(CBS/AP) COLLEGE PARK, Ga. - Megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar denies punching and choking his 15-year-old daughter. On Sunday, he told his congregation the allegations made in a police report are nothing but "exaggeration and sensationalism."
"I will say this emphatically: I should have never been arrested," Dollar said Sunday in his first public appearance two days after police charged him with misdemeanor counts of simple battery and cruelty to children.
The pastor got an enthusiastic ovation from the packed church as he took the pulpit at the World Changers Church International in the Atlanta suburb of College Park. He addressed the criminal charges head-on for several minutes before moving on to his sermon.
"I want you all to hear personally from me that all is well in the Dollar household," Dollar said.
The 50-year-old Dollar is one of the nation's most prominent African-American preachers, with 30,000 members in the Atlanta area and a ministry of satellite churches across the U.S.
He was arrested after his 15-year-old daughter called 911 at about 1 a.m. Friday and told a Fayette County sheriff's deputy that she and her father argued when he said she couldn't go to a party. A police report says the girl told a deputy her father charged at her, put his hands around her throat, began to punch her and started hitting her with his shoe. The deputy also noted a scratch on her neck.
The report said the deputy also interviewed Dollar's 19-year-old daughter, who said her father grabbed her sister's shoulders and slapped her in the face and choked her for about five seconds. She said her sister tried to break free, but did not fight back, and her father allegedly threw the 15-year-old on the floor, the older girl ran to get her mother. Dollar's wife, Taffi, told the deputy she did not see the fight.
Dollar's congregation appeared supportive Sunday, giving him sustained applause as he took the stage. As he spoke, people in the sanctuary yelled encouragement: "We love you!" and "We've got your back!" As he talked about the difficulty dealing with teenage children in a "culture of disrespect," many in the crowd nodded in agreement.
Dollar, who has five children, is a native of College Park and says he received a vision for the church in 1986. He held the first service in front of eight people in an elementary school cafeteria. His ministry grew quickly and the church moved into its present location, an 8,500-seat sanctuary, on Dec. 24, 1995.
Dollar, like Bishop Eddie Long, has built successful ministries on the prosperity gospel, which teaches that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches. Ministers in this tradition often hold up their own wealth as evidence that the teaching works.
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