Sep 27, 2010

Bishop Eddie Long speaks on Sunday.

Via AJC:

Bishop Eddie Long's steadfast vow to fight accusations of sexual coercion drew cheers from church members Sunday, but left some uncertain about the high-profile religious leader.

Standing before thousands of supportive congregants, Long used the pulpit of his DeKalb County megachurch, New Birth Missionary Baptist, to respond to a week of lawsuits by four young men who say he used his influence to coerce them into sex.

In his first public appearance since the lawsuits, Long said the past few days have been among the most painful in his life.

The 57-year-old pastor did not say much beyond the written statements issued earlier by himself and his attorney. Those statements declared his innocence against the sex accusations. His sermons on Sunday did not address the accusations directly.

He never specifically proclaimed his innocence. But he vowed to clear his name.

"This thing I'm going to fight," he told the throngs of faithful who at the Lithonia church. And they cheered the pastor who built the church into a huge community of 25,000 followers.

B.J. Bernstein, the Atlanta lawyer for all four of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits, said she had no comment on Long's remarks.

Dressed in a khaki-colored suit bearing the New Birth emblem, Long walked onto the stage accompanied by his wife, Vanessa. He spoke of his aim to "vigorously" defend himself, and that he would not play out the battle in the media but in a court of law.

Despite conjecture that he might step down or stop preaching during this church crisis, Long told his congregants: "I will see you next week," and later, "I'm not leaving you, if you don't leave me."

The reaction to Long's short sermons during two morning services ranged from enthusiastic approval to lingering uncertainy.

Long said he has not begun to fight in earnest.

In both sermons, among the most important of Long's career, the embattled preacher compared himself to the biblical David against Goliath. "There is a giant in front of me. And I'm going to fight and fight vigorously," he said. "And I've got five rocks and I haven't thrown one yet."

He did not elaborate on what form those "rocks" might take.

He made clear that he understood the gravity of the moment, as did his parishioners.  Members of his DeKalb County megachurch started arriving before dawn. One couple slept in their green Lexus parked in a visitor's spot. A platoon of reporters and camera crews joined them, and CNN broadcast his appearance.

"I realize many have been waiting on me to say something," he said.

Long said he has never portrayed himself as a perfect man. "But I am not the man being portrayed on the television," he said. "That's not me. That's not me."

Long used Psalm 34:19 as his sermon scripture: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but Lord delivereth him out of them all."

At a media conference between services, Long made a short statement but did not take questions.

He said, "I am going to fight, fight very vigorously."

Long let it be known that, on the advice of his attorney, he would not address the accusations head on at this time.




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