*Two of the men who accused Bishop Eddie Long of coercing them into sexual relationships gave an extensive interview to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News.
Jamal Parris and Spencer LeGrande were among four young men who accused the founder of New Birth Missionary Church of sexual coercion. Their lawsuit against him was settled in May.
The following is an excerpt from the story, which will be posted in its entirety on ajc.com around 5 p.m. Atlanta’s Channel 2 Action News will air the first part of their interview with the men in their 5 p.m. newscast.
Among those tuning in to watch the most anticipated sermon of Bishop Eddie Long’s career were two of the young men who, one week earlier, had filed suit claiming the powerful Lithonia pastor had coerced them into sexual relationships.
“It was like the Super Bowl for us,” said 24-year-old Jamal Parris, describing the anxiousness he felt before Long took to the pulpit last September. “This might be the day he finally says something.”
Neither Parris nor fellow accuser Spencer LeGrande, now 23, expected an admission of wrongdoing or an apology.
“I knew who he was,” LeGrande said. “I knew what was coming.”
In speaking before 25,000 New Birth Missionary Baptist members who packed the church and watched on television and online, Long vowed to clear his name.
“This thing I’m going to fight,” he said, comparing himself to the biblical David, turning the table on his accusers.
Ironically, they say, Long often compared the two young men to David, the metaphorical armor-bearers to the bishop’s King Saul. Now they were being portrayed as Goliaths.
“I just got quiet,” Parris said. “I started crying. I couldn’t even stop crying because I was angry. The way he walked up [to the stage]. The way I saw people stand up and applaud this man. How dare you.”
Nearly one year later, the wounds are still raw for Parris and LeGrande who, along with two other plaintiffs, filed lawsuits last September alleging the charismatic pastor “uses monetary funds from the accounts of New Birth and other corporate and non-profit corporate accounts to entice the young men with cars, clothes, jewelry, and electronics.”
Each alleged that, once they reached the age of consent, Long coerced them into sexual relationships.
The cases were settled in late May after months of mediation talks.
Long has, through a spokesman, denied the allegations. He did not respond to requests from the AJC for an interview. Following the announcement of the settlement agreement the 58-year-old bishop released a statement saying 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.”
“This resolution is the most reasonable road for everyone to travel,” the statement continued.
Documents were filed May 27 in DeKalb State Court confirming the lawsuits had been dismissed “with prejudice.”
Parris and LeGrande declined to discuss specifics of their settlement with Long, per the terms of their agreement. Their attorney, B.J. Bernstein, said at the time neither she nor her clients would be available for an interview “now or in the future.”
By speaking out, Parris and LeGrande risk losing unspecified monetary rewards outlined in the settlement.
“The truth should’ve set [us] free,” said Parris, interviewed along with LeGrande in Miami late last week. “I thought I could cover the pain up. I thought I could move, start over and everything would go away. I was terribly wrong. I’m living a lifestyle meant to crash.”
The money is irrelevant, LeGrande said.
“I’m going to tell the world – money does not buy happiness,” said LeGrande, who was 15 when he met the bishop. “When you sleep at night, the problems are still there. The money stuff, who cares about the number.”
“I feel like burning [the money],” he said.
LeGrande was 15 when he met Long at one of New Birth’s satellite churches in Charlotte. The sermon, on the importance of fathers, left him in tears.
“When I started crawling, that was the day [my father] left,” LeGrande said. “A lot of years I didn’t even see him.”
LeGrande said Long embraced him. “I got you” … “I will be your dad,” the bishop told the teen. Soon they were talking regularly on the phone.
“The day I met him it was like a God moment,” LeGrande said.
Parris said he too was raisedwithout a strong male influence.
“I have a clown for a father,” he said. “My dad was abusive, my dad would flake out … that’s all a predator needs.”
Long was the father figure both youths craved. He called them his armor-bearers and their loyalty was rewarded with exotic trips, expensive gifts and, more importantly, a role model.
“He did teach us good things,” LeGrande said, “but something had to be wrong with him.”
In 2004, when LeGrande was 16, he accompanied Long to Kenya. On another trip, to Johannesburg, they dined with Winnie Mandela. Rubbing elbows with the rich and famous became routine.
“You’re thinking you’re the luckiest kid in the world, like someone’s always got your back,” LeGrande said. “For me, it was more of a spiritual connection. It was about God.”
Parris met Long a few years earlier, in 2001 when he was 14 and new to Atlanta. He was at choir practice when he met the man he’d soon be calling “daddy.” Parris said he left that day with the preacher’s cell phone number, which he called days later after getting into trouble at school.
Long interceded, getting the teacher who had reprimanded Parris nearly fired, said Parris.
The power wielded by the bishop made an impression on the teen.
“It’s the power he commanded when he walked into the room. It’s like I’m with the president,” he said.
The bond was intense, say both accusers. Neither was aware of the other until after they broke away from Long.
Beyond the gifts — each more expensive than the last, Parris said — and the trips, there were deep conversations about spirituality.
“Out of nowhere he hits you with the most emotional question,” LeGrande said. “‘I know what you’re feeling. I know what it’s like.’”
Parris equated their relationships to high school. He and LeGrande were like freshmen girls. Long, they said, was the senior with the fancy car, the big man on campus.