'I'm under attack,' Georgia bishop tells congregation
LITHONIA, GA . - Determined to hold on to the mega-church he built just outside Atlanta, Bishop Eddie L. Long vowed to "vigorously" defend himself against four lawsuits alleging that he used his position to coerce young male members of his flock into sex acts.
Long, an important national figure in African American church circles, took to the pulpit of his sprawling New Birth Missionary Baptist Church Sunday morning and addressed his 25,000-member congregation with defiance and confidence.
"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," said Long, who also preached a short sermon on surviving painful times.
"I feel like David against Goliath, but I've got five rocks, and I haven't thrown one yet," the bishop said to roaring applause as he dropped his microphone on the pulpit with a thud, took his wife Vanessa's hand and left the stage.
The lawyer for the plaintiffs has also referred to the biblical figures of David and Goliath, but the lawsuits describe Long, 57, as a towering Goliath who manipulated four young men from his church. According to those lawsuits, Long enticed members of the church's male mentorship program into homosexual acts with jewelry, cars, trips and access to celebrities.
B.J. Bernstein, attorney for the four plaintiffs, declined to comment on Long's decision to remain head of the church, which sits on a 240-acre campus and has satellite churches in other cities.
Long never directly said he is innocent, but he made clear that he would not leave New Birth, and church leaders vowed to stick by him. "We stand behind our pastor. And there is a period behind that," church elder Darius Wise said.
At Sunday church services around the country, many people had an opinion about Long's decision to remain in the pulpit and about the uncertain future that he faces.
The Rev. Graylan Hagler, pastor of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in the District, which helped support the passage of same-sex marriage in the city, said Long's high profile and opposition to gay rights has made the scrutiny he faces more intense. "All of us have clay feet," Hagler said. "Sometimes it is just best to be humble."
Bishop Harry Jackson, who leads Hope Christian Church in Beltsville and is at the forefront of the black church community's movement against same-sex marriage, defended Long, whom Jackson featured in one of his books about a new generation of culturally conservative black pastors.
"I know Eddie Long personally," Jackson said. The media "have attempted to paint him as a major leader in the anti-gay-marriage movement, which is not the case. The bigger drama which is going on is [that] this case is being used by CNN and others to attempt to cast aspersions on the black church as an institution."
Long has been a lightning rod before. Generally, he is greatly admired or resented.