Bernice King leaving Bishop Long's megachurch

AP News
Posted: May 31, 2011 6:51 PM
Bernice King leaving Bishop Long's megachurch

The youngest daughter of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. says she is leaving an Atlanta megachurch where the pastor has been embroiled in scandal and is starting her own ministry.

The Rev. Bernice King told a radio interviewer Tuesday that her last Sunday as a member of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church was this past Sunday. Although her departure coincided with New Birth leader Bishop Eddie Long's settlement agreement in the sexual misconduct lawsuits he has fought since September, King said she had been planning to leave for weeks.

"It has nothing to do with anything that's going on with Bishop Long," King told reporters Tuesday. "I always knew I would not be at New Birth forever. This is the time for me to leave."

Her announcement on the gospel station Praise 102.5 came months after she decided she would not lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which her father headed during the height of the civil rights movement.

That choice, King said, cleared the way for her to proceed with her departure from New Birth, where she has been a member for nearly nine years. She said she told Long in early April she would leave New Birth on the last Sunday in May.

"Everything else is God's coincidence," she said. "That's the only thing I can say with regard to that."

King leaves in the wake of news that Long reached a settlement last week in the sexual misconduct lawsuits that alleged he abused his spiritual authority and lured four former church members with cars, clothes and trips.

King did not address any of the controversy surrounding Long in the interview and has not spoken publicly about the allegations.

King not give details about her new ministry.

"I'm not calling it a church right now," she said.

An ordained minister and the only one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s four children to follow in the Baptist preacher's footsteps, King earned her Master of Divinity degree from Emory University's Candler School of Theology in 1990.

King came to New Birth in 2002 and came to regard Long as her mentor and spiritual father. In 2004, she joined Long in a march against gay marriage that began at The King Center _ a move that sparked controversy, given her mother's support of gay rights. When her mother, Coretta Scott King, died in 2006, the funeral was held at New Birth.

Bernice King delivered the eulogy.

Earlier in the day, Long said in an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press that he and King have been "in discussion and prayer" for some time about her decision to leave the church to continue the legacy of her parents.

"I am in full support of her decision to leave New Birth in pursuit of this worthy endeavor," the statement reads. "Reverend Bernice King has made tremendous and profound contributions to New Birth as an elder and faithful servant."

Long said a farewell tribute for King is planned, but a date has not been set. The church did not announce King's departure on Sunday, instead focusing on a Memorial Day tribute to fallen soldiers and their families.

King has said she will also focus on her parents' legacy, a priority that has grown stronger since her mother's death. She started a scholarship in 2007 in her mother's memory at her alma mater, Spelman College.

"The ministry side of that legacy has to be carried on, and that mantle fell on me," King said. "Since that time, I have been seeking to walk in it. I know there's much that has to be done by way of both of my parents' legacies."