A spokesman for Atlanta pastor Eddie Long says the plaintiffs in
lawsuits claiming he forced them to have sex with him are "men with
some serious credibility issues" and that their claims are a case of
retaliation and a shakedown for money, CNN reports.
Long is accused of forcing Anthony Flagg, Jamal Paris, and Maurice Murray Robinson, starting in their teens, to engage in sexual acts with him. The men were members of Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, which has about 25,000 members and was the site of Coretta Scott King's 2006 funeral. They were also involved in the Longfellows Youth Academy program overseen by the pastor.
Long has been a longtime opponent of gay rights. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, he is "one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement."
The lawsuits claim that Long framed the sexual relationships as having a religious basis.
The alleged victims "were groomed for it, from 14 to 17 years old," their attorney B.J. Bernstein told CNN Wednesday. "He gets to know them and gets the trust, and then bit by bit -- first it's a hug. It's just like any sexual predator. Or we're sitting watching the football game, and you put your legs up on their lap ... One of the boys described going to the gym, 'Can you massage my neck?' and then there's another massage, and it just slowly breaks down. Ask any victim of sexual abuse. It is a progression."
Long is scheduled to hold a press conference Thursday to address the charges,