by Atlanta Voice, Staff
LITHONIA, AL - Breaking his weeks-long silence on charges of sexual coercion, embattled pastor Bishop Eddie Long on Monday denied that he seduced four young men into sexual relationships and asked that four lawsuits be dismissed.
Meanwhile, a South Carolina pastor and his supporters held a rally on the steps of Georgia Capital on Sunday with one message for Long: resign.
Long, who has vowed to fight the charges against him, filed court papers Monday, denying the allegations made against him in four lawsuits filed in the last several weeks.
"The plaintiff's claims of sexual misconduct are not true," each of the four responses filed by Long's attorney says. The responses, each about 30 pages, offer a point-by-point response to each of the claims in the lawsuits.
Four members of Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church – Anthony Flagg, 21; Maurice Robinson, 20; Jamal Parris, 23; and Spencer LeGrande, 22 – sued Long and the 25,000-member megachurch in September, claiming he used his position as their spiritual counselor to pressure them into sexual relationships.
According to the lawsuits, Long traveled with the young men to locations in the U.S. and abroad, sharing a room and engaging in sexual contact with them. The suits also claim Long provided the youths with gifts, cars and money.
The suits allege that the relationships, which began when the men were in their teens, lasted over several months.
Though representatives for Long have denied the allegations, Monday's action marks the first time Long has publicly denied the allegations himself.
In the responses filed Monday in DeKalb County, Long's attorneys maintain the pastor was attempting to be a father figure to the youths, providing them with financial assistance and encouragement and helping them navigate their troubles.
Long has "been successful at building a ministry at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church that places a special emphasis on outreach to men, reinforcing to men the importance of partnering with a ministry that will grow them spiritually and will help them develop the life skills needed to become successful in the workplace and teach them how to become entrepreneurs and leaders," the court documents said.
"Bishop Long admits that he mentors many young men from challenged backgrounds, who have often been without the benefit of a male role model," according to the documents. "The mentor/mentee relationship between Bishop Long as mentor and the mentee is firmly grounded on expressed promises of honesty and truthfulness."
Long provided cars for the youths so they would have transportation to school and work, according to the responses, and provided housing when they needed it, the documents said. Long provides many church members with employment, they said.
Attorney B.J. Bernstein, who represents the four men in their suits against Long, said Tuesday she had not yet received copies of Long's responses to the suits.
Bernstein has alleged that Long groomed the youths for sex, saying in September: "He gets to know them and gets the trust, and then bit by bit – first it's a hug. It's just like any sexual predator... Ask any victim of sexual abuse. It is a progression."
Long acknowledges that he "provides opportunities for travel, education and personal growth to many members of his congregation" and claims in the responses that he often shares hotel rooms with members of his congregation when traveling.
Some of the young men have said that Long encouraged them to call him "Daddy." In his responses to the suits, Long's attorneys say that the "entire New Birth membership calls Bishop Long 'Daddy' or 'Bishop.'" Participants in the pastor's LongFellows Youth Academy call him "Pop," according to the documents, and members of other churches call Long "Granddaddy."
"The references to and association between Bishop Long (and other religious leaders) and a 'Spiritual Father' is based upon the crisis in the African American community of fatherlessness," the documents said.
Also, "Bishop Long admits that it is common among his church congregation for members to hug each other and hug the Bishop," his attorneys said in the response to LeGrand's suit. "However, Bishop Long has no recollection of a prolonged hug with plaintiff."
The suits also name the academy and church as defendants, saying they failed to warn the young men. Long says in his response that since no untoward conduct took place, the academy and church did not fail in their duty to caution the youths.
Long also asks the court to set a hearing "for the purpose of simplification of the issues and management of the case."
Protesters at a rally on Sunday, meanwhile, don't believe Long should wait for that hearing and are calling for him to resign.
Prophet H. Walker of True Light Pentecost Church in Spartanburg, S.C., teamed up with talk show host and author Rueben Armstrong, Atlanta minister Adisa Franklin and other guest speakers to call for Long's resignation.
"He has no right to continue as leader of the Christian church," Walker said. "He has deceived his congregation and he needs to step up and be a man and resign."
More than 50 supporters attended the rally, most of who were members of Walker's church and drove from South Carolina.
Franklin said other Atlanta-area pastors have not challenged Long because of his powerful political connections in the community.
"Why am I the only minister in the Atlanta area here speaking out?" he asked. "Where are the people who marched with [Long] at the anti-gay marriage rally? Where are they now?"
Franklin said he was taking a stand to show that someone must hold church leaders accountable for their actions. He said he plans to have similar rallies in the coming months.
Contributing Writer Sharon Ochoa and CNN contributed to this report.