Bishop Eddie Long, the embattled pastor of Georgia megachurch New Birth Missionary Baptist, has died from an “aggressive form of cancer,” according to the church. He was 63 years old.
New Birth issued a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday confirming his death.
Long made his last public appearance two weeks ago; the senior pastor had lost a significant amount of weight, prompting more than a few comments on social media about his thin, gaunt appearance, prognoses about the state of his health and even rumors of hospice care.
As Long praise-danced at the altar, he looked almost unrecognizable—his thick hair gone, replaced with a shiny bald head; his portly appearance now replaced by a shadow of his former self.
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Long had been fielding concerns about his health for some time, and in September Long released a statement saying in part that he is recovering from an unnamed health issue.
I am recovering from a health challenge that I trust God to deliver me from. It is unrelated to the eating for life diet consisting of mostly raw vegetables that I am continuing, as part of a holistic approach to good health.
Long, the long-celebrated pastor of the 25,000-member congregation, faced serious controversy throughout his tenure—from financial impropriety to charges of sexual misconduct with young men within his congregation (he was staunchly against homosexuality and advocated and sponsored “Sexual Reorientation” classes to supposedly convert homosexuals to heterosexuals).
About six years ago, four young men said that he coerced them into sexual relationships. Long categorically denied the allegations in a court filing, saying that he was only a mentor to the men who filed civil lawsuits against him.
The men, who were 17 and 18 at the time of the alleged sexual contact, say that Long abused his spiritual authority to lure them into trysts with cars, jewelry and cash. He often traveled with the young men, sometimes as far as New Zealand, and admitted in four separate documents that he often encouraged his New Birth Missionary Church members to call him “daddy”—as a sign of respect.
There were no criminal charges filed in the cases because Georgia’s age of consent is 16. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on May 27, 2011, that the lawsuits were settled out of court; terms were undisclosed. His second wife, Vanessa Griffin, filed for divorce in December of that year. But in September 2012, Vanessa Long stated that she had chosen to return to her marriage and to the New Birth family.
Bishop Long was born May 12, 1953, in Huntersville, N.C., to the Rev. Floyd M. Long Jr. and Hattie Long. Eddie Long attended North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C., where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1977.
He became pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist 10 years later and reportedly grew the church from 300 to 25,000 members. In 2006 the church was chosen by the family of Martin Luther King Jr. to host and officiate the funeral for matriarch Coretta Scott King. The service was attended by four U.S. presidents: Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
As pastor of the high-profile church, Long saw his personal and professional profile soar, and in 2008 he donated $1 million to North Carolina Central University to establish a professorship in his name, saying, “I am making [the donation] from my own personal income,” which comes from various real estate ventures and also as royalties from his books. (Long authored seven books.)
In 2007 Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced an investigation into the tax-exempt status of six megachurches, including New Birth, by the Senate Committee on Finance. Long refused to cooperate with the investigation, and there were no charges filed or penalties levied.
Long is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and children: Edward, Eric, Jared and Taylor Long. Long married Dabara S. Houston in 1981; they were divorced soon afterward, and she is the mother of his oldest son.
Read the entire statement from New Birth 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.