Baptist televangelist Eddie Long says he'll fight allegations that he coerced young males in his congregation into having sex.
LITHONIA, GEORGIA, UNITED STATES (SEPTEMBER 26, 2010) NBC - Prominent U.S. evangelical leader Bishop Eddie Long vowed on Sunday (September 26) to fight accusations he coerced four young male men at his mega-church into sexual relationships.
In his first public comments since the scandal broke, Long did not categorically deny allegations by the men, who filed civil lawsuits saying he used his status as pastor to coerce them into relationships when they were in their late teens.
"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 the congregation of around 6,500 at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.
Long said he was "under attack," urged his church to pray for him and said he would not let the case be tried in the media. Church members gave him a standing ovation.
Long built his church from just 300 members in 1987 to more than 25,000 today, giving him a position of national prominence, especially among evangelicals who preach that God intends to shower Christians with material blessings.
The church runs a global network of ministries and businesses. It hosted then President George W. Bush and other former presidents in 2006 for the funeral of civil rights leader Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King.
Plaintiffs Anthony Flagg, 21, Maurice Robinson, 20, and Jamal Parris, 23, filed lawsuits on Tuesday in DeKalb County, Georgia seeking unspecified damages.
"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," the lawsuits say.
Spencer LeGrande, 22, filed a suit on Friday alleging Long gave him a sleep aid, kissed and touched him inappropriately during a trip to Kenya in 2005 and on other trips and the two engaged in "intimate sexual contact" over a period of years.
The suit was filed in Huntsville, North Carolina, where New Birth has a satellite church.
"Long, through manipulation, coercion, deception and fraud ... convinced plaintiff LeGrande that engaging in a sexual relationship was a healthy component of his spiritual life," the lawsuit said.
Through a spokesman, Long last week "adamantly denied" the allegations.
The congregation greeted Long's comments with frequent standing ovations, though there was scattered heckling when he delivered broadly similar remarks at a second morning service.
The church is located on Bishop Eddie Long Parkway in Lithonia and Long is its dominant personality. He wore an off-white one-button jacket on Sunday with the church's emblem. His wife Vanessa Griffin Long stood by his side.
Other prominent Protestant pastors who have been ensnared in sex scandals include Ted Haggard, the politically influential head of a Colorado mega-church until he was felled in 2006 by allegations of an affair with a male prostitute.
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