By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service
(RNS) Atlanta-area megachurch pastor Bishop Eddie Long has decried the "false allegations" lodged against him by three young men who filed suit over alleged sexual misconduct.
"The charges against me and New Birth are false," said Long, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., in a Thursday (Sept. 23) statement. "I have devoted my life to helping others and these false allegations hurt me deeply."
Long said he could not elaborate, on the advice of his lawyers, but would address his congregation on Sunday.
"My faith is strong and the truth will emerge," he added in the statement. "All I ask is for your patience as we continue to categorically deny each and every one of these ugly charges."
In two suits filed on Tuesday and a third on Wednesday, the men--ages 20, 21 and 23--accused Long of using his spiritual authority to coerce them into sexual relationship and said he gave them gifts of cash, cars and overnight trips.
Ted Haggard, a former evangelical leader who was caught in a gay sex and drug scandal and resigned his Colorado megachurch, said in interviews this week that there should not be a rush to judgment against Long.
"Nobody's guilty until the court says he's guilty," Haggard, now pastor of St. James Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., told AOL News on Wednesday.
Long's ministry was one of six that was investigated in recent years by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, for questionable finances. His church was the site of the 2006 funeral of Coretta Scott King, the widow of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.