a counterclaim after he petitioned for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.
There is an element of combat to it, a sociologist explained:
“There’s a lot of theater here, it’s a live chess match,” says Tulane sociologist Shayne Lee, author of “Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace.” “The plaintiffs want to keep the blood flowing, and Bishop Long is trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding. But the longer this goes on in the media, the more [church] members are going to demand cogent responses to the claims instead of vague denials.”
Time is not on Long’s side. The longer it runs, the more his supporters will understand that as Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post observed, Long has his self-pitying David/Goliath analogy backward:
Let’s see, on one side we have one of the most prominent and influential clerics in the country, the pastor of a suburban Atlanta megachurch that claims 25,000 members. On the other, we have four young men who claim in lawsuits that Long abused his clerical authority to lure and coerce them into having sex with him. Unlike the bishop, as far as I know, none of the accusers is driven around in a Bentley. Or is constantly attended by a retinue of aides and bodyguards. Or cultivates and maintains first-name relationships with famous politicians, athletes and entertainers.
His failure to directly and personally confront the accusations with persuasive denial suggests a failure of accountability for his exercise of a trust — a topic Christa addresses well:
The allegations, if proven, involve conduct that is far more troubling that mere hypocrisy. And they involve conduct that is something far different from consensual gay sex. They involve conduct in which faith itself — the faith of trusting teens — is twisted into a weapon so as to serve the sexual ends of a powerful religious leader.
After speaking to his 10,000-strong congregation Sunday, simple shepherd Eddie “David” Long tossed his weathered leather pouch of five well-selected rocks into his $350,000 Bently and drove to his modest $1.4-million residence to further gird his loins for battle with Goliath (apparently the four young men who have filed suit against him).
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, key passages are:
There have been allegations and attacks made on me. I have never in my life portrayed myself as a perfect man. But I am not the man that’s being portrayed on the television. That’s not me. That is not me
By the counsel of my lawyers, they have advised me not to try this case in the media. I am not gon’ try this case in the media. It will be tried in the court of justice and dealt with in the court of justice and please understand because that’s the only place I think I’ll get justice, but being in the hands of God.
Please hear this. Please hear this: I’ve been accused. I’m under attack. I want you to know, as I said earlier, I am not a perfect man. But this thing I’m gon’ fight.
And I want you to to know one other thing. I feel like David against Goliath, but I’ve got five rocks and I haven’t thrown one yet.
Read the entire transcript here.
Craig Schneider of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote Friday:
Spencer LeGrande filed suit against Long Friday, marking the fourth such action filed this week. He said in the suit that he met Long when he was 15 at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., where he and his mother were among the founding families. He said he accompanied Long on several trips abroad and later moved to Atlanta.
New Birth Charlotte is a satellite church of Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga.
Three other young men have filed similar suits against Long. All four claim Long, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement,” repeatedly coerced them into sex when they were younger.
His father, 55-year-old Greensboro, N.C., furniture store worker Eddie LeGrande said:
He never told me. He never gave me a clue,
But looking back, he said, “There were red flags.” The trips, the gifts, the attention, he said.
“I’m very upset about it,” he said. “I’m very hurt about it. I’m very hurt for my son.”
If the accusations are true, he said, “I think he should be banned from his church. I think he should do jail time, and he should pay the victims for the hurt. He should be used as an example.”
Long has thus far denied but nonetheless responded only briefly to the allegations.
Long made a telephone conference call to pastors and supports Friday:
We will arise through this situation, and go forward, and we are moving forward,” Long said, according to CNN affiliate WGCL-TV, which monitored the call.
“I have never dealt with anything like this before. I have been under attack before, but everything else has been different levels and different challenges,” Long said. He took no questions.
Keith Whitney of Atlanta’s 11Alive.com wrote on Friday:
Bishop Long is expected, however, to tell his side on Sunday in the ultimate venue. The pulpit.
Wikipedia’s list of mostly American Christian evangelist scandals includes Long’s mentor, Earl Paulk, whose career concluded amid scandal.
On his twitter account Thursday, Long tweeted:
Thanks for all your prayers and support! Love you all.
There has been vigorous twitter traffic in discussion of and speculation about the story since it broke. Speculation that Long plans to resign Sunday has been frequent since the fourth suit became public knowledge.
Mara Gay of AOL News writes:
“Nobody’s guilty until the court says he’s guilty,” Haggard, the former head of a 14,000-member congregation in Colorado, told AOL News in a phone interview Wednesday.
Three young men from Long’s 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church filed lawsuits this week claiming he exploited his position and used cash, cars and expensive trips to pressure them into sexual relationships.
Of the pictures, one author suggested:
On Thursday, pictures hit the Internet like a whirlwind and no one knows how the photos surfaced which show the Bishop wearing spandex and workout clothes which is stated to have been sent to an accuser in November of 2008. According to attorney B.J. Bernstei who is representing the three men suing Eddie Long, they received dozens of emails from Long, but “they are not overly sexual.”