May 31st, 2011
06:30 PM ET
By John Blake, CNN
(CNN) – The Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the legendary civil rights leader, is leaving an Atlanta megachurch that’s been rocked by a sex scandal involving its preacher.
King’s announcement came a week after Bishop Eddie Long, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Church, settled out of court with four young men who filed lawsuits against him last year claiming he coerced them into sexual relationships.
King said her announcement had nothing to do with Long’s legal battles. She said Tuesday she was “tremendously blessed” by Long’s ministry but that now she’s going start her own.
“I’m going to launch a ministry. I’m not calling it a church right now,” King said during an interview with Atlanta radio station Praise 102.5. “What God is showing me doesn’t look like what people are accustomed to.”
King said her ministry would “educate, empower and equip” a new generation of church leaders, and she promised more details in the future. King had been an elder at New Birth for eight years.
During her interview, she said it was incorrect to say that she had “resigned” from New Birth because she was never on the church’s staff.
“I occasionally worked in the pulpit and preached, but that was the extent of it,” she said. "When I came to New Birth, I came for a season.”
King’s stay at New Birth was punctuated by controversy.
In 2004, she and Long led a march to the Atlanta tomb of her father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., calling for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
The march was publicly condemned by some members of her father's inner circle. One of her father's closest advisers was gay, and his widow, Coretta Scott King, was a vocal supporter of gay rights.
Bernice King also was criticized for holding the 2006 funeral of her mother at New Birth instead of at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Atlanta institution once led by her father. Critics said Long’s embrace of the prosperity gospel contradicted the emphasis on social justice that her father preached.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer, said Bernice King ultimately will be known for more than her association with Long.
“This might be for her a moment of spiritual renewal and serious reflection about what her next steps might be,” Warnock said. “Rev. King has been through a season of transition in many ways.”
The Rev. Gerald L. Durley, senior pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, said King won’t be tainted by her association with Long.
“New Birth was a bridge,” he said. “I’ve never seen anybody build a house on a bridge. A bridge takes her to another destination.”
During her radio interview, King said she had recently talked with Long about leaving his church.
“He gave me his blessings and supported me,” she said.
Whatever she chooses to do next, Durley said, King will bring many strengths: intelligence, humility and empathy forged by her own unique upbringing.
“She had to go through so much suffering at a young age,” Durley said. “She’s been in the spotlight. She’s expected not just to be Martin Luther King, but to pick up the mantle.”
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