The Atlanta pastor facing four civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual coercion settled the cases out-of-court, his church announced May 26, but the agreement leaves plenty of questions unanswered.
The lawsuits were filed in September, 2010 against Bishop Eddie Long, the leader of the 25,000 + member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Four plaintiffs alleged that Long gave them and others attention, money and gifts, before and after they reached the legal age of consent. Such actions allegedly involved engaging them in manipulation, oral sodomy and other sexual acts.
Addressing his congregation and the world regarding the charges approximately eight months ago, Long said that he had “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.”
“I've been accused. I am under attack,” he said. “This thing, I'm gonna fight. … I feel like David against Goliath. But I've got five rocks and I haven't thrown one yet.”
The settlement, which was reached after several months of mediation, doesn't look like the fight Long promised. It leaves all the questions from the lawsuits unanswered, including the basic question of his guilt or innocence, and generated new ones, including the monetary terms of the settlement, and whether Long or the church is paying the tab.
“After a series of discussions, all parties involved have decided to resolve the civil cases out of court. The decision was made to bring closure to this matter and to allow us to move forward with the plans God has for this ministry,” Art Franklin, spokesman for Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, said in a statement. “As is usually the case when civil lawsuits resolve out of court, we cannot discuss any details regarding the resolution or the resolution process, as they are confidential. This resolution is the most reasonable road for everyone to travel.”
B.J Bernstein, the lawyer for plaintiffs Maurice Robinson, Anthony Flagg, Jamal Parris and Spencer LeGrande, released a brief statement, saying only that “The matter has been resolved” and adding that neither she or her clients would make any further statements or give interviews now or in the future about the case.
“To me it looks like a cover up,” the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds, a religious and political commentator, said. “It looks like he did what the Catholic Church has been doing for decades. I thought that [Long's initial statements] meant he would go to court and fight in court.”
Reynolds added that there is no way to be sure if Long was guilty or innocent. “If that's his addiction, more people will be violated … But who will know for sure now, because it's been covered up.”
The New Birth congregation rallied around Long, supporting his call to fight and continue to move forward. And he assured them that he would remain their pastor, saying, “I’ve been called to be your shepherd and as long as you receive me as your shepherd, I'll be your shepherd.”
But without a clear resolution of Long’s guilt or innocence, or the cost of the settlements to the church, many are wondering what impact this will have on Long's ability to be effective as a leader.
“I think they'll go right on with him,” Reynolds said. “People have a special relationship with their preacher and they are going to believe Eddie Long and things will go on as usual.”