The mood at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church this morning was one of cheer and elation as thousands of parishioners gathered to show their devoted support to their bishop, Eddie Long.
Long, currently embroiled in scandal after four young men filed lawsuits against him last week alleging he used his power as their spiritual leader to coerce them into sexual relationships, told the some 8,000 gathered for the 8 a.m. service that he was like David fighting Goliath.
"I feel like David against Goliath, but I got five rocks and I haven’t thrown one yet,” he said after a brief sermon and then walked off the dais. Congregants cheered and stood and applauded Long.
Eddie Long enjoys overwhelming support from his congregation
A press conference was held after the service at about 10 a.m. It was believed Long would take questions at the press conference, but his attorney said before Long addressed reporters no questions would be allowed.
“As advice from counsel I’m not going to address the allegations and the attacks,” he said. He said he didn’t want his case tried in the court of public opinion but rather in the court of justice.
“I will say I will fight, fight very vigorously these charges. I’ve been at this church 23 years and this is the first time I’m realizing how important we are to get this much attention.”
He then said he and the church would continue its missionary work in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.
He said he’s always worked with youth as well and will continue to do so and his church will continue to do what it has been doing.
Long was flanked by his wife and other supporters, including a young man wearing a t-shirt that read, “I Support Bishop Long.”
When he finished speaking, several reporters shouted questions, including, “Are you innocent?” but Long ignored them and he and his entourage just walked off the stage.
Strong support shown by congregants
People began arriving at the church before 6 a.m. and stood outside the front doors of the church waiting to enter at about 7 a.m. A small prayer circle of about 10 people formed to pray for Long. One woman in the circle said they should pray for Long, his family, his grandchildren and even those who have brought the allegations against him.
Numerous ushers wearing white gloves and black suits with the New Birth emblem guided people to seats once the doors were opened. For more than an hour, more than a hundred of mostly men gathered in a group at the front of the church praying and applauding loudly.
When Long finally came out at 9 a.m. with his wife, he was greeted by a thunderous standing ovation of thousands.
He took in the applause for several minutes and when he finally spoke he tried to make light of the situation by greeting members as well as the “rest” of the people who were in attendance. And because the service was televised, he also said he wanted to “greet the world.”
Long said his first responsibility was to his family during the most difficult time in his life. His next responsibility was to his other family of New Birth.
“You don’t have to tell us anything,” one person shouted, bringing a grin to Long’s face.
After the service, several church members refused interviews with the media.
One young man, Joshua Buggs, 25, of Lithonia, was filling up his car with gas at the Citgo down the street from the megachurch.
He said he’s attended New Birth on and off since he was 17 but specifically avoided attending today’s services because of the crowd.
“This is not a regular Sunday at New Birth, this is more so like a New Year Sunday,” he said as traffic trickled past the gas station.
He said he does not believe the allegations against his bishop because one of the accusers, Maurice Robinson, was arrested in June for robbing Long’s office and charged with stealing the pastor’s iPad and jewelry and other items.
“I felt like they were faulty because one of [the accusers] already has pending crimes on him. I feel like he was trying to find something to take attention off him but really drew more attention on himself. Now they really are going to look into you. Not only did you do a burglary, you lied and you made a big ordeal,” he said.
Buggs, who said he has not been personally mentored by Long, said he believes how Long has handled the situation – by not saying much to the public and then coming to church on Sunday and addressing the allegations – is the way he should handle it.
“You never need that much attention. He’s a big pastor. He did the right thing, come to church on Sunday, spoke [his] peace and let God handle the rest of it,” he said.
Even if the allegations are true, Buggs said he hopes the church’s members will continue to support Long.