Jewish leaders offended by Ga. preacher's ceremony

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By GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Jewish leaders are criticizing a ceremony that involved a controversial megachurch leader being wrapped in a religious scroll and exalted as a "king" to the applause of his parishioners.

The video from a service last Sunday at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church shows Rabbi Ralph Messer, a Messianic preacher, instructing two men to slowly wrap Bishop Eddie Long in a large scroll that's purported to be the Torah.

"It doesn't matter where you go, how you try to attack him. He's sealed," Messer proclaims, before the scroll is opened to reveal a teary-eyed Long. Moments later, Long was seated in a plush chair, covered in a prayer shawl while holding the sacred scroll and lifted by four men.

"He now is raised up from a commoner to a kingship," Messer proclaims, as the men walk Long's seat around an adoring crowd.

Messianic Jews believe that Jesus Christ, or Yeshua, is the Messiah, putting them at odds with traditional Jewish theology. Most Jews consider the faith to be a form of evangelical Christianity.

Rabbi David Shiff of Congregation Beth Hallel, a Messianic Jewish synagogue in Roswell, condemned the actions in the video.

"Ralph Messer in no way represents Messianic Judaism," Shiff said. "He is not affiliated with any legitimate branch of Messianic Judaism. His actions in no way reflect the position of Messianic Judaism. I found the presentation to be repulsive and inappropriate."

The Torah is one of Judaism's most sacred objects and Jewish groups said the notion that it was used in a ceremony at the church was offensive.

"The notion that he wraps Bishop Long in a Torah is horrifying simply because it's completely inappropriate. It's an awful way to use the Torah," said Bill Nigut of the Anti-Defamation League. "And it doesn't in any way approximate any Jewish ritual."

Long was accused of sexual misconduct in September 2010 by four male former church members who accused him of abusing his spiritual authority. He settled out of court in May for an undisclosed amount.

He took a leave of absence last year to deal with his divorce and other personal issues, but returned to the pulpit in January.

The video, which was recorded Sunday, shows Long sitting on a chair under a spotlight as Messer repeatedly chants, "It's a new birth." The camera pans to congregation members, who cheer.

Long's church, which is in Lithonia east of Atlanta, issued a statement from Messer saying that the ceremony was based on a passage from the Old Testament on restoring the Kingdom of David.

"My message was about restoring a man and to encourage his walk in the Lord," Messer said in the statement. "The presentation of the Scroll of Torah was simply a way of bringing honor to a man who had given his life to the Lord and had given so much to his church, the Atlanta metro area and throughout the world.

"It was not to make Bishop Eddie L. Long a king."

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