The pastor of one of America’s largest congregations is denying that he coerced three young men into sex by offering them cars, jewellery and cash.
Eddie Long, the pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, has frequently attacked homosexuality and has called for a national ban on gay marriage.
This week, the married father of four was accused by three young men from his 25,000-strong congregation of abusing their trust and seducing them when they were aged 17 or 18.
The three men have waived anonymity and according to Associated Press, they are Maurice Robinson, 20, and Anthony Flagg, 21, and Jamal Parris, 23.
They have all filed lawsuits and claim he coerced them into sexual relationships by offering them cars, jewellery, holidays and cash.
Mr Long was due to appear on local radio station Kiss 104.1 FM this morning but said he had been advised by his lawyers not to.
Instead, his attorney Craig Gillen appeared on the show to refute the allegations.
Mr Gillen said: “These false allegations are an attack on Bishop Long personally. They are an attack on New Birth and all of the 25,000 good people who attend that church, and it’s an attack on the mentoring program that has helped thousands of young men.”
He added that Mr Long was “chomping at the bit” to speak out and would be addressing his congregation on Sunday.
Brenda Joy Bernstein, the lawyer for the three young men, accused the powerful church of covering up the claims.
She told Associated Press that her case will hinge on the men’s testimony and plans to obtain records showing that the men travelled to places such as New York, Las Vegas and New Zealand with Mr Long.
Mr Long has been the pastor of New Birth Church since 1987. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s daughter Bernice is also a pastor at the church and in 2004, she and Mr Long led a march to her father’s grave to call for a ban on same-sex marriage.
Mr Long has received support from Ted Haggard, the disgraced former megachurch pastor who admitted sex and drug-taking with male prostitutes in 2006.
Mr Haggard said: “Long deserves a fair hearing and that if the accusations are false, he will survive the ordeal.”