Feb 6, 2012

 Bishop Eddie Long has apologized for last Sunday's service at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church that drew the ire of Jewish groups and religious scholars.

"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 Saturday to Bill Nigut, Southeast Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Footage of the service, viewed by nearly 600,000 people on YouTube, showed Long being wrapped in a sacred Torah scroll and carried upon a throne.

"He's a king. God has blessed him," said Colorado 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.

In his letter to the Anti-Defamation League, Long "[denounced] any action that depicts me as a king, for I am merely just a servant of the  Lord."

Nigut, who said he was "horrified" by the service, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday he appreciated the bishop's apology.

"For the ADL it's a real wake-up call that a lot of people do not understand our liturgies and practices," Nigut said. "Guys like Messer are troubling to us because they appropriate real ritual or, in this case, make one up."

Jamal-Dominique Hopkins, associate professor of Biblical studies at Interdenominational Theological Center, said the ceremony was "something I’ve never seen or read within the Judeo-Christian tradition."

Messer, who has no formal rabbinical training, is active in the Messianic Judaism movement, which fuses evangelical Christian beliefs with elements of Jewish tradition.

On Sunday the New Birth service was played in its entirety for Messer's congregation at Simchat Torah Beit Midrash in Parker, Colorado.

"You'd be incredibly, incredibly proud of your rabbi," said Nicole Martin, a pastor at Simchat. "I'm so excited about what happened [at New Birth]. The spirit was so thick, so tangible."

Messer's sermon makes reference to recent troubles that have beset Long, sued in Sept. 2010 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.

"God wants to get your focus," said Messer, adding "crisis produces opportunity."

"You have to go through a descent before an ascent," he said.

In a statement released by New Birth on Thursday Messer contended his message "was about restoring a man and to encourage his walk in the Lord. It was not to make Bishop Eddie L. Long a king," he said.


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