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ATLANTA (Reuters) - The prominent pastor of a "mega-church," Bishop Eddie Long, is being sued by three young male church members who say he coerced them into sexual relationships.
Long denied the accusations made in civil lawsuits that he used his status as pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church to coerce them into relationships when they were in their late teens.
"Long has a pattern and practice of singling out a select group of young male church members and using his authority as bishop over them to ultimately bring them to engage in sexual relationships," according to the lawsuits, filed on Tuesday in DeKalb County, Georgia.
The plaintiffs, Anthony Flagg, 21, Maurice Robinson, 20, and Jamal Parris, 23, seek unspecified damages. The lawsuit involving Parris was filed shortly after complaints by the other two men were submitted.
Long "adamantly denies" the allegations, which are "without merit," his spokesman Art Franklin told CNN.
Other prominent Protestant pastors who have been ensnared in sex scandals include Ted Haggard, the politically influential head of a Colorado mega-church until he was felled in 2006 by allegations of an affair with a male prostitute.
Long built the church from just 300 members in 1987 to more than 25,000 today. The church, set on a campus east of Atlanta, runs a global network of ministries and businesses. It hosted the funeral in 2006 of civil rights leader Coretta Scott King.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Gray in Miami)
Reporting by David Beasley; Editing by Matthew Bigg and Stacey Joyce