An anti-gay pastor with a congregation of over 25,000 has been accused of sexually abusing three male teenagers. According to the allegations, Bishop Eddie Long, a fierce critic of same-sex marriage, coerced three young men, aged between 17 and 19 at the time, into sexual activity.

Maurice Robinson and Anthony Flagg, now 20 and 21, filed a lawsuit Tuesday, sayings the bishop talked them into sexual massages and “oral sodomy” by telling them it was part of their spiritual development. According to this transcript from CNN, the relationships began with a “ceremony,” during which jewellery was exchanged and a covenant was made for Bishop Long to be the boys’ “spiritual father.” The third man, Jamal Parris, now 23, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has described the bishop as “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement.”

Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, in Atlanta, Georgia, runs an ex-gay “Out of the Wilderness” program offering counseling for gays “who desire healing and deliverance through the Word of God.” In 2006, the church hosted a “sexual orientation and reorientation” conference featuring DL Foster, a Pentecostal preacher so radically homophobic, even Ex-Gay Watch rarely bothers to comment on him these days.

If the accusations are true, Bishop Eddie Long would not be the first outspoken Christian homophobe to harbour gay desires or act on them in private–but that these allegations involve not just homosexual activity and hypocrisy, but abuse of power and assault of vulnerable adolescents, makes them particularly despicable.

Bishop Long has denied the accusations and has announced a press conference on Thursday.

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