*Atlanta megachurch pastor Bishop Eddie Long is facing a lawsuit from former parishioners who say he encouraged them to invest in a company that was operating an alleged Ponzi scheme.
A dozen former members of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., filed suit in DeKalb County court in late January. The suit says that Long’s assistant had been warned that businessman Ephren W. Taylor was running a $3 million capital deficit, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
After Long introduced the businessman as his “friend,” the former New Birth members lost more than $1 million investing with the self-described “social capitalist.”
“If Bishop Eddie Long hadn’t endorsed this they wouldn’t have invested,” Jason Doss, attorney for the former members, told the Journal-Constitution.
Long’s church has urged Taylor to repay investors with interest.
“We remain hopeful that Ephren Taylor and companies related to him restore the funds that were taken from congregants at New Birth and churches around the county,” New Birth said in a statement. “We continue to cooperate as the case proceeds.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Taylor in 2012 with running a Ponzi scheme, and a civil case against him is pending. SEC officials said he promised to use investments for charity and to help economically challenged areas but instead diverted the funds he received after speaking to churches, including New Birth, to pay other investors and finance business and personal expenses.
“He preyed upon investors’ faith and their desire to help others, convincing them that they could earn healthy returns while also helping their communities,” said David Woodcock, director of the SEC’s Fort Worth Regional Office in Texas.
Long previously faced another suit from young men who accused him of using gifts and money to coerce them into sexual relationships. He settled those cases in May 2012.
*From actors to television icons, Bishop TD Jakes is admired by many.
And last Friday they converged on Dallas to help Jakes celebrate his 35th anniversary in ministry.
The event was held at the Winspear Opera House in Downtown Dallas. Among the clergy who graced the red carpet to honor Jakes were Bishop I.V. and First Lady Bridget Hilliard, Bishop Eddie and First Lady Vanessa Long and Pastor Paula White proving that Jakes is a pastor among pastors.
“Pound for pound, in the body of Christ, Jakes stands head and shoulders above us all. He represents us well and he pushes us to excellence, said Hilliard.
The list of actors in attendance who have either appeared in a Jakes film or shared the big screen with him were Loretta Devine, Megan Good, Mike Epps, Angela Bassett and Kimberly Elise. Even though Epps admitted his comedy can be R-rated, the comedian said Jakes has served as an inspiration to him.
“I have gone through phases in my life from the bottom up. If and when the time comes for me to be that type of (clean) comedian I think I will be that type of comedian.
“It’s ironic that we choose to have football, basektball and baseball coaches but we don’t choose to have spiritual coaches,” said NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, adding that “I don’t understand how we expect to overcome adversity without such.”
Sanders, who confirmed that he and celebrity Tracey Edmonds are a couple, attended the event as did Hall of Famer and former Dallas Cowboys teammate Emmitt Smith with his wife, Patricia.
Although actor Charles Dutton said just recently met Jakes, he admitted that he too is inspired by him. Dr. Bernice King said had her father, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., lived to know Jakes she believes they would have been friends.
BeBe Winans, Mary Mary, Karen Clark Sheard, singer KEM and jazz pianist Keiko Matsui also attended the gala. Television Mogul Oprah Winfrey was there too.
Despite the fanfare Jakes appeared to be humbled by all the attention. When asked about his growing popularity among everyone from parishioners to the mega wealthy he said:
“It was never my plan to be a success. I only hoped to share a message of love. I never had any other aspirations than trying to help people.”
Asked how his message has changed over the decades, Jakes responded:
“My message has not changed but my method changes everyday. We don’t have to change our message. Just be honest about what we think and feel and communicate that message. I’m glad I’m alive to participate in shaping a future that I will never see.”
Jakes said, “it’s overwhelming to see any type of affirmation or validation” about your work. Even though he’s not ready to retire, Jakes told us he hopes to spend more time on the beach in the coming years.
Angela Bassett gives T.D. Jakes a hug
Best buds Gayle King and Oprah Winfrey were there
Hollywood's celebrity celibate couple DeVon Franklin and Meagan Good were in the house!
Article author Steffanie Rivers & actor Charles S. Dutton on the red carpet
*The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke to Jewish leaders who are highly offended and speaking out against a ceremony held Sunday at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, in which Bishop Eddie Long was wrapped in a sacred Torah scroll and carried upon a throne.
“He’s a king. God has blessed him,” said Rabbi Ralph Messer before covering Long in a scroll “[that] may still have the dust of Auschwitz and Birkenau.” Messer referred to the Nazi extermination camps in Poland where millions of Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
A Torah’s use in a ceremony ordaining Long as “a king” is offensive to many Jews, said Bill Nigut, Southeast Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
The ceremony at Long’s Lithonia church, viewed more than 139,000 times on YouTube, “in no way represents any Jewish ritual that I’m familiar with,” Nigut tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We do not proclaim individuals to be kings.”
Messer said his parchment, a handwritten copy of the holiest book within Judaism, was 312 years old. His mention of Auschwitz-Birkenau implied the scroll was one of those recovered from the death camps when they were liberated by the Allies toward the end of World War II.
It’s impossible to authenticate Messer’s claim without examining the texts up close, said Rabbi Joshua Heller of Congregation B’nai Torah in Sandy Springs. While rare, Torahs can be easily purchased, even on eBay, he said.
“There are a fair number of Torah scrolls that survived the war,” said Heller, adding roughly 1,500 were rescued from Czechoslovakia alone.
More disturbing was the use of this particular Torah in an inappropriate setting, experts on religion say.
“The connection of the Torah scroll to the Holocaust and then to Eddie Long is incomprehensible to me,” said David P. Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University. Gushee is a scholar of the Holocaust and has visited Auschwitz several times.
“What was the point? Was it to signal that Eddie Long was suffering persecution like the Jews at Auschwitz?” Gushee asked.
Messer’s son, Minister Russell Messer of Simchat Torah Beit Midrash in Parker, Colo., said his father purchased the parchment and relied on the word of its seller regarding its provenance. “It came through that generation of Europe,” the younger Messer said.
Russell Messer said that in the next two days, his father — who has no formal rabbinical training — plans to post on his organization’s website the full video of his sermon along with additional comments regarding Sunday’s service.
When asked for comment about the event, New Birth emailed a statement Thursday in which Ralph Messer said critics misunderstood his intent.
“My message was about restoring a man and to encourage his walk in the Lord,” Messer said. “It was not to make Bishop Eddie L. Long a king.”
The YouTube video indicates otherwise, Heller told the AJC.
“We wouldn’t wrap a Jewish person in a Torah scroll and declare him king,” he said. “As a Jew, I find that use of symbols very off-putting.”
The messenger is as controversial as the message, Jewish leaders say.
Rabbi Ralph Messer
Ralph Messer, according to a biography on his organization’s website, is “pioneering a work to bring the ‘Good News’ of Yeshua (Jesus Christ) in the Torah to the ends of the Earth.” He is active in the Messianic Judaism movement, which fuses evangelical Christian beliefs with elements of Jewish tradition.
“The Jewish community does not associate itself with the Messianic congregations,” Heller said. “We don’t feel like this does due justice to either the Jewish or Christian community.”
Messer’s biography says he has ties with prominent evangelicals including the Rev. Kenneth Copeland of Lubbock, Texas, and Paula White, pastor of a charismatic mega-church based in Florida. It says he has made frequent appearances on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
In his statement Thursday, Ralph Messer said Sunday’s presentation “was simply a way of bringing honor to a man who had given his life to the Lord and had given so much to his church, the Atlanta metro area and throughout the world.”
“Lifting him on the chair was to acknowledge and honor him,” he said, adding it is consistent with rituals performed at Jewish weddings and Bar mitzvahs.
Russell Messer said that his father and Long “just got to know each other in the last six months.”
Long was appointed New Birth’s pastor in 1987 when the church had only 300 members. By its 10th anniversary, New Birth reported a membership of roughly 18,000, peaking at 25,000.
But in September 2010, Long was sued by four former church members who alleged he used his influence, trips, gifts and jobs to coerce them into sexual relationships. The suit was settled in May. The church’s attendance has declined since the sexual coercion lawsuit was filed.
The bishop may have taken comfort in Messer’s message.
“You can’t attack [Long],” Messer said Sunday. “He’s sealed. Wherever he turns, the power of God is there. … It’s not him, it’s the king in him.”
As Long sat behind him, perched on a throne under a spotlight, Messer chanted repeatedly, “It’s a new birth,” eliciting cheers from the congregation.
Mercer’s Gushee said the service may have been an attempt to shore up Long’s standing in his ministry.
“A lot of things could have been done to shore that up, but this particularly bizarre ritual was deeply disturbing,” Gushee said. “One problem with Messianic Judaism, in which leaders attempt to fuse Jewish and Christian traditions and symbols, is that it can easily stray into profound insensitivity.”
Jamal-Dominique Hopkins, associate professor of Biblical studies at Interdenominational Theological Center, said that on viewing the video, “My first impression was, ‘Who is this individual who has the authority to make Bishop Long a king?’
“It’s something I’ve never seen or read within the Judeo-Christian tradition,” Hopkins said. “There’s nothing within Scripture that supports such a practice of this ceremony. It really just stands outside of the Christian faith.”
*Bishop Eddie Long returned to the pulpit on Sunday in royal fashion.
For his Jan. 29th service at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, where he took a leave of absence late last year in the wake of child molestation allegations, Bishop Long featured a Rabbi, Ralph Messer, who spoke at length about why Long is a “king.”
Presenting what he claimed were 300-year-old sacred scrolls discovered some 70 years ago outside a concentration camp in Germany, Messer pronounced Eddie Long as king in “God’s government.”
To illustrate the point, Long’s aides lift him in his chair, which doubles as a throne, and carry him around the stage.
*A North Carolina businessman involved in an investment program at Bishop Eddie Long’s Atlanta-area megachurch where former members claim they lost their retirement savings says he’s taking action to “make things right.”
A group of church members is suing New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and its embattled pastor, saying they conspired with businessman Ephren Taylor Jr. to defraud the members through “wealth-building” seminars and sermons in 2009, reports the Associated Press.
“In my case and that of my former company, some of the negative effects of a situation with very complex economics impacted businesses, individuals and families despite our best intentions,” Taylor said in a statement to The AP.
Attorneys for the church members say in a DeKalb County lawsuit that Taylor urged them to liquidate their retirement accounts, and as a result some lost their life savings.
The U.S. Secret Service and the Internal Revenue Service are also investigating issues surrounding the seminars, which were hosted at the Lithonia-based church which claims 25,000 members, federal officials said.
“Don’t assume that I am just another greedy businessman,” Taylor said in the statement. “I am taking action to make things right.”
Taylor is also named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit filed this month in U.S. District Court in North Carolina.
In that case, lawyers say Taylor made a series of investment presentations for the “Prosperity Fund” at churches in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
In the summer of 2008, he spoke at the Democratic National Convention to a youth leaders’ summit on his “socially conscious” corporate investment strategy, according to the federal lawsuit.
“Taylor was fortunate to be riding the wave of popularity of young, black, successful men created by then U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama,” the lawsuit states.
New Birth spokesman Art Franklin previously declined to comment on the church’s role in the investments.