Controversial Bishop Entangled in Financial Schemes

February 3, 2011; Source: CNN Belief Blog | A reader of the Cohen Report article on Senator Charles Grassley's investigation of six televangelists' misuse of tax exempt contributions tipped us off to the latest news about Bishop Eddie Long, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Church in suburban Atlanta.

Already fighting four young men's charges of sexual coercion and doing his best at damage control in the wake of Grassley's revelations, Bishop Long is now battling Ephren Taylor of the City Capital Corporation, who apparently led a "wonderful" church-sponsored financial seminar and got church members to invest $1 million through the corporation.

Although Long preaches the Gospel of Prosperity, prosperity isn't what happened to the City Capital investments. Instead, they went “sour,” Long said. Long wants Taylor to show compassion to the church members and return them their money. Long addressed Taylor in a YouTube video, saying, "You're a great fellow. You're a great man. You do great things. Let's settle this so these families can move on."

This "great man" may not be all that great an investor and left his position as City Capital CEO last year, but doesn't appreciate Long's criticisms. He pointed out in a public statement that contrary to Long's contention that neither he nor the church got any "financial blessing or gift" from Taylor's seminar, Long's church "received a percentage of product sales" (Taylor's books and CDs) from the City Capital seminar and that he has personally been engaged in helping church members solve some of their investment problems.

It seems the investments weren't all 401(k)s. In Taylor's statement, he says "members of the church elected to partner with [City Capital] on community project opportunities that aid in creating jobs and stimulate local community-based projects." What kind of community projects? According to a local Fox TV investigative report, Taylor's "Wealth Tour Live" pitched investments in video sweepstakes machines, and the investment went sour when Taylor's company was "indicted for operating a gambling enterprise."

It doesn't appear that Taylor is blameless by a long shot, but he was brought in and sold to New Birth's parishioners by Bishop Long. Senator Grassley's report, now in the hands of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) for follow-up, focused on the televangelists' potential misuse of charitable funds. The Senator might want to question the use of tax-exempt churches for investment schemes like that of Taylor's and Long's, which increasingly sound like new versions of Bernie Madoff;s Ponzi schemes.—Rick Cohen