Thursday, May 11, 2006

Calling the bishop's bluff

Last year the Malcontent detailed, via the AJC, the extravagant lifestyle of Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of one of Atlanta's biggest megachurches. Long has received more than three million from his self-named charity, about as much as was given to those in need.

With that money, Long has purchased a $350,000 Bentley and a $1.4 million six-bedroom, nine-bath home, located on 20 acres in suburban Atlanta. And he rationalizes it through a prosperity message popular with many pastors.

"I would love to sit with you and walk with you through the Bible to show that Jesus wasn't poor," Long told an AJC reporter last August.

Fortunately not everyone's buying his bullshit.

An Atlanta's seminary's decision to invite Bishop Eddie Long to speak at its commencement has exposed rifts among black church leaders and threatens to disrupt the school's graduation Saturday.

Long's invitation has:

• Caused prominent theologian James H. Cone, who was scheduled to receive an honorary degree, to boycott the ceremony.

• Prompted 33 graduating seniors to send a letter to the seminary's president questioning Long's theological and ethical integrity to be their commencement speaker.

• Led a 29-year member of ITC's board of trustees to boycott the ceremony.

A walkout, protest signs or a boycott are possible Saturday, student leaders said this week. "We could see a little bit of everything," said senior Joanne K. Bedford, who signed the letter criticizing Long's selection.

The controversy revolves around three emotionally charged issues: the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the future of the black church, and — a deeper issue — how a Christian lives out his or her faith.

Long and Cone embody different answers.

Long preaches what is known as prosperity gospel, that God rewards the faithful with financial success. Cone is a King scholar whose influential books argue that Jesus identified with the poor and the oppressed, not the prosperous. A professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, he is considered the intellectual mentor for a generation of black pastors who came of age in the post-civil rights era.

He won't attend the commencement, he said, because he doesn't want to appear to condone Long's ministry.

"King devoted his life to the least of these," Cone said. "King could have been just like Bishop Long with all the millions he has, but he chose to die poor. He would not use his own message or his own movement to promote himself."

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