Georgia-based Bishop Eddie Long will not preside over the installation of the new pastor of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in Perrine on Sunday. A church statement said Long cancelled his participation in the ceremony “due to recent developments.”
Long was tapped to install the Rev. Jeremy Upton as Sweet Home’s new senior pastor. But that was before Long, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., was accused by four men of sexual misconduct.
Upton worked as executive director New Birth Church Association prior to coming to Sweet Home where he became senior pastor in early May after the Rev. Dr. Walter T. Richardson retired.
Upton has issued a statement on the Long controversy: “We are saddened to hear of the allegations leveled at Bishop Long. We bear in mind that this is a civil, not a criminal, matter and leave it up to the courts to determine the legal out comes.”
“Our job as Christians is to keep everyone involved in our prayers, particularly Bishop Long, his family, the congregation of believers at New Birth, and the young men and their families that have made these allegations. These are difficult times for all of us, and we look to the Lord for strength and encouragement,” the statement said.
Instead of Long, Pastor Denny D. Davis of St. John Church in Grand Prairie, Texas, will install Upton and deliver the installation sermon at 6:30 p.m. at Sweet Home, 10701 SW 184th St. in South Miami-Dade.
Dr. Craig Melvin Smith, senior pastor of Freedom Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill., will be the guest speaker at 7:30 a.m. services, followed at 11 a.m. by Pastor Kenneth Reid of Mount Grove Baptist Church, in Texarkana, Ark.
Meanwhile, many followers of Long remained unwavering in their support as he vowed to fight, he said, like David versus Goliath, against claims he lured four young men into sex.
Casting himself as the Bible’s ultimate underdog, Long went before congregants who packed his 10,000-seat church Sunday and promised to battle claims in lawsuits filed a week earlier that he abused his “spiritual authority.”
Three members of New Birth in an Atlanta suburb and a fourth from a North Carolina branch filed lawsuits alleging Long used his standing and gifts including cash, cars and travel to coerce them into sexual relations when they were 17 or 18 years old.
“I feel like David against Goliath. But I got five rocks and I haven’t thrown one yet,” Long said Sunday in his first public remarks since the lawsuits were filed. He stopped short of denying the allegations but implied he was wronged by them.
“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,” Long said.
Long’s brief addresses to the congregation were met with thunderous applause and an outpouring of support during services that were equal parts rock concert and pep rally. The sanctuary was nearly filled to its 10,000-seat capacity for both the 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. services. Many lined up two hours before the doors of the church opened.
Long became one of the country’s most powerful independent church leaders over the last 20 years, turning a congregation of 150 into a 25,000-member powerhouse with a $50 million cathedral and a roster of parishioners that includes athletes, entertainers and politicians. And there was almost no sign Sunday that his flock wanted to turn him away.
It is unclear whether Long faces any risk of being removed by his church’s board but the allegations at the very least guarantee months of scrutiny as the lawsuits move forward.
Long is a father of four who has been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage and whose church has counseled gay members to become straight.
Two of the men who filed lawsuits say Long groomed them for sexual relationships when they were enrolled in the church’s LongFellows Youth Academy, a program that taught teens about sexual and financial discipline. Two other young men — one of whom attended a satellite church in Charlotte, N.C. – made similar claims.
The men say they were 17 or 18 when the relationships began. Federal and state authorities have declined to investigate because Georgia’s age of consent is 16.
This story was compiled from a report by The Associated Press and from a staff report.