In August of 2011, two of the young men who accused Bishop Eddie Long of sexual misconduct sat down for an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution and local news station WSB-TV. The complete and unedited version of Jamal Paris and Spencer LaGrande’s comments have now been made public for the first time. In the 21-minute video, the young men explain how they allegedly fell under the spell of one of Atlanta’s most prominent religious figures, who they say became the only father figure either of them had ever known and showered them with love, presents and attention.
Long, once named “one of the most virulently homophobic Black leaders” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, was accused of using his influence to coerce at least four men into sexual relationships; he took them on trips, showered them with gifts and described them as his “spiritual sons”. The leader of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church had previously been investigated by Congress for recieving millions of dollars in donations and refusing to disclose his finances.
Paris said that he was initially confused by Long’s interest in him (“‘Take my number down. Call me.’ I’m 14 years old, I’m new to the state. What do we have to talk about?”) but that he was soon captivated by the pastor. He goes on to say that it was hard for him to believe someone like Long cared so much for him and describes feeling competitive with the New Birth pastor’s family: “I felt bad for his kids at first…I don’t know what you doing at home, but this is my dad now.” He described the way in which the older man was able to put the boys at ease as “almost like hypnotism. ‘Relax, lay down, talk about how you feel’.”
LeGrande, Paris’ best friend, added “(Long will) slowly gain your trust…you think a man of that stature would never do anything like that…we wasn’t anything more than kids who came to the church to learn about God…I didn’t have a dad my whole life and to have a dad love me for who I was and I ain’t have to change myself…I just had to love him back…you feel like submitting. Out of all his congregation, he wanted you to love him and you feel like since he (has) that type of power, it’s the right thing to do because what God wants you to do.”
The criminal charges against Long were filed by LeGrande, Parris, Jamal Robinson and Anthony Flagg in September of 2010, but were dropped in May of 2011 following mediation and an undisclosed settlement paid to the victims said to be as much as $15 million dollars. Last fall, Long attempted to recoup $1.5 million dollars from three of the victims for reasons that have not been made public. Long announced that he would take a hiatus from New Birth on December 6, 2011 and returned to the pulpit a mere three weeks later.
After watching this video, one has to admit that these would be Oscar-caliber performances from Paris and LeGrande if their stories were fabricated. Now that we are finally able to hear these accusers speak at length, isn’t it difficult not to believe them? Will Long’s supporters continue to act as though it is time for folks to just ‘let the whole thing go’ or will people see the spiritual leader in a new light?