The story of embattled megachurch pastor Eddie Long is growing ever stranger.
In a service last Sunday at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, in Atlanta, Georgia, a visiting speaker declared Long ‘king.’
‘Rabbi’ Ralph Messer told the enthusiastic congregation, “He’s a king. God’s blessed him. He’s a humble man. But in him is kingship. In him is royalty. In him was a land of Israel. In him was a k chromosome…he was brought through the slaves, raised up in a city and God now wants to release a new anointing.”
Long was then wrapped in Torah scrolls — which Messer claimed were found at Auschwitz and Birkenau — raised aloft by four men, and paraded about the stage.
Anthea Butler, associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in her column at Religion Dispatches
I spoke with the Rev Dr. Wil Gafney, Hebrew Bible Professor at Lutheran Seminary about the video, and she responded that Long’s “rabbi” Messner is not a member of any traditional Jewish movement, he did not represent any recognizable Jewish thought or practice in his misrepresentations of the Torah. Moreover, she remarked, “it is unfortunate that the speaker chose to plunder the sacred traditions of Judaism as he invented novel interpretations of biblical texts and imagery to affirm and elevate a leader who had admittedly broken the sacred trust between pastor and congregant.”
He returned to the pulpit on January 15 and declared ““2012 is here! Shake off the remorse, shake off the depression, shake off the financial burden, start using your hands again and reconstructing! God is more about your future than he was about your past.””
In September 2010 Long was sued by former New Birth members Anthony Flagg, Spencer LeGrande, Jamal Parris and Maurice Robinson, who alleged the preacher used his influence, trips, gifts and jobs to coerce them into sexual relationships.
The lawsuits were settled last May after months of mediation.
Updated Feb. 3, 2011:
The Atlanta newspaper reported that the church issued a statement quoting Messer as saying his intent had been misunderstood. “My message was about restoring a man and to encourage his walk in the Lord,” Messer is quoted as saying. “It was not to make Bishop Eddie L. Long a king.”
In what is likely to strike many readers as the understatement of the story, one local rabbi was quoted as saying: “As a Jew, I find that use of symbols very off-putting.”