ATLANTA (AP) — The pastor accused of using a program to groom young men for sexual relationships billed the boys academy as a “rite of passage,” teaching students about interest rates, Social Security and sexual control, even making them carry a card that listed three things they could be doing rather than having sex.
Pastor Eddie Long, an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, is now being sued by two young men who attended the LongFellows Youth Academy and claim they were lured into trysts with cars, jewelry and cash.
Two other men have made similar accusations — including one who filed a lawsuit Friday. That lawsuit, provided to The Associated Press, said Long coerced him into a sexual relationship during a trip to Kenya, at one point telling the young man “I will be your dad.”
Long and his attorney have denied all the accusations, with Long remaining largely silent. On Sunday, he will speak publicly to his congregation at church for the first time since the lawsuits were filed.
The men, who were 17 and 18 at the time, say Long recruited them for the academy after they joined New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.
“It became a place where the bishop could learn the intimate details about these young men,” said attorney B.J. Bernstein, who filed the civil lawsuits against Long.
The academy trains about 100 students during a four-month session for $500 a person. Long and his board of advisers, which includes NFL star Ray Lewis, created a daunting regimen.
Long, himself a stocky and muscular man, demands the students run 2 miles in less than 15 minutes and bench press and squat their weight. They even have to write a report on the documentary “Super Size Me,” which chronicles a man who eats only fast food during every meal for a month.
Long — whose church’s finances have been investigated by Congress — wants the students to keep a sharp fiscal mind, too. They have to calculate interest rates on investments and work a job for at least three months.
Long also focuses on relationships, with students making a vow of sexual purity. The young men carry a “SEX Self-Check Card” in their wallets listing their vision for life, a favorite scripture and “3 things you could be doing instead of having sex.”
“Our methodology here at LongFellows is to invade and bring about a culture with these young men that they start believing in a standard that they have something that they hold to, that they never give up or never give in, do the things that they are ordained to do,” Long said in a promotional video.
That video has been removed from the academy’s website since the lawsuits were filed, along with a list of testimonials.
In one of those testimonials, a graduate of the program extolled its virtues.
“Without the LongFellows, I don’t know where I’d be,” said a young graduate who identified himself as Fabian Stone. “I don’t know whether I’d be dead, on the streets, selling drugs — I don’t know where I’d be.”
A telephone listing for Stone could not be found.
Two of the three plaintiffs, though, said in the lawsuits that Long was too cozy with the academy’s participants. A third man, who was not enrolled in the academy, has filed a lawsuit making similar accusations.
Anthony Flagg, who joined at age 16, said Long chose him as a “spiritual son” after learning of the young man’s challenges growing up without a father. Flagg moved into another minister’s home after being arrested on an assault charge — when he was 18. Long would visit, crawl into bed with him and the two would engage in sexual acts, the lawsuit said.
A second plaintiff, Maurice Robinson, said his mother enrolled him in the LongFellows program when he was 14. Long started lavishing attention on him the next year, and a church employee soon rewarded the teen with a Chevy Malibu, the lawsuit said. The two began engaging in sexual acts after an October 2008 trip to New Zealand.
Another lawsuit was filed Friday by Spencer LeGrande, a member of New Birth Charlotte. New Birth Charlotte is a satellite church run by Long in Charlotte, N.C. The lawsuit said Long told LeGrande “I will be your dad” and invited the 17-year-old to journey to Kenya with him in July 2005. LeGrande said that Long gave him a sleeping pill on that trip and that the two engaged in sexual acts.
The lawsuit claims Long convinced LeGrande that “engaging in a sexual relationship was a healthy component of his spiritual life,” the complaint said.
The Associated Press does not normally identify people who claim they are victims of sexual impropriety. But Bernstein, the attorney, has said her clients consented to being named publicly.
The academy’s supporters say it was anything but a breeding ground for Long. DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown, who also sits on the academy’s advisory board, said it helps keep kids out of trouble.
For instance, the teens learn about the dangers of guns by watching what happens when watermelons and cantaloupes are shot at a firing range. And the sheriff came up with a “verbal judo” course that teaches them how to defuse hostile situations.
“We try to make it so they can make healthy choices for their life,” he said.
LongFellows Youth Academy: http://www.longfellowyouthacademy.org/longfellows/