Eddie Long, the charismatic lead pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, has passed away at age 63. Long suffered silently from what his church calls an “aggressive form of cancer” and died on Sunday, January 15, 2017.
New Birth is a megachurch outside Atlanta. Eddie Long held the lead pastor position since 1987, during which time he grew the congregation to become one of the largest megachurches in the nation. The church (with Eddie Long at the head) was not immune to controversy, though.
In 2005, the charity Eddie Long started came under scrutiny when it was revealed that Eddie Long was its biggest beneficiary. The investigation revealed that Eddie Long had received $3 million from the charity, allowing him to purchase a $1.4 million home and drive a car worth $300,000.
Controversy visited the congregation again in 2010, when four men filed claims against Eddie Long that he coerced them into sexual relationships while they were attending the church. The case was settled out of court, but Long’s wife, Vanessa, filed for divorce shortly afterward. The couple claimed they still loved each other, but cited pressure from the media, and specifically the pastorate, as being the root of their marital difficulty. The two eventually reconciled, and Vanessa withdrew her petition for divorce.
Despite the controversies, Long maintained a loyal following, albeit much smaller than the peak of New Birth Missionary Baptists Church’s numbers of 25,000. He was last seen around New Years, worshipping at the church in a severely emaciated form. The congregation was clearly overjoyed by his presence and are rallying around his family to honor their late bishop.
“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,” Vanessa says.
Long leaves behind his wife, four children and three grandchildren. No plans have been announced yet for his funeral.