2 Men Accuse Well-Known Prosperity Preacher of Sexual Coercion

Two men have filed lawsuits accusing Bishop Eddie Long of using his position as a spiritual authority to coerce them into sexual relationships when they were members of his megachurch congregation.

Lawyers for the men, now 20 and 21, say they filed the lawsuits on Tuesday against the pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, which draws around 25,000 worshipers every Sunday.

 "Defendant Long has a pattern and practice of singling out a select group of young male church members and using his authority as Bishop over them to ultimately bring them to a point of engaging in a sexual relationship," the suit alleges.

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More specifically, one of the men claims in his suit that Long took him on overnight trips to a half-dozen American cities in recent years.

"Long shared a bedroom and engaged in intimate sexual contact with plaintiff," the suit states before listing some of the activities.

The other man claims Long took him to Auckland, New Zealand, for his 19th birthday two years ago and engaged in oral sex with him.

"Following the New Zealand trip, defendant Long regularly engaged in sexual touching, and other sexual acts with plaintiff Robinson," the suit alleges.

In response to the claims, Long's spokesman said the preacher "categorically and adamantly denies these allegations."

"There's been a lot of chatter since yesterday, but these complaints that have been filed are definitely without merit," Art Franklin told CNN Wednesday.

Furthermore, Franklin claims the allegations are "a case of retaliation and a shakedown for money by men with some serious credibility issues."

The spokesman told CNN's"American Morning" on Wednesday that the two men "are not innocent victims" and that they have known "the wrong side of the law" before, including being charged with breaking into Long's office in June to steal items, such as jewelry, that could be sold for cash.

"There are a lot of things that are out there being said, and before rushing into any judgment on Bishop Long in this court of public opinion, which is taking place right now, I really do hope that you would look at these guys who are throwing mud and just consider the source," Franklin said.

On Thursday, Long is expected to make his first public statement regarding the allegations on CNN's "The Tom Joyner Morning Show."

CNN was the first to report on the lawsuits.

Though Long is one of the most popular African American preachers in the country, he has been chastised for what critics view as "prosperity" teachings - which emphasize how believers are destined to flourish spiritually, physically and financially.

In 2005, the local Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on how Long was provided by his ministry with at least $3.07 million in salary from 1997 to 2000. Long, however, contended that the charity did not solicit donations from members but instead gained its income from royalties, speaking fees and several large donations.

Long was also one of the "Grassley Six" - six preachers who the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee of Finance, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, called out three years ago for investigation.

The six - two women and four men - were suspected of opulent spending and possible abuse of their nonprofit status. Only one of the six, Joyce Meyer, went to great lengths to clear her name. Four others, including Long, submitted responses to Grassley's office by the Dec. 6, 2007, deadline, but submitted them incomplete. One, Creflo Dollar of World Changers Church International/Creflo Dollar Ministries, declined to provide any of the requested information.

Notably, the "prosperity gospel," as critics call it, has been growing highly prominent megachurches and has blacks divided on the controversial message.

In 2007, the nation's largest African American religious organization – the 7.5 million-member National Baptist Convention – denounced the prosperity gospel especially with many black communities suffering in poverty.

According to Dr. Robert M. Franklin, president of the renowned historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta, one-fourth of the black community lives in poverty.

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