The Rev. Creflo Dollar Jr. took to the pulpit of his south Fulton County megachurch Sunday to proclaim his innocence of charges that he choked and beat his 15-year-old daughter.
And those in the congregation say they believe him.
"He did not commit the crime," former World Changers Church International member Naomi Lyles told Channel 2 Action News.
Thousands of congregants at World Changers Church International gave Dollar a standing ovation -- and remained standing as he talked for 10 minutes about his arrest and the events preceding it. Dollar had not spoken in public since his arrest early Friday.
"I want you to hear it personally from me: All is well in the Dollar household," he said. "A family conversation with our youngest daughter got emotional. Things escalated from there."
But he said: "She was not choked. She was not punched." What a police report described as scratches on her neck were remnants of a long-ago case of eczema, he said.
"Anything else is exaggeration and sensationalism."
Lyles said she thought he was sincere.
"It was what I thought it was," she said. "It was blown out of proportion, and I believe his word."
A church member, Alton Stephens, said he could identify with Dollar's plight.
"I've raised children of my own, and being a parent is not easy," Stephens said. "I'm 100 percent behind my pastor. He's human."
Fayette County Sheriff’s deputies arrested the 50-year-old minister on simple battery charges after initial reports from the teen, his youngest child, and from his 19-year-old, Alexandria Dollar.
According to an incident report, Alexandria Dollar told deputies the pastor choked her little sister for about five seconds with both his hands before grabbing the younger teen by the shoulders, slapping her, then throwing her to the ground.
Alexandria subsequently reversed her statement to sheriff’s deputies later Friday, authorities said.
The father of five said that parenting can become heated at times.
“Like all of us who are parents, there are times when discipline and training our children can become very intense,” Dollar said. “I would never approach one of my children to intentionally inflict bodily harm. I love her with all my heart.”
Saying he "respects the law," Dollar nonetheless described himself as "angry" over how police handled the case.
"I want to say this very emphatically: I should have never been arrested," Dollar said. When details of the episode come to light, he added, "you will be appalled."
A spokesman for the Fayette County Sheriff's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.
Whether any of Dollar's children attended Sunday's service was not known. The only other member of the household who spoke publicly was the pastor's wife, Taffi, who did not directly address her husband's arrest.
The story went viral Saturday, with national networks reporting the arrest. But in his remarks Sunday, Dollar suggested the extra media attention was the result of plans to silence his message of grace and forgiveness.
“The devil knows that in order to discredit the message, you have to first of all discredit the messenger,” Dollar told his congregation.
Lyles, the former World Changers member, said she agreed with Dollar.
"You just can't imagine the lies people explore trying to bring somebody down," she said.
Still, Lyles admitted that she attended the church Sunday out of curiosity.
"I was compelled to come today just to see exactly what happened and why it happened," she said.
Dollar closed by quoting a passage Psalms 35th Chapter:
“Malicious witnesses testify against me,” he said, reading the verses. “They accuse me of crimes I know nothing about … May those who rejoice in my discomfort be humiliated and disgraced.”
"That," he said, "is all I have to say about that."
Later, though, during his sermon, Dollar did manage to joke about his arrest and the 12 hours he spent in jail.
Known as a sharp dresser, and wearing an elegantly tailored dark pinstriped suit on Sunday, he described the yellow jumpsuit and the flip-flops he had to wear as a prisoner. "It's all right to laugh," he told churchgoers.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.