(Photo: New Birth Missionary Baptist Church via YouTube)
A Jewish group on Sunday accepted Bishop Eddie Long's written apology over a ceremony last month during which a rabbi from the Messianic Judaism movement crowned him a "king."
Bill Nigut from the Jewish Anti-Defamation League said he believed Long had sincerely apologized for the Jan. 29 ceremony at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., in which the senior pastor was wrapped in a sacred Torah scroll and his chair was lifted up by four men as Rabbi Ralph Messer from Colorado declared him a "king."
"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, or any group," Long wrote to Nigut Saturday. "Furthermore, I sincerely denounce any action that depicts me as a King, for I am merely just a servant of the Lord." Long said Rabbi Messer had "good intentions" but acknowledged that the ceremony "caused harm to the Jewish community, for which I am deeply sorry."
It was a "very heartfelt, sincere, humble apology," CNN quoted Nigut as saying. "I was very gratified by Bishop Long apparently recognizing what our concern was," he said, adding that the "fake ritual" was truly offensive.
A video of the ceremony, posted on YouTube, showed the rabbi shouting, "He is a king. God has blessed him. He's a humble man, but in him is kingship, royalty." Messer, who said he was performing the act on behalf of Jewish people and "the land of Israel," also claimed that the Torah was a 312-year-old scroll belonging to the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.
Nigut said the ceremony was a "real wake-up call" that many do not understand Jewish liturgies and practices. "Guys like Messer are troubling to us because they appropriate real ritual or, in this case, make one up," he said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The news portal also quoted Jamal-Dominique Hopkins, associate professor of Biblical studies at Interdenominational Theological Center, as saying that the ceremony was "something I've never seen or read within the Judeo-Christian tradition."
During the ceremony, Messer alluded to controversies surrounding Long. "God wants to get your focus … crisis produces opportunity … You have to go through a descent before an ascent."
In September 2010, four young men filed separate lawsuits against Long over allegations of sexual misconduct. The four, former members of the LongFellows Youth Academy, a group of teenage boys selected by Eddie Long for mentoring, charged that they were coerced into sexual acts in exchange for cash, cars, lodging and lavish trips.
The case was dismissed last May after both sides announced that a settlement had been reached out of court. A fifth young man, who was not a member of Long's church, also sued Long for similar allegations and also reportedly received settlement money.
Long made headlines again when his wife Vanessa filed for divorce in December. But just hours later the same day, she issued a statement saying that "upon prayerful reflection" she had reconsidered filing for divorce and had withdrawn the petition. Long took a brief leave of absence that month to focus on his family.
Long's megachurch claims to have 25,000 members. His Emmy-Award-winning broadcast, "Taking Authority," which airs on the Trinity Broadcast Network, reaches 172 countries and more than 270 million people.