Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, died Sunday morning.
In a statement, the church confirmed Long's death from cancer-related causes at the age of 63.
“I am confidant through my belief in God that my husband is now resting in a better place," said Long's wife, Vanessa. "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.”
Long's congregation was informed of his death during Sunday morning services, and the news sent shock waves throughout the church. Several members collapsed and broke into tears.
Long "was the greatest person to walk the face of the earth since Jesus," one of the church's pastors said.
"Don't let anyone try to destroy his legacy. Stay united, because he is with the Lord."
In September 2016, Long released a statement that said he was recovering from a “health challenge” in response to reports that he had been recently hospitalized.
The church released a statement that said Long was not in the hospital, and quoted a statement from Long:
"I am recovering from a health challenge that I trust God to deliver me from. It is unrelated to the eating for life diet consisting of mostly raw vegetables that I am continuing, as part of a holistic approach to good health.
At this time, my family and I are requesting that you respect our privacy. I truly appreciate your prayers and support for me, my loved ones and my beloved New Birth Church Family."
Long was born May 12, 1953, in Huntersville, NC. In 1987, he became the pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church which, at the time, had around 300 members. The church’s current membership now totals more than 25,000.
In 2010, Long was accused of coercion by four male members of his congregation. The men, now in their 20s, filed separate civil lawsuits.
They each told similar stories of Long approaching them in their early teens, indoctrinating them as spiritual sons and offering them money, cars and trips to exotic locations.
When all young men turned 17 or 18, they said their relationships with Bishop Long turned sexual.
The lawsuits were eventually settled.
Long delivered his final sermon to the church earlier this month.
Besides his wife, Long is survived by four children and three grandchildren.