September 26th, 2010
10:15 AM ET
By the CNN Wire Staff
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) - Five days after the first of four lawsuits was filed claiming he coerced young males into sexual relationships, Georgia pastor Eddie Long took to the pulpit Sunday to tell his side of the story.
Speaking to the massive congregation packed into the Atlanta-area New Birth Missionary Baptist Church for an 8 a.m. service, Long said that "this is probably the most difficult time" of his entire life, but he intends to fight the allegations against him.
He said his first responsibility was his family, and the members of his Atlanta-area church. However, he joked that he would be "remiss" not to address "the world."
"I've been accused, I'm under attack. I want you to know, as I said earlier, that I am not a perfect man," he said. "But this thing, I'm going to fight."
Long added that he's "not the man that has been portrayed on the television. That's not me."
"And I want you to know one other thing," he told the cheering crowd Sunday morning. "I feel like David against Goliath, but I've got five rocks and I haven't thrown one yet."
He then turned on his heel and walked away from the pulpit, ending a 20-minute address that was peppered with references to Scripture and often interrupted with loud standing ovations from worshippers.
Long, who led the growth of his church to its current 25,000 members, told reporters after the service that he would challenge the allegations, but declined to take any questions. He was joined by his wife, Vanessa, and members of his legal team during his brief appearance.
Throngs of worshippers packed into the church auditorium early Sunday, with lines of vehicles backed up for half a mile along the streets. Church members said the turnout was unprecedented for the massive church.
The pastor, on the advice of his lawyers, had little to say until Sunday morning. However, during his service he said he has been advised by his legal team to only fight the allegations in court - "The only place I think I will get justice," he said.
The four men who brought lawsuits this week in DeKalb County, Georgia, State Court claim that Long took them on overnight trips to various locations within the United States and outside of the country, sharing a room and engaging in sexual contact with them, including massaging, masturbation or oral sex.
The lawsuit filed Friday by a Charlotte, North Carolina, man says Long uses church money and other accounts to entice young men with cars, clothing, jewelry and electronics.
Responding to Long's Sunday sermon, a spokeswoman for the attorney representing the four men in the lawsuits stressed that the pastor did not specifically deny the allegations detailed in the complaints. Wendy Guarisco
Long denied the allegations in a brief statement Thursday, stating, "Let me be clear: The charges against me and New Birth are false. I have devoted my life to helping others and these false allegations hurt me deeply, but my faith is strong and the truth will emerge."
Long's spokesman and church members had said it is appropriate he first speak in detail about the civil lawsuits with his church family.
"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," New Birth member Gary Foster, Jr., told CNN Saturday night.
He and two other young church members said Long is family-oriented, a mentor and a respected leader who has helped many families and individuals.
Gabrielle Richards, who has attended New Birth for nearly eight years, said she has seen no evidence that Long is a sexual predator.
A former New Birth employee said he hopes the allegations are not true,
"The information is certainly damaging," Kevin Bond said. "The evidence... all of that is very troubling to many of us in the gospel community, the Christian community."
A Facebook page in support of Long had more than 6,000 members Saturday night.
- CNN's Don Lemon, Ashley Fantz, Aaron Cooper and Susan Brown contributed to
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