Embattled anti-gay mega-church pastor Bishop Eddie Long addressed his congregation at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church this morning, vowing to fight numerous allegations that he lured young men into sexual relationships and promising that he will return to lead the church the next week.
Reading from an iPad, the pastor drew thunderous applause from thousands when finally emerged for the first time since the first lawsuits were filed four days ago. Long did not discuss specifics of the allegations and neither confirmed nor flatly denied the accusations. "There have been allegations and attacks made on me. 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 as applause interrupted him.
The pastor of the 25,000-member church—which is the largest church in Georgia and has hosted Presidents Carter, Bush and Clinton—compared himself to the Biblical tale of David fighting the giant. "Please hear this: I’ve been accused. I’m under attack. I want you to know as I said earlier I am not a perfect man. ... But this thing I’m going to fight. I feel like David against Goliath, but I’ve got five rocks and I haven’t thrown one yet."
Bishop Eddie Long is the spiritual mentor of the anti-gay Rev. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr and new chair of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Bernice King is also a pastor at New Birth and spoke during Sunday's first service. The June 2006 funeral for Coretta Scott King was held at the church.
"About 100 people waited at the doors of the church more than an hour before the first service. Some held signs of support, while others prayed for their embattled leader. A small group sang the hymn 'White as Snow.' Members in their seats clapped and swayed as the service began around 8 a.m., with several people with microphones singing on stage. Later in the service, hundreds began dancing and chanting, 'Jesus, Jesus.' A small group of young people held Apple iPads high over their heads, with the screens scrolling white letters against a black background reading, 'It's time to praise him.'"
In the past week, four young men have filed lawsuits against Long claiming sexual coercion. Two men live in Georgia, one lives in North Carolina and one lives in Colorado. "At least two other cases are being prepared," a source tells Rod 2.0. The actions claim the anti-gay pastor "coerced" them and numerous young men "into engaging in sexual acts and relationships for his own personal sexual gratification." The suits allege Long used church funds to give them cash, gifts and cars. Read the complaints HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.
Over the weekend, friends and family of the plaintiffs have spoken out. Antonio Makins, the best friend of Jamal Parris, the third young man who filed suit against Long, says that he was aware of the relationship and witnessed Long "lavish jewelry, gifts, cars and money" on his then-teenaged friend.
On a personal note, it was totally expected and sadly disappointing to watch thousands of churchgoers applaud a man accused of using their church tithes to buy cars and give cash to teenage boys. Apparently, there is no rush to seek the truth, only a rush to convince themselves that they haven't been lead by a hypocrite. Good luck with that.
More photos, watch the complete "sermon" AFTER THE JUMP ...
PHOTOS: Atlanta Journal Constitution