ATLANTA (CBS/AP) Bishop Eddie Long, the outspoken Atlanta mega-church pastor accused of coercing four young men into sexual relationships, categorically denied the allegations for the first time in a court filing Monday, claiming he was merely a mentor to the men who filed civil suits against him in September.
For weeks the pastor had not directly countered the allegations, though his attorney denied the accusations on his behalf. But on Monday the avowedly anti-gay pastor specifically addressed the allegations by filing four separate court responses, nearly 30 pages each, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Long said in his filings that each of the "claims of sexual misconduct are not true."
Spencer LeGrande, 22, Jamal Parris, 23, Anthony Flagg, 21, and Maurice Robinson, 20, all filed lawsuits against the pastor in September claiming they were 17 and 18 when Long first adopted them as his "spiritual sons." The men said Long then abused his "spiritual authority" and seduced them with cars, lavish trips and jewelry in exchange for sex, which he allegedly justified with Holy Scripture.
Local and state authorities have declined to investigate the accusations because the age of consent in Georgia is 16.
In his court filings Long admitted to giving the plaintiffs gifts, and claimed he often provided many members of his church with financial assistance. Long also indicated in the filings that he has shared rooms with some of his church members and that his followers often hug him, but denied the accusations of sexual misconduct, reports the newspaper.
The plaintiffs' attorney B.J. Bernstein claimed she doesn't have much physical evidence supporting the complaints, but that she intends to subpoena records from Long that will indicate he traveled with the young men to New Zealand and other destinations.
Two of the young men claim Long targeted them after they enrolled in the church's LongFellows Youth Academy, a program that taught teens about sexual, physical and financial discipline.
Long called himself a "bold revolutionary spiritual leader," in his filings and said he has developed a ministry that places "special emphasis on outreach to men, reinforcing to men the importance of partnering with a ministry that will grow them spiritually," according to the Journal Constitution.
The pastor did indicate in the four individual filings that he often encouraged his New Birth members to call him "daddy," as was mentioned in Parris' lawsuit, but claimed that the term was a sign of respect.
Long became one of the country's most powerful independent church leaders over the last 20 years, turning a suburban Atlanta congregation of 150 to a 25,000-member powerhouse with a $50 million cathedral and a roster of parishioners that includes athletes, entertainers and politicians.