ITC Seniors 2006

Concerned students of the 2006 Senior Class of the Interdenominational Theological Center.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

We are concerned students of the 2006 Senior Class of the Interdenominational Theological Center.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Not all at seminary welcome bishop

John Blake - Staff
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Thursday, May 11, 2006

An Atlanta 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.

The ceremony at the Interdenominational Theological Center was billed in part as a homecoming for Long, senior pastor of Georgia's largest church and an ITC graduate. The school is a consortium of six predominantly black seminaries located near the Georgia Dome.
But 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. He declared in a 2005 interview that Jesus wasn't poor. In 2003 Long told a meeting of civil rights veterans in Atlanta that blacks must "forget racism" because they had already reached the promised land.

In 2004 Long led a march --- while carrying a torch lit at King's crypt --- where he called for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

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."

In a written statement, Long said he was a "firm supporter" of the seminary's mission and was honored by the invitation.

"Free speech, spirited debate and dialogue are the hallmarks of all great institutions of higher learning," Long said in the statement.

Michael Battle, ITC's president, said he was not embarrassed by Cone's decision.
"Jim's refusal to come does not detract from Bishop Long's ministry or message, and Jim's coming would not enhance his ministry or mission," Battle said.

Sandy Maclin a senior at ITC and a member of Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, supports Long's visit.

"Bishop Long is a servant leader," Maclin said. "He seems to be one willing to take risks and if taking risks allows him to be a beneficiary, we have to look at the masses who benefit as well."

Six-page letter

A group of ITC seniors, however, says Long's presence will detract from the school's mission.
In a six-page letter sent to Battle in March, 33 of 103 graduating seniors questioned Long's ethics, his remarks about women and black pastors and a 2003 sermon that Long gave at ITC that they said denigrated the value of seminary training.

The students also cited an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article that reported a charity that Long created to help the poor provided him with at least $3 million in salary, benefits and property.
They also said Long insulted pastors of small churches when, while defending his charity, he said: "You've got to put me on a different scale than the little black preacher sitting over there that's supposed to be just getting by because the people are suffering."

Brady Radford, president of the seminary's student government, said the average black church only has about 100 members or less. "To discredit the experience and pastoral leadership of those persons who pastor smaller churches is quite offensive," he said.

Students also cited Long's statement in a New Birth newsletter that women are more receptive to false teaching because of " their intuitive, emotional thinking."

Bishop John Hurst Adams, a former chairman of the ITC board, said he is boycotting because Long has substituted the pursuit of prosperity for the pursuit of justice.

ITC's graduating class submitted a list of candidates for commencement speaker last year, including Long's. Battle made the final call.

"The final decision in terms of authority to extend the invitation does come from the president's office, but it's not the president who determines the list," Battle said.

Adams said board members talked to students about the invitation but decided not to rescind it because "it would embarrass too many people to withdraw an invitation that had already been extended and accepted."

Support for Long

Several members of the ITC community support Long's appearance.

Robert Morris, a graduating senior, is one of them. He said he didn't know much about Long's ministry but he's willing to hear what Long says.

"If you believe that what one stands for is going to change and uproot what an institution stands for, then that's a shaky foundation in the first place," Morris said.

The Rev. Connie Jackson, an ITC graduate, also said Long should be given a chance to speak at commencement. Cone's decision to boycott "is a slap in the face" of all that ITC stands for.
"There have been speakers in the past and there are some professors at ITC that do not espouse everything that ITC stands for, but have we tried to run them out?" said Jackson, an associate minister at Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur.

Cone said he was willing to talk with Long in a public setting about the issues dividing them, but a commencement "is not a context for theological debate."

"If there were an opportunity to dialogue with Bishop Long," Cone said, "I would appear wherever he wanted."

The commencement is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the King International Chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta.


Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for holding up the "blood stained banner" Brothers & Sisters.

11:09 AM  

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