Bishop Eddie Long, megasuccessful but embattled pastor, dead at 63
‘Aggressive form of cancer’ claims the life of controversial megachurch leader
Bishop Eddie Long, the contentious pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, has died of an “aggressive form of cancer.” He was 63.
His megachurch, once boasting more than 25,000 members, issued a statement to multiple media outlets on Sunday confirming his death.
“Bishop Long was known as one of the most influential faith leaders in the world,” the church said in the statement. “He stood strong as a Kingdom Builder, pioneering leader, and revolutionary mind changer.”
But it was also what was not said that loomed large. Long’s embattled past includes lawsuits filed in 2010 by four young men (Anthony Flagg, Spencer LeGrande, Jamal Parris and Maurice Robinson) accusing him of sexual misconduct. The allegations made by the men, who were teenage members of the church at the time, included coercion into sexual relationships. Long often preached against homosexuality from the pulpit. He denied the allegations. The lawsuits were settled the following year.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Long had been absent from several services in the past few months until the church’s Christmas and New Year’s Eve services. He delivered his final message to New Birth on New Year’s Day.
Concerns about Long’s health began in August 2016 after he posted a video of his personal workout on Facebook. The bishop attributed his radically thinner appearance to his adoption of a new raw vegetable diet.
“I’m on the medicine that God gave you to feed your immune system to build you up,” he says in the clip.
Atlanta's own Bishop Eddie Long looks unrecognizable in new photos. Many speculate a serious health issue, he says, "God has healed him". pic.twitter.com/TroiiDD9Lp
— Everything Georgia (@GAFollowers) December 28, 2016
Long admitted to experiencing a “health challenge” in September 2016, but he did not confirm or disclose the nature of any illness.
Bishop Eddie Eddie Long of #NewBirthChurch responds to rumors he's batlting serious illness. @FOX5Atlanta pic.twitter.com/IcpK0JgZMG
— Portia Bruner (@PortiaFOX5) September 6, 2016
But when Long made his first public appearance at New Birth’s Christmas Day service after being absent from the pulpit, questions about his health only multiplied. The pastor had again lost a significant amount of weight and appeared frail.
In his final message to New Birth, the statement says, “He told the church that God was already working in our favor and what we have been praying for was already manifested.”
Long was the author of seven books. He often made personal donations including $1 million to his alma mater, North Carolina Central, in 2008 to establish a professorship in his name. He had been senior pastor at New Birth Missionary Baptist since 1987. The church said it grew from 300 members to more than 25,000 under Long’s leadership and became one of the nation’s largest congregations. In 2006, New Birth was chosen as the site of the funeral for Coretta Scott King, the widow of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. Dignitaries such as presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton attended her funeral service.
In 2011, his wife, First Lady Elder Vanessa Long, filed for divorce, but they later reconciled. He is survived by his wife, four children and three grandchildren.
Read the full statement issued by the church below.
NEW BIRTH CELEBRATES THE LIFE OF BISHOP EDDIE L. LONG FOLLOWING HIS TRANSITION TO OUR HEAVENLY FATHER
LITHONIA, GA – Sunday, January 15
New Birth Missionary Baptist Church celebrates the life and legacy of Bishop Eddie L. Long who is now spiritually healed and home with the Lord. Bishop Long, Senior Pastor of New Birth, transitioned from this life early Sunday morning after a gallant private fight with an aggressive form of cancer. As a man of God with unyielding faith, Bishop Long maintained his commitment to our Heavenly Father as he proclaimed that cancer would not kill his faith nor his spirit. First Lady Elder Vanessa Long, Bishop Long’s wife of 27 years offered the following. “I am confidant through my belief in God that my husband is now resting in a better place. Although, his transition leaves a void for those of us who loved him dearly, we can celebrate and be happy for him, knowing he’s at peace.”
Deeply committed to his church, even in his last days, Bishop Long delivered his final message to New Birth as we ushered in 2017. He told the church that God was already working in our favor and what we have been praying for was already manifested. In his departure, we receive that and as faithful members of New Birth, we praise God for the life of Bishop Long. Bishop Long was known as one of the most influential faith leaders in the world. He stood strong as a Kingdom Builder, pioneering leader, and revolutionary mind changer. Long was a family man and spiritual leader who was well respected and loved for his passion to unapologetically and courageously preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Long inspired thousands of believers around the world through his global ministry that literally changed lives. Through his earthly battle, Bishop Long believed that God was once again using him to help others see the power of the Holy Spirit through the love New Birth displayed to him and the countless prayers sent up by others from every corner of the earth.Bishop Eddie L. Long was 63 years old. He is survived by his beautiful wife, First Lady Elder Vanessa Long, 4 children Eric, Edward, Jared and Taylor and 3 grandchildren. The Long family thanks you for your prayers, condolences and messages of love. The family appreciates your support and respect of their privacy, as they prepare along with New Birth, for the homegoing service to honor Bishop Long. The date and other details will be announced in the near future.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.