NEW: Church insisted Long is not stepping down
Eddie Long blames the pressures Vanessa has faced as pastor's wife
Vanessa Long said she is proceeding with divorce, despite a church statement that she was withdrawing it
Long settled a lawsuit by young men who said he pressured them into sexual relationships
Bishop Eddie Long, head of one of the nation’s largest mega churches, announced Sunday he will take “time off” from the pulpit to work on his family.
The announcement came three days after his wife Vanessa filed for divorce.
Although her husband’s church issued a statement Friday, attributed to Vanessa Long, saying she was withdrawing the divorce petition, her attorney said she was proceeding with it.
Last spring, Long, head of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, settled a lawsuit filed by four young men who accused him of pressuring them into sexual relationships while they were teenagers and members of the congregation.
He denied the allegations against him.
“I’m going to take a little time off to work with my family,” Long said Sunday to a packed house at the televised service.
“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,” he said to huge applause.
“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,” he said.
“We’re going (to) work it out,” he said.
He insisted that the two of them are not fighting, and that they are not mad at each other.
Long said the situation is “not because of allegations” of sexual relationships last year and instead blamed the pressures of being a pastor’s wife.
“It’s been very difficult to her, some of the things that she’s had to endure,” he said.
The church issued a statement emphasizing that Long is not stepping down, and “will continue to be the senior pastor of New Birth.”
Her attorney’s statement Thursday said Vanessa Long “continues to hope that this matter may be resolved expeditiously, harmoniously and fairly.”
Her divorce documents say the Longs are “living in a bona fide state of separation.”
The 12-page petition adds that Vanessa Long “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.”
The statement attributed to her that was issued by the church had said, “Upon prayerful reflection, I have reconsidered and plan to withdraw my petition for divorce from my husband, Bishop Eddie L. Long. I love my husband.”
“I believe in him and admire his strength, and courage,” that statement attributed to her said, adding, “My filing followed years of attacks in the media that frustrated and overwhelmed me. I love my family and church family, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Therefore, my husband and I have mutually agreed to find healing from these attacks. We ask that you respect our privacy during this time.”
In announcing that she was still seeking divorce, her attorney Michael W. Tyler said, “To avoid any undue confusion, Mrs. Long’s future statements, if any, will be issued through her attorneys only. At this time, neither she nor we will have any further comment on this matter.”
The lawsuit filed against Eddie Long by the four young men alleged that he used “monetary funds from the accounts of New Birth and other corporate and non-profit corporate accounts to entice the young men with cars, clothes, jewelry, and electronics.”
Long has preached passionately against homosexuality for years.
In an August interview, two of Long’s accusers said they were haunted by what happened between them and the powerful pastor and added they are writing a tell-all book about their experiences.
“It’s just not enough anymore. I thought I could cover the pain up. I thought I could move, start over and everything will go away. I was terribly wrong,” Jamal Parris, one of the accusers, told CNN affiliate WSB.
Parris pointed to a “JL” tattoo on his arm, which he said stands for “Jamal Long.” He said Long was with him when he got the tattoo.
He said that he grew up without a father and that Long preyed on that vulnerability. “To have a man love me for just who I was. I just had to be me and love him back,” Parris said.
CNN’s Mia Aquino contributed to this story