Sunday, August 28, 2005

How Bishop Long serves himself instead of Jesus

The Atlanta Journal Constitution presents a disturbing report on megachurch leader Bishop Eddie Long's financial shenanigans in Sunday's paper. This will likely tick off numerous members, but how can anyone who reads the gospels say Long is following Jesus?

Here are just a few highlights:

The charity, Bishop Eddie Long Ministries Inc., provided him with at least $3.07 million in salary, benefits and the use of property between 1997 and 2000 — nearly as much as it gave to all other recipients combined during those years, tax records show.

It is one of at least 20 nonprofit and for-profit corporations that Long founded after becoming pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in 1987. Long's businesses include a music publishing company and a transportation service.

The charity's compensation to Long over that four-year period included:

• A $1.4 million six-bedroom, nine-bath home on 20 acres in Lithonia.

• Use of a $350,000 luxury Bentley automobile.

• More than $1 million in salary, including $494,000 in 2000.

Long, 52, defended his compensation during an interview about his charity. He's transformed New Birth, based in Lithonia, from a 300-member church to a 25,000-member megachurch with a global presence, according to the church's Web site.

"We're not just a church, we're an international corporation," Long said. "We're not just a bumbling bunch of preachers who can't talk and all we're doing is baptizing babies. I deal with the White House. I deal with Tony Blair. I deal with presidents around this world. I pastor a multimillion-dollar congregation.

"You've got to put me on a different scale than the little black preacher sitting over there that's supposed to be just getting by because the people are suffering."

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of a Senate committee investigating lavish salaries of nonprofit executives, said leaders of tax-exempt organizations must be responsible for the public trust they've been given.

"I'm worried that a few people are confusing the ringing of a church bell with the ringing of a cash register," Grassley said in a statement in response to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's inquiries about the charity. "When I hear about leaders of charities being provided a $300,000 Bentley to drive around in, my fear is that it's the taxpayers who subsidize this charity who are really being taken for a ride."

Long said a church board oversaw his charity's decisions to compensate him.

"It's not like I wake up and say, 'I think I want a Bentley,' " he said.

In the past, however, Long has claimed he was the final decision-maker at New Birth. In a 1999 interview, he told the Journal-Constitution how he became the unquestioned leader at his church. After presiding over New Birth's explosive growth, he said he told his congregation that a biblical leader shouldn't have to answer to a board. Long said the board relinquished its authority over him with his congregation's approval.

In his book "Taking Over," Long described the event in more detail. He wrote that after seven years at New Birth, he was frustrated by its deacon board because it was "gripping the purse strings" of the church and "telling the man of God when to jump and how high." He said he received a revelation from God, who encouraged him to get rid of the "ungodly governmental structure" at New Birth.

"That was the day I became pastor," Long wrote. "Up until that time, I was the hired preacher . ... "


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