Bishop Eddie Long | ‘Masculine journey' bedrock of ministry for young men

Graduates of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church's LongFellows mentoring program, tailored for boys ages 13 to 18, say it and Bishop Eddie Long helped turn their lives around.

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Graduates of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church's LongFellows mentoring program, tailored for boys ages 13 to 18, say it and Bishop Eddie Long helped turn their lives around.

LongFellows Youth Academy, founded by Bishop Eddie Long and named as a co-defendant in the three civil lawsuits filed against the Lithonia pastor, touts its success at leading young men along a "masculine journey" into adulthood.

The mentoring program, which boasts a 100 percent high school graduation rate for its participants and a curriculum that promotes sexual purity and physical fitness, is tailored to boys like Jamal Parris, who was 14 when he joined, and Anthony Flagg, 16 when he allegedly became one of Long's "spiritual sons."

Parris, who claims the bishop said "he would protect him and never let another man hurt him," and Flagg were named in two of the civil suits accusing Long of sexual coercion. They allege he positioned himself as the father figure both teens lacked.

"Most men, and most boys growing up these days, have no man to guide them in their journey to becoming a man," according to the LongFellows site. "This has destroyed many of our youth."

Long's accusers say he exploited that relationship and used the Bible to rationalize sexual encounters. But other graduates of the program, tailored for boys ages 13 to 18, say LongFellows helped turn their lives around.

The bishop was actively involved in the program, serving as mentor to many of its members. According to LongFellows director Marcus Hughes' bio on the academy's site, Long was like a "spiritual father" to the Morehouse College graduate, who has been the director since 2005. Hughes has not answered calls requesting comment.

"This idea that the pastor is in charge, that the pastor should be paid a lot of money, that people should listen to the pastor ... these are common themes that run through these scandals involving these pastors alleged to have coerced their congregants into either giving them money or having sex with them," said Sarah Posner in an interview with the AJC. She wrote about Long in her 2008 book, "God's Profits."

Even if the allegations are untrue, Long left himself vulnerable, said Edward Wimberly, an expert in pastoral counseling.

"You don't take anything for granted," Wimberly said, noting that mentoring programs such as LongFellows should ensure that all meetings are held in a secure setting. Each of the civil suits filed this week allege Long took the teens on lavish trips and invited them to his private residence.

"Religious leaders have a lot of power," Wimberly told the AJC, "and in that regard, there are a lot of people out there who have emotional needs that can be exploited. You run into it everyday."