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Georgia pastor: 'I'm going to fight' sex allegations

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
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Long: I'm not perfect, but I will fight
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pastor talks for first time since suits filed alleging sex with young male members
  • Eddie Long defends himself at Sunday service: "I've been accused, I'm under attack"
  • Long did not address specifics of allegations contained in suits
  • He has preached passionately against homosexuality and gay marriage

Lithonia, Georgia (CNN) -- Baptist televangelist Eddie Long said Sunday he will fight allegations that he coerced young male church members into having sex with him.

"I am not the man that has been portrayed on television," he told his congregation.

Speaking publicly about the accusations for the first time, Long did not address the specific allegations contained in four lawsuits filed against him earlier this week.

"I've been accused, I'm under attack," he said, lowering his head and softening his voice behind the pulpit at the New Birth Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta.

"I want you to know, as I said earlier, that I am not a perfect man. But this thing, I'm going to fight," he said. "I feel like David against Goliath, but I've got five rocks and I haven't thrown one yet."

With that, the 57-year-old pastor put down his microphone and walked off stage, receiving deafening applause from the thousands who had come to hear him.

Video: Bishop Long mum on details
Video: Fourth lawsuit filed against pastor
Video: Long won't allow cameras at service
RELATED TOPICS
  • Eddie Long

The lawsuits accuse Long of using his power and influence within the 25,000-member church to lure young male church members into sexual relationships. The suits allege that the relationships, which began when the men were in their teens, lasted over many months.

Long took the young men -- all of them teens at the time -- on trips, including to Kenya, according to the suits. Long allegedly paid for their hotel rooms, and gave the young men gifts, including a car, cash and jewelry -- all in exchange for sexual favors such as massaging, masturbation and oral sex.

The accusations were particularly controversial because Long, who is married, has preached passionately against homosexuality over the years.

In 2004, he led a march to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s grave in Atlanta in support of defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. He once declared that his church had created a ministry that "delivered" people from homosexuality. He has a national presence, has been invited to the White House, runs a popular television ministry, and oversees a worship campus that includes a school.

In the parking lot after the services Sunday, church member Juan Davis told CNN affiliate WXIA that he was "very satisfied with what I heard."

"It's a very difficult moment for the church, for the pastor, but I know for sure they're going to overcome it -- overcome it in a big way," Davis said.

Gabrielle Richards, 21, who has attended New Birth for nearly eight years, told CNN that after hearing Long's sermon, "nothing has changed."

"My love for the ministry, my love for [the] bishop and his family has not changed," she said.

Richards also said she was "proud" of Long for "the way he came out with his head up. ... He showed the strength that I'm accustomed to."

On Saturday, New Birth members also voiced support. "I stand behind the bishop because of the leader that he is. He is a true leader. The word that he gives is so rich, it is so life-changing," church member Gary Foster Jr. told CNN.

A former New Birth employee, Kevin Bond, said he hopes the allegations are not true.

"The evidence ... all of that is very troubling to many of us in the gospel community, the Christian community," said Bond.

Long gave 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. sermons on Sunday. They were essentially the same. Eliciting chuckles from the audience, Long began both by joking, "I gotta talk to my family" of worshippers before addressing what other "folk" -- meaning media -- were there to hear.

Both sermons focused on "understanding painful situations."

He quoted Isaiah: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."

Long encouraged congregants to think about natural disasters -- tornadoes and floods. He specifically named Hurricane Katrina and other "painful situations."

"Bishop Eddie Long will have painful situations," he said.

Shouts of affirmation came from the audience.

"We will walk through this painful situation," he continued.

Then, the bishop quoted the 23rd Psalm.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death ..." Worshippers were on their feet.

He urged them to stay committed to being "prayerful," then briefly reminded them that it's nearly election time in Georgia, that it was important to vote and be involved.

He then went back to speaking about himself. "Some people think I'm lost," he said. It is those people, he said, who "will have an opportunity to come down to the altar."

New Birth will continue to worship and thrive, he said.

"We ain't gonna stop it," he said.

More cheers. The camera panned to the pastor's wife Vanessa Long. She smiled.

Each sermon ran approximately 20 minutes.

Between sermons, Long spoke briefly to reporters. "I want this to be dealt in the court of justice and not by public opinion," he said. "I will say that I am going to fight, fight very vigorously against these charges."

CNN's Aaron Cooper, Susan Brown and Don Lemon contributed to this report.

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