A woman prays at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia.… (John Amis / Pool photo )
ATLANTA — Atlanta-based megachurch leader Bishop Eddie Long and four men who accused him of sexual misconduct have settled out of court, spokesmen for both sides said Thursday.
The men had alleged that the pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church coerced them into sexual relations with gifts including cars, cash and travel when they were 17. One suit also claimed Long had sexual contact with one of them during trips he took them on in the U.S. and abroad. Long denied the allegations, and federal and state authorities didn't investigate because Georgia's age of consent is 16.
Eight months ago, when the allegations surfaced, Long told his a 25,000 member congregation in Lithonia, Georgia, that he would fight the accusations against him.
Both sides declined to discuss terms of the deal, other than to say the civil suits in state court would not go forward.
Long, 58, preached the gospel of prosperity and he highlighted his physical appearance by wearing muscle shirts when he spoke from the pulpit. Married with four children, he championed strong families and had been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage.
Two of the men who brought suit alleged that Long groomed them for sexual relationships when they were enrolled in the church's LongFellows Youth Academy, a program that purportedly sought to guide teens through their "masculine journey" with lessons on financial discipline and sexual control. Two other young men -- one of whom attended a satellite church in Charlotte, North Carolina -- made similar allegations.
Long denied the allegations in court motions, saying that he often encouraged his flock to call him "daddy" as a term of respect. He acknowledged giving gifts to the plaintiffs, but said he often provided his church members with financial help. During church sermons, he turned to biblical terms to portray himself as an underdog.
Over two decades, Long 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.