“I take offense to that,” he said. “It does not merit a dignified response.”
Their pastor has been silent, and so are most at Bishop Long’s 25,000-strong church. But those who will speak say they are supporting him.
Lance Robertson, who joined New Birth nearly two decades ago and has coached youth basketball there, said Wednesday that members were hurting.
“I support and will stand with my bishop, but right now in the court of public opinion, it does not look good,” Mr. Robertson said. “This affects too many people. As the bishop goes, New Birth goes. He built New Birth.”
Ms. Bernstein said that her case hinges on her three clients’ testimony and that she doesn’t have much physical evidence backing up her complaint. Bishop Long sent dozens of e-mails and made phone calls to her clients, though they weren’t “overly sexual,” she said. Ms. Bernstein said she plans to subpoena records from Bishop Long that will show he traveled with the young men to New York, Las Vegas, New Zealand and elsewhere.
Mr. Robertson, the church’s youth basketball coach, said he wants to hear Bishop Long respond to the accusations.
Bishop Long was appointed pastor of New Birth in 1987 and built it up into a complex on 250 acres with a $50 million, 10,000-seat church and more than 40 ministries. President George W. Bush and three former presidents attended the church’s 2006 funeral service for Coretta Scott King. Bishop Long introduced the speakers, and the Rev. Bernice King, the Kings’ younger daughter, delivered the eulogy. She is also a pastor there.
The church was among those named in 2007 in a Senate committee’s investigation into a half-dozen Christian ministries over their financing.
Bishop Long has called for a national ban on same-sex marriage. In 2004, he led a march with Bernice King to her father’s Atlanta grave to support a national constitutional amendment to protect marriage “between one man and one woman.”
This isn’t the first allegation against a religious leader who has crusaded against gay marriage. Ted Haggard left New Life Church of Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2006 after a male prostitute said Mr. Haggard had paid him for sex. Mr. Haggard denied the allegations but later admitted to “sexual immorality.” He launched a new church in June 2010.