Eddie Long Settles Sex Suits, Looks Forward
The crowd still cheered for Bishop Eddie Long as he took the pulpit Sunday, but gone was the air of defiance that defined his appearance eight months ago when he rallied his congregation to battle amid lawsuits accusing the megachurch pastor of sexual misconduct.
Just days after settling the lawsuits filed by four young men who used to attend New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, the message was one of progress and prosperity to the several hundred gathered. The choir opened the two-hour 8 a.m. service with the gospel hymn "Moving Forward," which began: "I’m not going back, I’m moving ahead. Here to declare to you my past is over."
Long addressed a far smaller group than the one gathered back in September, when he compared himself to the Bible’s ultimate underdog and vowed to fight like David versus Goliath against accusations that he abused his spiritual authority and coerced four young men into sexual relationships with gifts including cars, cash and travel. Then, thousands of supporters and observers packed the 10,000-seat sanctuary, which took on the atmosphere of an arena.
After Sunday’s opening hymn, the service was decidedly focused on the church, not its controversial leader. For months, the scandal tainted Long’s reputation as an influential spiritual leader who transformed his suburban Atlanta congregation of 150 into a following of 25,000 members and an international televangelist empire that included athletes, entertainers and politicians.
Long did not address the allegations or the settlement from the pulpit. Details of the resolution have not been disclosed.
In a statement released last week, New Birth seemed eager to begin a new chapter.
"This decision was made to bring closure to this matter and to allow us to move forward with the plans God has for this ministry," the statement read.
Goldie Taylor, a social commentator on African-American issues who lives near the church, said the subdued atmosphere came as no surprise to her.
"He has fractured a body of Christ," she said. "He continues to lead what is a declining congregation. I think he owes it to them to participate, if he can, in their healing. Whether he can or not is really up to his congregation. Leading sometimes means walking away."