A sermon that was supposed to have reassured the congregation of an Atlanta megachurch pastor accused of sex abuse has left some wondering if he said enough to defend himself.
"This is probably the most difficult time in my entire life," Bishop Eddie Long said during the service.
Long, the powerhouse leader of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, has been accused of sex abuse by four men, who claim in separate lawsuits that he lavished them with expensive gifts and trips and then forced them when they were teenagers into sexual relationships.
He had promised to answer the accusations on Sunday and it was one of his most well-attended services in years with some 8,000 parishioners coming to hear him speak, some of whom waited in traffic for hours.
Reverend Timothy McDonald III, the senior pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, has known Long for more than 20 years. He called reaction to his sermon "mixed."
"Of course we wanted to hear more, but we were just glad that the bishop took the opportunity to speak," McDonald told "Good Morning America" today. "I think he did a good job of combining the legal, the spiritual, the moral aspects of all that is going on."
Long has vehemently denied the men's claims in written statements released last week, but he didn't do so on Sunday.
"It will be tried in the court of justice, and dealt with in the court of justice," he said Sunday. "I feel like David, against Goliath, but I've got five rocks, and I haven't thrown one yet."
Though parishioners were seen applauding thunderously for Long during the service, others said they are losing some faith in their pastor.
"He wasn't genuine," one woman said as she left the church Sunday. "It was very heartbreaking."
And there may be more lawsuits on the way.
"We heard perhaps that there are even others coming," McDonald said. "But we don't know all the details. Everything is not as it seems."
McDonald said the accusations have implications that will eventually reach far beyond Long and the New Birth church in terms of how the country views the black church and the role of the mega church.
"Our prayer is that there will be wholeness at the end of the day," he said. "My prayer is that it doesn't go to trial."
Long's accusers -- Spencer LaGrande, Jamal Parris, Maurice Robinson and Anthony Flagg -- haven't spoken publicly since the lawsuits were filed over several days last week. One was arrested over the summer for breaking into Long's office. His lawyer said he was searching for more evidence.
LaGrande, 22, was the most recent man to file suit against Long and his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, claiming, like the other three alleged victims, that Long forced him into a sexual relationship while treating him to trips around the world, travel in private planes and stays in luxury hotels.
In a separate statement issued shortly after LaGrande's lawsuit was filed, Long denied the charges. Echoing his comments after the first two lawsuits, he said, "We believe that it is unfortunate the young men have chosen to take this course of action."
LaGrande's lawsuit alleges he met Long in March 2003 during the very first service at a branch Long's Georgia-based church that opened in a suburb of Charlotte, N.C.