“I’m still your pastor. You’ll still receive my direction,” Long said Sunday. “You’ve given me some weeks to take care of some family business.”
Long’s wife, Vanessa, filed for divorce late Thursday afternoon. She said Friday morning, via a statement prepared by the church’s spokesman, that she had changed her mind but by day’s end announced the divorce was on.
“Rumors that Bishop Eddie L. Long has stepped down as senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church are completely false,” according to a statement from the church. “As Bishop Long stated in his earlier comments, ‘Vanessa and I are working together in seeking God’s will in our current circumstances.’ As any loving and committed husband would do, Bishop Long will take some time to focus on his family but he will continue to be the senior pastor of New Birth.”
In remarks released Friday evening, Long said his love for his wife of 21 years is “deep and unwavering. It remains our sincere desire to continue working together in seeking God’s will in these circumstances.”
Long, with two of his children standing by his side, reaffirmed he had no plans to resign, adding he had not “stepped down” but instead “stepped up.”
One longtime New Birth observer said the bishop had little choice.
“It’s pretty clear from the payouts in the case, declining membership and divorce proceedings that something is wrong,” said Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “Clearly it has shaken things up.”
Congregants interviewed after Sunday’s 11 a.m. service said they remain supportive of Long.
“What he does in his personal time, he does,” said Adrian Jackson, a New Birth member for 21 years. “As long as he’s in there preaching, that’s what matters to me.”
Samuel Jones said Long’s message was “all is well” and that he supports the bishop “because he is my pastor.”
But at least one protester picketing outside New Birth Sunday morning said Long should have gone further.
“We don’t want him to take a few weeks off … we want a permanent absence,” said demonstrator Isaac Richmond. “Bishop Long has a serious moral character flaw.”
Long was sued in September 2010 lawsuit by former New Birth members Anthony Flagg, Spencer LeGrande, Jamal Parris and Maurice Robinson, who alleged the bishop used his influence, trips, gifts and jobs to coerce them into sexual relationships.
The suit was settled in May after months of mediation.
Long was appointed New Birth’s pastor in 1987 when the church had only 300 members. By its 10th anniversary New Birth reported a membership of roughly 18,000, peaking at 25,000. Attendance has declined in the year since the sexual coercion lawsuit was filed.