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Sunday, January 15

Obituary : Controversial megachurch pastor Eddie Long dies at 63

(CNN)Bishop Eddie Long, the controversial leader of one of the nation's largest megachurches, has died, according to the suburban Atlanta church he presided over. He was 63.
Long died after a battle with an aggressive form of cancer, according to a statement by the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.
    Long was a national figure and one of the most innovative and polarizing pastors in the contemporary church. He was also a paradox.
    He was a preacher who led an infamous march against same-sex marriage and denounced homosexuality, but he also settled a lawsuit by four young men who said he pressured them into sexual relationships.
    He was a man who wore tight muscle shirts and radiated self-confidence but used to throw up before sermons because he was so nervous.
    He was a man who gave away cars and paid the college tuition of needy people, but he also was investigated by Congress after a charity he created had provided him with a million-dollar home and a Bentley luxury car.
    "When he spoke, black people all over the country listened to him," said Shayne Lee, a sociologist who studies the black Pentecostal church. "He was part of the repackaging of Christianity for post-civil rights African-Americans."
    Long's wife, who stood by him through his rise and fall from national fame, released a statement.
    "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 Long said.

    Rise and fall

    At its peak New Birth Missionary Baptist Church had about 25,000 members. The church was such a glamorous Sunday stop it became dubbed "Club New Birth."
    But to limit Long's impact to the black church understates his influence.
    He spoke before Congress, visited President Clinton in the White House and became a popular figure in white Pentecostal circles. His church hosted Coretta Scott King's funeral service in 2006.
    President George Bush hugs Bishop Eddie Long during Coretta Scott King's 2006 funeral.
    Though Long dressed like a middle-aged hip-hop star, he once said the figure who led him to his greatest religious awakening was Jimmy Swaggart, the charismatic white pastor.
    But it was Long's ministry to young men that first marked his rise. At a time when the traditional church had trouble attracting young men, Long called himself a "spiritual daddy" to wayward teenagers. He played basketball and lifted weights with his male ministers.
    Long's relationship with his own father, though, was far from ideal. His father, Floyd Long, was a stern Baptist minister who was known as "the cussing preacher" because of his pugnaciousness. Long said in one interview that his father was distant and didn't attend his football games or even his high school and seminary graduation.
    "My daddy pulled back when it came to touching you and saying, 'I love,' '' Long said. "I needed that so badly."

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