Eddie Long, bishop of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church near Atlanta, said Sunday that he's taking a leave from the church to focus on his family after his wife Vanessa filed for divorce on Friday, according to reports.
Long's spokesman, Art Franklin, however, said Long told his congregation during church services that he will continue to serve as senior pastor at the Lithonia, Ga. church, according to the Associated Press. Franklin didn't say how long the sabbatical would be, though, stating that Long and his family are asking for privacy and sensitivity to their family.
I'm going to take a little time off to work with my family, said Long on Sunday at a televised service, according to CNN. I do want you to know that this is, for me and my family, especially with me, one of the most difficult times and things I've had to face, and only because my strength, other than God, is in Miss Vanessa.
Long added: And I want you to rest assured that I love her and she loves me. ... In all the things that I've ever had to deal with and being pastor, my rock has been to be able to come home to a virtuous woman who always had peace in my house.
Reports say Long insists that the he and his wife, Vanessa, are not fighting.
Vanessa and I are working together in seeking God's will in our current circumstances, he said in a written statement.
Vanessa Long first filed a petition for divorce Thursday in DeKalb County Superior Court to end her 21-year marriage to the minister. She revoked the petition the next day, and then went through with it again late Friday.
The filing comes more than a year after allegations that Long coerced four young men into sexual relationships. Long settled the cases in May and wasn't criminally charged because the age of consent in Georgia is 16 and the young men, who were previously members of New Birth, were 17 and 18 years old when the alleged sexual contact occurred.
CNN reports that Vanessa's divorce documents say she and Eddie are living in a bona fide state of separation. It adds that Vanessa is entitled to a divorce upon grounds that the marriage between the parties is irretrievably broken, there being no hope of reconciliation of the parties, and it being in the best interest of all parties concerned that this marriage be terminated by divorce.
Vanessa Long also asked the court for temporary and permanent alimony, attorneys' fees and an equitable division of marital and non-marital property.
The scandal has caused Long to face heavy scrutiny, especially because of his anti-gay stance, and tarnished his reputation as an influential spiritual leader who transformed his congregation from 150 to 25,000 members.
The Longs were married on March 10, 1990. They have three children together, and Eddie Long has another child from a previous marriage.