With 25,000 members, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church is used to crowds. But with the scandal surrounding its leader, Bishop Eddie Long, even the megachurch saw more people than it had in a long time.
Ray Dawson, a member of the church, said, "I just updated my Facebook status that I have never seen this many people here at 8 a.m. service. This is like New Year's Eve service."
Traffic was bumper to bumper for both the 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. services to hear Long address allegations that he used his position in the church to have sexual relationships with young men in the congregation. Many longtime members felt the unfamiliar faces were at the church to hear gossip and not the sermon.
"Some are here to hear the truth and some are here to gossip. You have all kinds of spectators because you have people in the world that feed off of negativity," said church member Tracy Givens.
Some members were in traffic for so long they turned around and went home. "People who probably haven't been in the church for over 30 years are showing up today," said Randy McClain. "I'm a first service recipient and we have never encountered this kind of traffic. We missed out this morning on the Word. We are leaving because the service is over, I'm sure. We will have to catch it on TV."
Some drivers speculated about what they expected to hear when and if they made it inside the church.
"He is not going to step down. I'm not even contemplating that," said Jay Sheerwood, a New Birth member. "I do expect him to say that he was targeted and he has been targeted with other issues in the past and has never been convicted of nothing."
Those who made it into the service witnessed Bishop Long leading his sermon from his iPad, quoting scripture and preaching. Sermons for both services lasted about 20 minutes. The crowd supported him with several standing ovations and at the end of the sermon, Long spoke indirectly about the allegations contained in four lawsuits filed against him.
"I've been accused, I'm under attack," said Long.
Not everyone in the church was as supportive as others. One man shouted, "Man we don't wanna hear that, we wanna hear the truth." Police officers escorted him out of the service.
Still, when Long delivered his last line, it was clear he had many of his supporters still backing him.
"I want you to know, as I said earlier, that I am not a perfect man. But this thing, I'm going to fight," he said. "I feel like David against Goliath, but I've got five rocks and I haven't thrown one yet." The crowd exploded with cheers as he tossed the microphone down and walked off stage.
After the service, many supporters were satisfied with Long's sermon and some even took out homemade signs in support of him. Others were left wanting more.
"It sounded very commercial, animated, routine, rehearsed," said one attendee. "I felt like I was at a concert with robots and zombies around me. I visit this church often and I think he can preach. He is a good preacher and I like his message, but I expected him to say more. He said a lot to say nothing, but I understand when you have civil matters going on you can't talk about it in public. But I felt like he owed his church members more."
Another churchgoer said, "He was up there for every bit of seven minutes. He didn't say nay and he didn't say yay. He said he was a man that was being attacked." When asked if he would come back to New Birth Church ever again the attendee said, "No. Absolutely not."
Although some say they are leaving the church, others say they are not going anywhere, even if Long is convicted of any wrongdoing.
"The Bible and God said let those who are without sin cast the first stone," said Valerie Canard. "I don't judge a man....he is a man and God called him. I got his back. He got my support 100 percent."
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