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How Bishop Eddie Long is helping to flip the script on church scandals

Last week, Bishop Eddie Long appeared on the Steve Harvey show launching his presumed comeback from a recent sex scandal .

In 2010, the senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, was sued by four men who alleged the bishop traded his influence and money for sex.

The interview with Harvey -- timed to coincide with the release of Long's new book -- caused a social media uproar, mostly from viewers who felt the pastor revealed absolutely nothing in the interview.

Lost in the sound and the fury is the fact that while Long may not have proven his innocence, he has proven that he quite literally embodies the name of his church -- New Birth. His plans for a comeback are noteworthy as is the fact that we are still talking about him. Long has survived and remained relevant despite at least three scandals involving money and sex.

For his first scandal, Long created a charity to aid the poor which prompted an investigation when it surfaced that he was the charity's biggest beneficiary. The charity paid Long millions in salary and benefits, including a home and Bentley, between 1997 and 2000 .

Last year,  Ephren Taylor, a Long associate who had been invited to host a series of financial seminars at the church, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for a nationwide Ponzi scheme. Church members said Long had encouraged them to invest their money with the crooked adviser.

Some may argue that Long hasn't escaped his scandals unscathed. He claims to have considered suicide. And while at its peak the megachurch had 25,000 members, current estimates are around 2,000 - 5,000 depending on the source.

But there are plenty of other mega-popular preachers who faced scandals and didn't fare nearly as well as Long. Remember the names Jim Bakker and Ted Haggard?

Not to mention a few others that hit closer to home, right here in the metro-area, like Bishop Earl Paulk, senior pastor of Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Chapel Hill Harvester Church in Decatur.

In the late 1990s, the megachurch had a congregation of 13,000 members and was one of the top 10 megachurches in the country until several women in the congregation accused Paulk of engaging them in affairs.

Then came the bigger blow when a court ordered DNA test showed that Paulk had slept with his brother's wife. The son from that union -- the heir to the empire -- had grown up thinking his father was his uncle. After that revelation, the church collapsed. In 2009, the building sold for $17.6 million .

But those were the old days of church scandals.

Today, Long and his cohorts are forging new paths back to prosperity.

In 2013, Jim Bolin was installed as senior pastor of Trinity Chapel, the Powder Springs megachurch he founded with his wife back in 1983. Bolin had previously been removed by Church of God officials in 2008 after he confessed  to “inappropriate, consensual sexual conduct with an adult female.”

And just this week, reports surfaced that Mark Driscoll had returned to the ministry just two years after he was ousted as senior pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill megachurch. While Driscoll still faces a RICO racketeering suit by former church members in Seattle and can't quite shake his reputation as a misogynist and homophobe, Driscoll has risen again -- in the Phoenix area -- with plans to start a new church.

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.