Megachurch pastor Bishop Eddie Long said Sunday he is taking a sabbatical -- time off out of the pulpit -- to deal with family matters after his wife, Vanessa Long, filed for divorce.
Long's spokesman, Art Franklin, said the leader of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia told congregation members that he will take time off during church services Sunday. Franklin said Eddie Long plans to remain as senior pastor at the Atlanta-area church, but that he felt a break was needed. Franklin didn't give a timetable for Eddie Long's sabbatical. He said Long and his family are asking for privacy and sensitivity to their family, according to CBS News.
Bishop Eddie Long's wife decided last week to divorce the popular preacher. Vanessa Long and Eddie Long have already been living in a bona fide state of separation according to her divorce petition filed this week in DeKalb Superior Court in Georgia, where the couple lives.
Vanessa Long's divorce filing comes months after lawsuits were settled by Bishop Eddie Long with four young men he was accused of coercing into sex. The young men previously were members of Eddie Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. After the lawsuits were settled in May, Bishop Eddie Long returned to the pulpit as the church choir sang the hymn, Moving Forward.
Bishop Eddie Long was not charged criminally in the church sex scandal involving the four young men because the age of consent in Georgia is 16 -- and the young men were 17 and 18 years-old when the alleged sexual contact occurred. Still, Eddie Long faced heavy scrutiny from media and critics during the scandal since he's known for a strong anti-gay stance.
But it wasn't clear at first if Vanessa Long was going through with her divorce filing, made Thursday in Georgia. She announced the filing. Then, she announced the next day through Eddie Long's church that she wanted to reconcile. Yet late Friday, the divorce was on again.
In a statement late Friday, Vanessa Long's attorney said she has determined that dismissal of her divorce petition is not appropriate at this time, according to The Associated Press. In other words, she is proceeding with the divorce. Yet, earlier Friday, Vanessa Long had issued a statement saying through Eddie Long's church, saying she loves her husband and was withdrawing her divorce petition, which sought to end their marriage of more than 20 years.
On Thursday, Vanessa Long had filed for divorce from her husband, Eddie Long -- the anti-gay preacher of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, who was once accused of coercing four men into having sexual activity with him. When he began as pastor of the church in 1987, it had about 300 members. Now, it reportedly has more than 20,000 members.
In Vanessa Long's initial statement on Friday about her divorce filing, she said, After a great deal of deliberation and prayer, I have decided to terminate my marriage to Bishop Eddie L. Long, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The couple has been married since 1990. They have three children. Eddie Long was previously married to Dabara Houson, who filed for divorce in 1985 and, according to ABC News, accused him of beating her while she was pregnant.
After releasing the statement saying she was divorcing Eddie Long, Vanessa Long issued another statement on Friday -- this time saying she planned to stay married. According to CBS Atlanta, they planned to find healing and move on. I love my husband. I believe in him and admire his strength, and courage. My filing followed years of attacks in the media that frustrated and overwhelmed me, she said.
Vanessa Long's initial statement about the matter on Friday reads:
After a great deal of deliberation and prayer, I have decided to terminate my marriage to Bishop Eddie L. Long. Accordingly, I authorized my attorneys to file for divorce on December 1, 2011.
It is my sincere hope that this matter can be resolved expeditiously, harmoniously, and fairly. I ask that you respect my privacy and that of my family, as my attorneys and I have agreed that we will not try this case in the media, and I do not intend to make any further statements concerning this matter.
I also ask that the public pray for my entire family during this difficult period of transition.
Thank you, and may God continue to bless and keep each of you.