(Photo: AP Images / John Amis)
To a large crowd of supporters, Bishop Eddie Long vowed Sunday to fight allegations that he coerced four young men into sexual relationships.
The Georgia preacher did not speak specifically to the claims made in the lawsuits filed last week, but he told his mega-congregation that he is under attack.
"I have never in my life portrayed myself as a perfect man. But I am not the man that's being portrayed on the television," he said to loud applause at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga. "That's not me. That is not me."
Four young men are suing the megachurch pastor, claiming that they were seduced by Long when they were teens (from 16 to 18 years of age).
"Defendant 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 a point of engaging in a sexual relationship," the suits allege.
One of the men, now 21, claims in his suit that Long took him on overnight trips to a half-dozen American cities in recent years.
"Long shared a bedroom and engaged in intimate sexual contact with plaintiff," the suit states before listing some of the activities.
Long's spokesman, Art Franklin, told CNN in response that the pastor "categorically and adamantly denies these allegations" and said the lawsuits are "a shakedown for money by men with some serious credibility issues."
In his first public appearance since the allegations, Long preached a sermon on Sunday titled "How to Handle Painful and Difficult Situations."
"The righteous face painful situations with a determined expectancy. We are not exempt from pain, but [God] promises to deliver us out of our pain," he said.
The 57-year-old pastor, who has preached against homosexuality, illustrated his particular situation using the biblical story of David versus Goliath.
"I got five rocks, and I haven't thrown one yet," he said to tens of thousands of supporters.
After the worship service, Long said he will not address the specific allegations because he wants to deal with the issue "in the court of justice and not by public opinion."
Long, who is married and has four children, grew to prominence when he built New Birth Missionary from a church of 150 in 1987 to over 8,000 members in less than five years and expanded his ministry through television. The church currently draws over 25,000 people and has seven satellite campuses.
In 2007, Long was among six televangelists under a Senate investigation – led by Sen. Charles Grassley – for alleged financial misconduct. The six ministers preach what critics call the “prosperity gospel,” a highly criticized theology that teaches wealth is a sign of God's blessing.
Long called the investigation unjust and an attack on religious freedom and privacy rights but vowed to still comply. The responses Long's ministry submitted to requests made by Grassley's office, however, were reportedly incomplete.