By Danny Johnson
Since allegations surfaced in lawsuits filed in Dekalb County, Georgia on September 22, 2010, by former New Birth church members Anthony Flagg, 21; Maurice Robinson, 20; Jamal Parris, 23; and Spencer LeGrande, 22, accusing Bishop Long of lavishing money, cars, and expensive gifts on them in exchange for sexual favors, the church has been in a tailspin downward spiral that threatens to destroy the reputation of a man who for years vociferously crusaded against same sex marriages and homosexuals.
San Diego County News has learned that there is a petition drive currently being undertaken by a group of concerned New Birth members demanding Bishop Long to step down as pastor until the church can review the matter. This action has placed the reportedly 25,000 church members in camps either those for Bishop Long to temporarily step down or those who want the bishop to remain in office until the matter is cleared in the courts.
San Diego County News talked with two of the New Birth members who are spearheading the petition drive and they asked their names remain anonymous because the petition drive is still on-going and they want to protect the names of the members who have already signed the petition. “We started this project a week ago and have 250 names so far and the goal is to get 1,000 or more by November 15, 2010,” stated the two members.
The two members, who have a combined 22 years as members of the church, said they were disturbed by Bishop Long’s September 26, 2010 address to the church as being “vague, unsatisfactory, and lacking specific information” in talking about the allegations levied against him.
“We have all heard the statements from the bishop’s lawyers, but the bishop did not state emphatically to the congregation that he did not have sexual relations with these young men,” one member expressed angrily. “He also failed to explain to the church why this matter was not brought to the attention of the members before it hit the airwaves and news outlets causing all this embarrassment on our congregation,” explained the other member.
The petition is expected to be presented to Bishop Long and the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church Board of Directors shortly after November 15.
New Birth board controlled by Bishop Long
According to these two members who have exclusive access to certain members of the New Birth Board of Directors, stated the board is divided over what to do with the Bishop Long controversy.
“The Board is nothing more than a meaningless group of folks who will rubber stamp anything the bishop tells them,” commented one member. According to the members, the 14 member board, are members who hold powerful positions in the church and are close confidantes and family members of Bishop Long, voted unanimous to go ahead and erect a controversial billboard in Atlanta featuring a huge picture of Bishop Long and the words, “Love Like Him, Live Like Him, Lead Like Him.” A New Birth spokesperson stated the billboard is referring to Jesus, but many members in the media, public and the New Birth congregation believe that it is referring to Bishop Long.
“You would have thought that the bishop would have had the decency and respect for the congregation not to erect this billboard in light of the disturbing allegations he is facing and the high level of scrutiny he is currently under,” said one member.
More and more New Birth members like 50 year-old Atlanta resident Alicia Thomas, who has attended New Birth for five years, is becoming increasingly inpatient in the way Bishop Long is handling this crisis. “The bishop has to understand that this mess we are in concerns New Birth members and everything we worked hard for is now in jeopardy because he couldn’t keep his zipper up,” said Thomas.
Thomas believes as others in the church that Bishop Long has embarked on what she characterizes as the “the bishop’s crusade to save his empire by any means necessary.” Thomas does not understand why the members were not notified and consulted when the bishop and the board decided to go ahead with the $20,000 billboard campaign.
“This is a classic case of a man who has lost it and should step down immediately. At least bring the sexual misconduct allegations matter to the church as the Bible clearly instructs so the members can have their say,” explained Thomas.
Supporters of Bishop Long speak out
While there may be some rumbling going on in the New Birth congregation against Bishop Long, there are those who strongly defend their bishop. Take the case of Stone Mountain, Georgia resident Eric Baylor, 28, a 15 year veteran of New Birth who does not believe the four young men’s stories.
“The bishop has helped so many people in this community and in parts of Africa where we have missionary work. It would be insane for a man of his status and influences to put himself out there like that,” said Baylor. Asked if he was satisfied with the bishop’s response and actions up to this point, Baylor commented, “Look, we have a church to run. There are people out there who need to hear the Word. I support Bishop Long until and unless anything new and solid comes out that links him with engaging in homosexual activity.”
Bishop Long, who was appointed pastor of New Birth in 1987, presides over an empire that claims athletes, celebrities, politicians as members, stated in his September 26 sermon the following: “…Please hear this…I am not a perfect man. But this thing I’m gon’ fight.” This statement has created a lot of anxieties in the minds of some New Birth members such as 27 year-old Amy Pierce of Atlanta, who has attended New Birth since 2007.
“While I support Bishop Long against these allegations, I am also concern about the New Birth members and the work we do in the community. As I interact with members each week, people are becoming more and more anxious for this thing to end,” Pierce stated. “It’s kind of strange because you know something is not right and we all know that Bishop Long represents New Birth when he goes out into the community – and that’s scary,” she concluded.
The court of public opinion is running against Bishop Long
Newsone.com senior editor, Smokey Fontaine, who is also a media consultant, writer and commentator for TV One’s – Washington Watch With Roland Martin seen every Sunday, stated on Martin’s October 3, 2010 show, that the cyberspace world is buzzing about the Eddie Long scandal since one of the alleged victims, Jamal Parris, gave Fox5 News Atlanta an exclusive interview on September 28, 2010. According to Fontaine, the court of public opinion on the Internet chat rooms is running 3-1 against Bishop Long.
The court of public opinion is extremely important when you are a public figure like Bishop Long. In fact, before the scandal broke, Bishop Long would frequently call up CNN producers and beg them to do stories on New Birth outreach efforts. Now, the bishop is confined to the 250 acres, $50 million cathedral and unwilling to speak with the media.
Bishop Long also stated in his September 26 sermon at New Birth: “…By the counsel of my lawyers, they have advised me not to try this case in the media. I am not gon’ try this case in the media. It will be tried in the court of justice.” Is Bishop Long truly being sincere when he stated that he will not try this case in the media?
San Diego County News has discovered since the initial allegations surfaced on September 22, Bishop Long and his surrogates have been busy making sure he is looked upon favorably in the public’s eye. The bishop authorized and approved a web site on Facebook that is exclusively reserved for his supporters to write encouraging words to him and his family in particular. It should also be noted that one of the alleged victims, Jamal Parris, has a similar Facebook site as well. The fourth alleged victim, Spencer LeGrande, granted local Atlanta news affiliate an abbreviated interview at his North Carolina home a week ago. The bishop’s lawyers have been aggressive in granting dozens of radios and television interviews saying nothing new but repeatedly casting doubt on the alleged victims’ allegations.
Bishop Long for the past three weeks has engaged in an unrelenting campaign to shore up his public image and make the alleged victims look as if they are trying to extort money out of him and the New Birth church. He has granted the local Atlanta media outlets interviews with some of his key church program directors, while refusing to give any one-on-one interviews himself. In each of his Sunday sermons Bishop Long has presented over the past three weeks, he would always in an indirect way cast words or phrases that would in some way meant to transmit negative subliminal images of the four alleged victims motivation for filing the lawsuit.
New Birth services with Bishop Long at the helm, is telecasted on the Internet, on selected TV stations across the country, and on the internationally viewed Christian network, Trinity Broadcasting Network.
According to a New Birth church administrator who wants to remain anonymous, stated: “The bishop knows that if he confesses to any wrong doing such as being hypocritical on homosexuality, he’s finish.” The administrator was asked why he still supports Bishop Long. He replied, “…until I see some solid evidence I’m still with the bishop…but I have to admit, things are not looking good for the bishop right now.”
Danny R. Johnson is a freelance investigative journalist based in Washington, D.C.Related