*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.
*The divorce case between Georgia megachurch pastor Eddie Long and wife Vanessa Long has been closed and dismissed, according to the DeKalb County Online Judicial System.
However, there remains a possibility the case could continue in the future, says The Christian Post.
According to the online judicial system record, there are three new entries as of Feb. 13 related to the Longs’ divorce case with the descriptions “dismissal,” “certificate of service” and “dismissed without prejudice” noted.
“Dismissed without prejudice” means the case may be re-instituted or re-filed in the future. According to the Judicial Branch of Georgia website, “A dismissal without prejudice does not stop the plaintiff from re-filing the claim and proceeding as long as the claim is made timely (within the statute of limitations) and service can be secured.”
*By now King … er, uh, Bishop Eddie Long is used to apologies and looking dumb to the public.
He apologized to the Jewish community after being crowed king by Rabbi Ralph Messer at last Sunday’s service, as we reported.
“The ceremony was not my suggestion, nor was it my intent, to participate in any ritual that is offensive in any manner to the Jewish community,” Long wrote in a letter sent to Bill Nigut, Southeast Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Footage of the ceremony went up on YouTube and caught the eye of thousands of viewers who have had quite a mix of commentary.
But the ADL was quite appalled by the pageantry and the wrapping of Long in a Torah scroll while being carried on a throne.
Nigut commented that so-called rabbis like Messer are folk to keep a watchful eye of.
But Messer believes all has been misunderstood (like most things Long does).
“It 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,” he said.
And to avoid burning any more bridges, Long denounced his kingship.
“I denounce any action that depicts me as a king, for I am merely just a servant of the Lord.”
*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.
*After striking fear in the hearts of parents by closing the private educational institute, Eddie Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church announced that it reopened the congregation’s school.
New Birth’s announcement in late December that the school would close after 18 years sent hundreds of students scrambling to find a new school, reports the Atlanta Constitution Journal. The church said then it would have to close the school due to the sluggish economy and low enrollment.
New Birth spokesman Art Franklin confirmed to Channel 2 that it was announced at Sunday’s worship services that the academy will reopen through a cooperative agreement with Aurora Day School. Franklin declined to release details on what role Aurora Day School will play in New Birth Academy operations, saying the details would likely be released during a news conference later this week. Aurora has campuses in Tucker and Roswell.