Family, friends, congregants gather to remember Eddie Long - CBS46 News

Family, friends, congregants gather to remember Eddie Long

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LITHONIA, GA (CBS46) -

Bishop Eddie L. Long, viewed by many as one of the most influential faith leaders in the world and others as one of the most controversial, was laid to rest Wednesday.

Long's funeral began with his family closing his casket, which was draped in a purple and gold cloth. The casket was ushered out so the sanctuary could focus on the celebration and not his death.

There was praise singing, and many tears shed.

"Well I'm going to tell you what Eddie Long would have said right now if he were standing here, 'Why do you weep I am free and free forever time,'" Former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes said.

Barnes was one of about 30 speakers.  He wanted people to focus on long's life.

"He became my confidant, my friend, and my pick me up," Barnes said. "When times get rough I'd call Eddie Long and he always made me feel better."

Dekalb County CEO Michael Thurmond also addressed the congregation thanking Long for being a friend to politicians.

"On behalf of all the elected officials like myself who come to new birth on more than one occasion begging for votes and begging for money I want all the politicians to stand up and thank God for this man," Thurmond said.

In life Long faced controversy being accused of sexually abusing young boys. Those cases were settled out of court.

Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders was a speaker that touched on that topic.

"Perhaps, perhaps all the media, all the naysayers all the doubters perhaps perhaps you were wrong about this man," Sanders said.

Sanders went on to say that he learned a lot from the man that was like a father to him.

"This man taught me how to face adversity, taught me how to stand in the midst of the storm, this man taught me so much about how to be a man," Sanders said.

Long passed away January 15 at the age of 63 following a long battle with cancer. He was the senior bishop of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia and had held that post for nearly 30 years. A funeral will be held for Long at his church on Wednesday, January 25, starting at 11 a.m.

He grew the congregation at the church from 300 when he became senior bishop to its current membership of over 25,000.

Long released this statement in September of 2016, detailing his health challenges:

I am recovering from a health challenge that I trust God to deliver me from. It is unrelated to the eating for life diet consisting of mostly raw vegetables that I am continuing, as part of a holistic approach to good health. At this time my family and I are requesting that you respect our privacy. I truly appreciate your prayers and support for me, my loved ones and my beloved New Birth Church Family.

Bishop Eddie L. Long

“I am confidant[sic] through my belief in God that my husband is now resting in a better place.  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,” said Long's wife of 27 years, Vanessa Long.

Long leaves behind four children and three grandchildren.

Long faced controversy after sex abuse allegations

In September 2010, four young men filed civil suits claiming that the mega church pastor used his authority as a religious leader to persuade them into sexual relations. But those suits were settled out of court, and no one involved publicly discussed the terms of the settlement.

In the suits, Spencer LeGrande, Jamal Parris, Maurice Robinson and Anthony Flagg said that Eddie Long lavished them with gifts and took them on trips around the world when they were teenagers.

Then cell phone pictures emerged of Eddie Long, posing in muscle shirts. The young men said he sent the photos, trying to entice them.

Long's church filed court documents in November 2010, confirming that Long took his accusers on trips. But leaders said that they did not believe he engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct.

Long maintained the accusations against him were false. In a 2016 interview with Steve Harvey, Long was asked if he could answer "yes" or "no" as to whether or not he ever had sexual relations with any of his accusers.

Long responded, "I'm bound by court that I can't answer, I can't make any statements about that."

READ the press release issued by New Birth Baptist Church following Long's death.

Statement released by board of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church

Dear New Birth Family,

God’s timing remains one of the greatest mysteries of our human existence and one aspect of our Christian life that we are asked to consistently submit to. We grow to understand that many of life’s daily experiences such as illness are ultimately beyond our control.  As we mature in God’s grace, mercy and love we recognize our need for a relationship with an all-powerful, all-present, and all-knowing God.  It is with this spiritual understanding that we share with you that God’s perfect will has been carried out, as our Senior Pastor, Bishop Eddie L. Long, has been called home to be with the LORD. Our Heavenly Father has called his servant home to receive his eternal reward.

Bishop Long transitioned from this life early Sunday morning, after a gallant fight with an aggressive form of cancer. You know that he was a man of God with unyielding faith.  Bishop Long maintained his commitment to our Heavenly Father as he proclaimed that cancer would not kill his faith nor his spirit.  First Lady Elder Vanessa Long offered this. “I am confident through my belief in God that my husband is now resting in a better place.  Although, his transition leaves a void for those of us who love him dearly, we can celebrate and be happy for him, knowing he’s at peace.”

Deeply committed to our church, even in his last days, Bishop Long delivered his final message to New Birth, as we ushered in 2017.  He told the church that God was already working in our favor and what we have been praying for was already manifested.  In his departure, we receive that, and as faithful members of New Birth, we praise God for the life of Bishop Long.

We invite you to reflect on the life of Bishop Eddie Long with gladness and how our ministry under his leadership, encourages us to accept our callings to fulfill our God-given purpose in this World.  Please be mindful and present with one another as we as experience grief in ways in which words may not adequately convey.  Also, please join us in prayer for First Lady Elder Vanessa Long and the Long family, as well as the entire New Birth family, as we experience this transition together.  In the spirit of Psalm 121, “let us lift up our eyes to the hills, from where will our help come? Our help comes from the LORD who made Heaven and Earth.”

Just as Jesus gave us the perfect map for succession planning, we are fortunate that Bishop Long had a succession plan in place before his transition.  It is one that is in line with the mission and purpose of New Birth and the Body of Christ.  Bishop Long mentored a team of leaders who along with the New Birth Board will implement the succession plan, as we move forward with the vision Bishop laid out for New Birth.  We are confident that God has already prepared the next spiritual leader for New Birth in ways that will further build on the foundation that Bishop Long has laid.  Your attendance at our next leadership meeting is greatly encouraged, so we can lay out details of the plan of succession.

Home going service arrangements will be announced and made available through our website.  During this time of our transition, Bishop Long would want us to do even more to demonstrate what it means to Love, Live, and Lead like Christ. In the words of Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Serving Christ Together!

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