LITHONIA, Ga. --Bishop Eddie Long, the controversial Georgia-based head of one of the nation's largest megachurches, has died, according to the church he presided over. He was 63.
Long died after a battle with an aggressive form of cancer, according to a statement by the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.
"Bishop Long was known as one of the most influential faith leaders in the world," the church said in the statement. "He stood strong as a Kingdom Builder, pioneering leader, and revolutionary mind changer."
"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," his wife Vanessa Long said in the statement.
At its peak New Birth Missionary Baptist Church had about 25,000 members.
But Long had a controversial past. In 2010, he and his 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 his congregation.
Long, who preached passionately against homosexuality for years, denied the allegations.
In 2011, Vanessa Long filed for divorce. Shortly afterward, Long told his followers he was taking some time off to work on his marriage.
"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 at the time.
"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... We're going (to) work it out." he said.
In its statement the church called him "a family man and spiritual leader who was well respected and loved for his passion to unapologetically and courageously preach the gospel of Jesus Christ."
The couple later reconciled.
Long is survived by his wife, four children and three grandchildren, the church said.
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