Bishop Eddie Long has responded to the departure of Bernice King from his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, saying he is in "full support" of King's decision to leave the congregation and pursue a new calling from God.
King, the youngest daughter of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., announced Tuesday that she would no longer be a member or serve as an elder at the Atlanta megachurch. After eight years of sharing the New Birth pulpit with Long, King said she felt God was calling her to launch a new ministry and pursue a "pastoral calling."
"Reverend Bernice King has made tremendous and profound contributions to New Birth as an Elder and faithful servant of our Lord Jesus Christ," said Bishop Eddie Long in a statement.
"For some time now, Reverend King and I have been in discussion and prayer about the call of God on her life to continue the legacy of her father and mother, the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King," he continued.
"This is a compelling mandate that places Reverend King squarely in the center of God's Will for her life and I am in full support of her decision to leave New Birth in pursuit of this worthy endeavor."
King's last day at New Birth was on Sunday, the same day that Long preached his first sermon since lawsuits against him were settled. Four young men launched suits last fall alleging the pastor of sexual misconduct. Media speculation arose as to whether King's departure was related to the case since her decision to leave New Birth became public just two days after a settlement had been reached in the Long case.
In the statement issued by Long, the megachurch preacher explained the announcement of King's leaving had to do with Memorial Day.
"New Birth had not planned to make any announcement regarding Reverend King's decision until after Memorial Day because we felt it was appropriate to first honor the service men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service of our great Nation," he said.
Long also said that New Birth will hold a "wonderful and fitting farewell tribute in honor of Reverend King" and that details would be provided later.
"We ask that you join us in extending unequivocal support and love for Reverend King as she embarks on this new calling of Kingdom service."
King officially announced her departure from New Birth Tuesday on Praise 102.5.
"I'm going to launch a ministry. I'm not calling it a church right now because I believe that Christ builds his church...and I don't want to do that because what God is showing me is not what people are accustomed to," King told the radio station. "I'm going to spend the next several months preparing and building foundation for that."
"I have struggled for a long time of stepping into pastoral function. I have now surrendered," she said.
"One thing he has told me is that I am to raise up kings for the Kingdom."
New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, located in Lithonia, Ga., is the largest predominantly African-American church in the Atlanta region with more than 25,000 members.