*Disgraced pastor Ted Haggard, whose career was derailed following a gay sex scandal, says no one should rush to judge Atlanta megachurch Bishop Eddie Long, who is accused of coercing three young men into sex.
“Nobody’s guilty until the court says he’s guilty,” Haggard, the former head of a 14,000-member congregation in Colorado, told AOL News in a phone interview Wednesday.
Haggard, who was a superstar among the Christian right until a gay sex scandal forced him to resign from his Colorado church, told AOL News that Long deserves a fair hearing. If the accusations are false, Haggard said, Long will survive the ordeal. “The bishop is surrounded by people that will counsel him well,” he said.
Haggard said that all too often unsavory allegations can tarnish a person’s reputation, even if they are unproved. “Public perception becomes more important than the facts,” he said.
While stressing that nothing had been proved against Long, a married father of four whom Haggard said he has met once or twice, Haggard said it’s important to remember that all Christians struggle with sin.
“It’s fundamental to all Christian beliefs that Christians are simultaneously saints and sinners,” he said. “We’re saints in the eyes of God, but we all know we’re sinners, which is why we value redemption.”
Haggard’s career was torpedoed in 2006 when a male prostitute named Mike Jones went public with claims that Haggard had paid him for sex and used methamphetamine with him.
Haggard denied ever having sex with Jones but admitted he had used methamphetamine and said he had received a massage from Jones. “I didn’t do what I was accused of, but what I did do was bad enough,” he said.
Like Haggard before the fall, Long is also a prominent figure in evangelical circles, and the allegations against him have sent shock waves through his church, where he has often railed against homosexuality.
Earlier this year, Haggard and his wife started a new church in Colorado Springs, Colo., “for people who have hit rock bottom and people who want to help people who have hit rock bottom.”
As previously reported, three young men from Bishop Long’s 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church filed lawsuits this week claiming he exploited his position and used cash, cars and expensive trips to pressure them into sexual relationships.
“Let me be clear. The charges against me and New Birth are false,” Long said in a statement read by his attorney, Craig Gillen.
Long canceled an appearance on the “Tom Joyner Morning Show” earlier today, as well as a scheduled news conference. He will speak to his congregation Sunday about the claims, Gillen said.