Anti-gay Atlanta megachurch pastor denies sex with young men

ERRIN HAINES  |  Associated Press

ATLANTA — The prominent pastor of a 25,000-member megachurch near Atlanta denies allegations in a lawsuit that he coerced two young men from the congregation into a sexual relationship, his attorney said.

Lawyers for the men, now 20 and 21, say they filed the lawsuit Tuesday, Sept. 21 in DeKalb County Court against Bishop Eddie Long. The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they were victims of sexual impropriety.

President George W. Bush and three former presidents visited the sprawling New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in the Atlanta suburb of Lithonia for the 2006 funeral of Coretta Scott King, the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Long introduced the speakers and the Rev. Bernice King, the Kings’ younger daughter, delivered the eulogy. She is also a pastor there.

The men who filed the suit were 17- and 18-year-old members of the church when they say Long abused his spiritual authority to seduce them with cars, money, clothes, jewelry, international trips and access to celebrities.

Craig Gillen, Long’s attorney, says the pastor “categorically denies the allegations.”

“We find it unfortunate that these two young men would take this course of action,” Gillen said late Tuesday after news of the lawsuit broke. He said Long had not yet been served with copies of the lawsuits.

Long has called for a national ban on same-sex marriage and his church counsels gay members to become straight. In 2004, he led a march with Bernice King to her father’s Atlanta grave to support a national constitutional amendment to protect marriage “between one man and one woman.”

He also has released several gospel albums, authored books on relationships and spirituality, and hosts a weekly television program.

B.J. Bernstein, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said that when the relationships started, the plaintiffs were past the legal age of consent in Georgia, which is 16.

“Defendant Long has utilized his spiritual authority to coerce certain young male members … into engaging in sexual acts and relationships for his own personal sexual gratification,” the lawsuits read.

When asked about a possible motive for the accusations, Gillen referred to a break-in at Long’s office in June.

Bernstein said one of the plaintiffs is facing a criminal burglary charge in the incident. She said the break-in was a way of lashing out at Long.

Bernstein said she contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office earlier this month when she became aware of the young men’s allegations. She did not know what action, if any, the agency planned to take.

Bernstein told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she has not contacted DeKalb County law enforcement because Long has ties to county officials.

Orzy Theus, a spokesman for the DeKalb County district attorney’s office, said he was not aware on Tuesday of an investigation in that office related to the allegations.

Long was appointed pastor of New Birth in 1987. Then, the church had about 150 members. Less than four years later, the church had grown to more than 8,000 members. Athletes and entertainers claim membership at the church.

Long’s church was among those named in 2007 in a Senate committee’s investigation into a half-dozen Christian ministries over their financing.

Today, New Birth sits on 250 acres and has more than 25,000 members, a $50 million, 10,000-seat cathedral and more than 40 ministries _ including the Longfellows Youth Academy, a tuition-based program for young men 13 to 18.

—  John Wright

Bernice King, the SCLC and homophobia

The Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., recently made history by becoming the first woman chosen to lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was founded by her father.

At first glance, that might sound like a great things for the LGBT community: a Christian organization headed up by a member of the King family. But take a second look and you see it’s not so great at all.

The thing is, Bernice King is one of the very few King family members who is on the record as being anti-gay. Colleagues of MLK Jr. have said that if he were still alive he would be a gay rights proponent, and most of those same colleagues are themselves gay rights supporters. His wife, the late Coretta Scott King, spoke out in favor of gay rights, including same-sex marriage. His daughter Yolanda King was also an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights.

But Bernice King is an evangelical Christian in every sense of the word. In fact, she led an anti-gay-marriage march in December 2004 that culminated at her father’s gravesite. It is a position that, given the apparent widespread support in the African-American community for the anti-gay-marriage Prop 8 in California last November, that many black Americans share.

But not all.

In a column posted today on TheDailyVoice.com, billed as “black America’s daily news source,” Earl Ofari Hutchinson calls on Bernice King to renounce her anti-gay stance, saying that with that 2004 march, “King sullied her father’s name to show her enmity to gay marriage. She also sullied her mother’s too.”

Hutchinson writes: “[Martin Luther] King deeply believed that embodied in the civil rights cause was a person’s right to be whom and what he was. King may have even praised his daughter for having the courage and conviction to march for her beliefs, but that would not have changed his unyielding belief that bigotry is still bigotry, whether it’s racial or sexual preference, and must be uncompromisingly opposed.”

Go read the rest of Mr. Hutchinson’s column. And then take the time to read the comments people have posted about it. It will make you think — and thinking about these issues, and trying to find some kind of understanding and some kind of common ground are the only way that any of us can ever truly win the equal rights battle.

—  admin