Reporting from — Baptist televangelist Eddie Long said Sunday from the pulpit of his packed megachurch that he would fight allegations that he coerced young male church members into having sex with him.
"I'm 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 of them yet," Long told his congregation of about 6,500 in his first public comments on the scandal.
Four men filed civil lawsuits last week alleging that Long had used his status as pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church to coerce them into relationships when they were in their late teens.
Speaking publicly about the accusations for the first time, Long did not address the specific allegations contained in the four lawsuits.
"I've been accused, I'm under attack," he said, bowing his head and softening his voice from behind the pulpit at the suburban Atlanta church.
After his 20-minute sermons, delivered at two services, the 57-year-old pastor put down his microphone and walked offstage to deafening applause from the thousands who had come to hear him.
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.
Plaintiffs Anthony Flagg, 21, Maurice Robinson, 20, and Jamal Parris, 23, filed lawsuits Tuesday seeking unspecified damages. A suit by Spencer LeGrande, 22, was added Friday.
"Long has a pattern and practice of singling out a select group of young male church members and using his authority as bishop over them to ultimately bring them to engage in sexual relationships," according to the lawsuits filed Tuesday.
Long took the young men on trips to Kenya and other places, according to the suits. He 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.
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.
Long has a national presence. He 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 services Sunday, church member Juan Davis described himself as "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.
Between services, Long spoke briefly to reporters, saying he wanted the lawsuits to be dealt with "in the court of justice and not by public opinion," he said.