Accused pastor cites ‘David-Goliath’

Does not address male sex lawsuits

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LITHONIA, Ga. | Casting himself as the Bible’s ultimate underdog, Bishop Eddie Long went before thousands of faithful supporters at his megachurch Sunday and promised to fight accusations that he lured four young men into sexual relationships.

“I feel like David against Goliath. But I got five rocks, and I haven’t thrown one yet,” Mr. Long said in his first public remarks since his accusers filed lawsuits last week claiming he abused his “spiritual authority.”

But he stopped short of directly denying the accusations, implying only that he was wronged by them.

“I have never in my life portrayed myself as a perfect man. But I am not the man that’s being portrayed on the television. That’s not me. That is not me,” he said.

Mr. Long’s brief addresses to the congregation at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church were met with thunderous applause and an outpouring of support during services that were equal parts part rock concert and pep rally. The sanctuary was nearly filled to its 10,000-seat capacity for both the 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. services. Many lined up two hours before the doors of the church opened.

Mr. Long became one of the country’s most powerful independent church leaders over the last 20 years, turning a suburban Atlanta congregation of 150 to a 25,000-member powerhouse with a $50 million cathedral and a roster of parishioners that includes athletes, entertainers and politicians. And there was almost no sign Sunday that his flock wanted to turn him away.

Followers prayed, sang and embraced one another as they rallied around their senior pastor. Wearing a cream-colored suit as he strode into the church sanctuary hand-in-hand with his wife Vanessa, Mr. Long paused to soak in the adoration.

During the second service, however, one young man in a blue shirt stood up and shouted: “We want to know the truth, man!” He was quickly escorted out and did not return.

After the service, many expressed unwavering support for their leader.

“We know and we love Bishop,” said Annie Cannon, a seven-year member of New Birth. “We love our place of worship. My son goes to school here. We do everything here.”

It is unclear whether Mr. Long faces any risk of being removed by his church’s board, but months of scrutiny is likely as the lawsuits move forward.

Mr. Long is a father of four who has been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage and whose church has counseled gay members to become straight. Two young men say he groomed them for sexual relationships when they were enrolled in the church’s LongFellows Youth Academy, a program that taught teens about sexual and financial discipline. Two other young men — one of whom attended a satellite church in Charlotte, N.C. — have made similar claims.

The men say they were 17 or 18 when the relationships began. Georgia’s age of consent is 16, and thus law enforcement officials have not become involved.

“I’ve been accused. I’m under attack. I want you to know, as I said earlier, I am not a perfect man,” Mr. Long said. “But this thing, I’m going to fight.”

Mr. Long did not address the charges directly but spoke at length about enduring painful times. He used the word “painful” nearly 20 times. The term “difficult” came up seven times.

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