New Birth Missionary Church was filled to capacity in the first Sunday services since accusations of sexual misconduct by Bishop Eddie Long involving former members of the church were filed in a court of law.
Many followers seemed to remain unwavering in their support as their pastor vowed to fight like David versus Goliath against claims he lured four young men into sex.
Long went before congregants who packed his 10,000-seat church Sunday and promised to battle claims in lawsuits filed last week that he abused his "spiritual authority."
Three members of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta and a fourth from a North Carolina branch filed lawsuits last week alleging Long used his standing and gifts including cash, cars and travel to coerce them into sexual relations when they were 17 or 18 years old.
"I feel like David against Goliath. But I got five rocks, and I haven't thrown one yet," Long said Sunday in his first public remarks since the lawsuits were filed. He stopped short of denying the allegations but implied he was wronged by them.
"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. That's not me. That is not me," he said.
The sanctuary was nearly filled to its 10,000-seat capacity for both the 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. services. Many lined up hours before the doors of the church opened.
During the second service, however, one young man in a blue shirt stood up and shouted: "We want to know the truth, man!" He was quickly escorted out and did not return.
Long became one of the country's most powerful independent church leaders over the last 20 years, turning a congregation of 150 into a 25,000-member powerhouse with a $50 million cathedral and a roster of parishioners that includes athletes, entertainers and politicians.
Long, a father of four, has been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage and whose church has counseled gay members to become straight.
Two of the men who filed lawsuits say Long groomed them for sexual relationships when they were enrolled in the church's LongFellows Youth Academy, a program that taught teens about sexual and financial discipline. Two other young men - one of whom attended a satellite church in Charlotte, N.C. - made similar claims.
The men say they were 17 or 18 when the relationships began. Federal and state authorities have declined to investigate because Georgia's age of consent is 16.
"I've been accused. I'm under attack. I want you to know, as I said earlier, I am not a perfect man," Long said. "But this thing, I'm going to fight."
Long did not address the allegations directly but spoke at length about enduring painful times.
Long addressed the media briefly during a news conference between services, but media access to the services themselves was tightly controlled. Reporters were required to check in with church officials and were led to a separate part of the church to view the service.
After Long's remarks during the 8 a.m. service, an Associated Press reporter was escorted out of the sanctuary by church officials who said the press were not allowed in the sanctuary during worship.
Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.