Sex allegations against Bishop Eddie Long roil black church community

Addressing his congregation, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church senior pastor Bishop Eddie Long vows to fight sexual abuse charges.
By Nia-Malika Henderson and Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 26, 2010; 12:45 PM

LITHONIA, Ga. -- Bishop Eddie L. Long said he is determined to hold on to the religious empire he built just outside Atlanta and would fight four lawsuits alleging he used his position to coerce young male members of his flock into sex acts.

Sunday morning Long took to the pulpit of his sprawling mega-church and addressed his 25,000-member congregation defiantly and confidently.

"Please hear this: I have been accused. I'm under attack. I want you to know that I am not a perfect man but this thing I'm gon' fight," Long said. "I feel like David against Goliath but I've got five rocks and I haven't thrown one yet."

When he finished, the sanctuary roared with applause as Long dropped the microphone, took his wife Vanessa's hand and left the stage.

Support for the bishop, one of the most influential religious leaders in the nation's black community, was thick in the church, with people lining up at the doors of New Birth at two hours before the start of service. Some wore t-shirts with one of the mottos of the church, "Love like him. Live like him. Lead like him." Others stood in prayer circles, clutching Bibles and singing the hymn, "Wash Me White as Snow."

Long did not address the accusations directly against him on the counsel of his lawyers. But he did say: "I have never in my life portrayed myself as a perfect man but I am not the man that is being portrayed on the television. That's not me. That is not me."

Some people in the church cried even before Long took the stage and gave his statement and a brief sermon on facing painful situations.

Long, a married man with four children, told the crowd that his lawyers had advised him not to "try this case in the media." While the remarks were short on details of the legal case, Bishop spoke at length about enduring painful situations.

"We are all subject to face distasteful and painful situations. Bishop Long, Eddie Long - you can put your name in that blank - will have some bad situations," he said. "The righteous face painful situations with a determined expectancy. We are not exempt from pain, but He promises to deliver us out of our pain."

CNN had cameras inside the church capturing the exuberant worship service, which is also broadcast to dozens of countries via Christian broadcast networks. A minister led the parishioners in a prayer. "Today is about nothing else but your glory. We're not here to speculate," he said. "We want to see your glory fill this place."

After the sermon, Long declined to take questions from a few dozen journalists gathered in a small chapel on the massive church compound and read a brief statement echoing his words to the congregation.

Members were closing ranks around Long. "The devil always tries to attack the Kingdom, but we know that victory is ahead," said Ian Waite, a six-year church member. "We will fight it on our knees with prayer and fasting. He's not a perfect man, but God will fight on his behalf.

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