One of the most successful preachers in America announced yesterday he is stepping away from the pulpit—temporarily—following a series of sex scandals with men as young as 15, reports the New York Times. The news comes on the heels of another announcement: That his wife of 21 years is divorcing him. Bishop Eddie Long built up his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church from a few hundred members in 1987 to some 25,000 today, with a large television following and ministries in Kenya and around the world. In April, Long settled with the five men who accused him of sexual coercion, allegedly for millions of dollars, but lawsuits with 10 former church members who claim he took their retirement savings, and a $2 million real estate deal gone bad, further hurt Long.
“He has a serious moral character flaw,” said a minister who was protesting outside Long's church yesterday, urging him to leave permanently. “It’s a moral question and he’s a religious figure. We don’t want that image as a role model for young men in the African-American community.” Others point out that, even with attendance down from the 8,000 who filed in earlier this year, Long's church is still strong enough to pull in an impressive 4,000 people each week. “It’s all about restoring, forgiving, and loving,” said an administrator at Long's church. “We love Bishop Long and we’re going to keep coming.”