Controversial Bishop Eddie Long – who marched against gay marriage and was tainted by a sex scandal with several young men – died Sunday after a battle with cancer. He was 63.
Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church said he died early Sunday "after a gallant private fight with an aggressive form of cancer."
"As a man of God with unyielding faith, Bishop Long maintained his commitment to our Heavenly Father as he proclaimed that cancer would not kill his faith nor his spirit," the church said in its statement.
Last fall, a gaunt Long shocked supporters when he appeared frail and thin in a video. He tried to explain away the dramatic weight loss as giving up a "slave menu" and turning to a diet of raw vegetables. Later, he issued a brief statement that he as facing a "health challenge" but did not disclose his illness.
In recent months, Long has been absent from the house of worship he has led since 1987 and built into a megachurch. But he was present during services at the Lithonia church in DeKalb County on Christmas and New Year's Eve. He told parishioners the devil wanted him to stay home.
"Deeply committed to his church, even in his last days, Bishop Long delivered his final message to New Birth as we ushered in 2017. He told the church that God was already working in our favor and what we have been praying for was already manifested," the church said in its statement.
In recent years, Long has been rocked by scandal that prompted thousands of people to leave the church, caused him marital problems and brought Long to the brink of suicide. At one point his wife of 27 years, Vanessa Long, filed for divorce before deciding to remain married.
In May, Long appeared on "The Steve Harvey Show" to play victim, blame everyone but himself and try to recast a 2010 scandal in which the pastor was sued by four men who alleged that Long coerced them into sexual relationships. The appearance was to help pitch Long's new book, "The Untold Story: The story of Adversity, Pain and Resilience."
"It's been five years and I'm not really trying to talk about what happened five years ago but in retrospect I'm trying to get across that in everybody's life, you are going to hit a wall and there's life when you think everything is gone and I want to be a living testimony of that versus trying to make people believe I'm this or that," Long told Harvey in the 30-minute interview.
In 2010 four men – Jamal Parris, Anthony Flagg, Maurice Murray Robinson and Spencer LeGrande – said Long started having sex with them when they were as young as 16. The intimate contact – which included kissing, massaging, masturbating and oral sex – sometimes took place at Long’s residence and in hotels during trips across the U.S. and the globe, according to their lawsuits.
A fifth man, Centino Kemp, came forward later to lash out at Long and described his sexual relationship with the pastor as "getting fucked by the devil." He also took the media on a tour of his love nest and delivered a tell-all book in which he said he was Long's First Lady. Kemp received a $94,000 settlement from Long.
But when Harvey asked Long about the accusations that he had sex with young men, Long refused to discuss the details. He claimed that the legal settlements with the men prevented him from commenting publicly about the cases.
"It's very little I can talk about that and I want to say that I'm not trying to skirt. It's written, it's part of the agreement and I can't do that, " Long said.
Harvey then bluntly asked Long if he ever had sex with any of his accusers.
"I am bound by court that I can't answer, I can't make any statements about that," Long said.
During the interview with Harvey, Long also said he hasn't reconsidered his anti-gay positions – especially when it comes to same-sex marriage.
"My position is the same as it's always been. I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman and I have the Bible, the way I interpret it, that's what it is. Anybody who believes anything different, I'll tell them," Long said.
"I don't do it in hatred, I don't do it in bigotry. I do it in love. And at the end of the day, if you believe this you are going to believe that. But I am going to tell you my truth and I'll accept what you call your truth. It is my responsibility to say my truth but not condemn but just say my truth," he added.
In 2007, the Southern Poverty Law Center called Long “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement.” Also in 2007, Soulforce—a national non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating anti-gay rhetoric in all religions—targeted Long and other anti-gay mega-church leaders for discussions about their rhetoric.
In 2006, then-NAACP Chair Julian Bond called Long “a raving homophobe” and refused to attend the funeral of Coretta Scott King being held at Long’s church. King supported marriage equality and HIV issues, and her longtime personal assistant was a gay Atlanta man.
In 2004, Long led a march against same-sex marriage through the streets of downtown Atlanta.
Details of a funeral service for Long have not been announced.
The full statement from New Birth:
NEW BIRTH CELEBRATES THE LIFE OF BISHOP EDDIE L. LONG FOLLOWING HIS TRANSITION TO OUR HEAVENLY FATHER
LITHONIA, GA – Sunday, January 15
New Birth Missionary Baptist Church celebrates the life and legacy of Bishop Eddie L. Long who is now spiritually healed and home with the Lord. Bishop Long, Senior Pastor of New Birth, transitioned from this life early Sunday morning after a gallant private fight with an aggressive form of cancer. As a man of God with unyielding faith, Bishop Long maintained his commitment to our Heavenly Father as he proclaimed that cancer would not kill his faith nor his spirit. First Lady Elder Vanessa Long, Bishop Long’s wife of 27 years offered the following. “I am confidant through my belief in God that my husband is now resting in a better place. Although, his transition leaves a void for those of us who loved him dearly, we can celebrate and be happy for him, knowing he’s at peace.”
Deeply committed to his church, even in his last days, Bishop Long delivered his final message to New Birth as we ushered in 2017. He told the church that God was already working in our favor and what we have been praying for was already manifested. In his departure, we receive that and as faithful members of New Birth, we praise God for the life of Bishop Long. Bishop Long was known as one of the most influential faith leaders in the world. He stood strong as a Kingdom Builder, pioneering leader, and revolutionary mind changer. Long was a family man and spiritual leader who was well respected and loved for his passion to unapologetically and courageously preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Long inspired thousands of believers around the world through his global ministry that literally changed lives. Through his earthly battle, Bishop Long believed that God was once again using him to help others see the power of the Holy Spirit through the love New Birth displayed to him and the countless prayers sent up by others from every corner of the earth.Bishop Eddie L. Long was 63 years old. He is survived by his beautiful wife, First Lady Elder Vanessa Long, 4 children Eric, Edward, Jared and Taylor and 3 grandchildren. The Long family thanks you for your prayers, condolences and messages of love. The family appreciates your support and respect of their privacy, as they prepare along with New Birth, for the homegoing service to honor Bishop Long. The date and other details will be announced in the near future.