ATLANTA — It’s been seven years since four young men went public with accusations that their mentor, Bishop Eddie Long, used his position, wealth and fame to coerce them into sexual relationships.
Now, 18 months after the controversial pastor’s death from an aggressive form of cancer, the alleged victims’ story will finally be told -- with a twist.
The roman a clef -- “Foursaken” -- centers around a scandal involving the charismatic preacher of a thriving megachurch. While technically a work of fiction, LeGrande said there should be no doubt the sordid tale of power, betrayal and sex is one they experienced firsthand.
[PHOTOS: Bishop Eddie Long through the years]
“The last man standing is the strongest,” said LeGrande, now 30 and living in Charlotte.
LaGrande, along with former New Birth Missionary Baptist Church members Maurice Robinson, Anthony Flagg and Jamaal Parris, shared similar accounts about their relationship with Long, who, they alleged, filled a void left by absent or abusive fathers.
An undisclosed financial settlement reached in 2011, after a fifth accuser, Centino Kemp, came forward, prevents them from discussing Long or New Birth.
The 2010 civil lawsuit claimed Long used “monetary funds from the accounts of New Birth and other corporate and nonprofit 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. Though he agreed to pay for their silence, Long continued to deny their allegations.
But the damage was done, to his legacy and the Stonecrest church that once counted more than 25,000 members. Attendance steadily declined in the years since.
Long, who in his heyday wielded global influence as one of the more prominent proponents of the “prosperity gospel,” remained New Birth’s pastor until his death in January 2017 at age 63.
His successor, Bishop Stephen A. Davis of New Birth Birmingham, recently resigned and a nationwide search is being conducted to find a new senior pastor.
EDDIE LONG'S DEATH:
In one of his last interviews, Long told comedian Steve Harvey that the settlement prevented him from discussing any aspects of the case brought against him.
Asked by Harvey, "Did you ever have sexual relationships with any of your accusers?" Long stood firm.
"I'm bound by court that I can't make any statements about that," he said in the 2016 interview.
The longtime pastor also skirted the allegations in his final book, “The Untold Story: The Story of Adversity, Pain and Resilience.”
LeGrande said he was determined that Long’s book wasn’t going to be the last word on the most devastating chapter of his young life.
He, along with the other accusers, except for Kemp, recently filed a petition to vacate the arbitration award in DeKalb County. That filing remains sealed.
“We weren’t trying to get out of the agreement as much as we wanted to find out what we could and could not say,” LeGrande said. “(Long) wrote a book. We wanted to see if we could write one, too.”
In a 2011 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2011, LeGrande recounted his first meeting with the bishop following a sermon on the importance of fathers.
[PHOTOS: The Eddie Long Investigation]
“When I started crawling, that was the day [my father] left,” LeGrande said. “A lot of years I didn’t even see him.”
Long told the 15-year-old, “I got you ... I will be your dad,” LeGrande recalled. By the following year he was accompanying his pastor on trips to Kenya and Johannesburg, where he dined with Winnie Mandela.
The following year, when they returned to Kenya, LeGrande said he and Long shared a room. Soon, they’d be sharing a bed. LeGrande felt indebted to Long, who he said would use Bible verses to rationalize the intimacy.
With Long exerting more control over his life, encouraging him to move to Atlanta and study for the ministry, LeGrande finally ended their relationship.
Interest in Long, his alleged victims and the church they left behind remains high. LeGrande expects “Forsaken” will be reach a large audience.
But Thomas W. Dortch Jr., chairman of the board at New Birth, warned the former members he will not stand for any violation of the settlement agreement.
“If they cross the line, then they’ll answer for it,” Dortch said. “If they violate the agreement or, if at this point, try to embarrass Bishop Long’s family, there will be consequences. We’ll take whatever action is necessary within the law.”
“Foursaken” will be completed and available before year’s end, LeGrande said. They expect to settle on a publisher shortly.
This article was written by Christian Boone and Shelia M. Poole, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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