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"Spiritual Amway" - Eddie Long's Authoritarian Financial Pyramid Scheme Spans Churches Across US

Millions of dollars in church and charity based income. A $350,000 Bentley. A $1.4 million dollar mansion. Even by the often lavish standards of high-profile megachurch pastors, Bishop Eddie Long's lifestyle has appeared extravagant. Where does all the money come from? The members of his 25,000 member New Birth church near Atlanta? In part, yes, but As Talk To Action contributor Rachel Tabachnick details, in a new two part series [part 1, part 2], Bishop Long is spiritually authority over the pastors of a sprawling network of 275 churches across America, in 38 states including Alaska, and these pastors are instructed to all tithe to a network under Eddie Long's control - The Father's House. American media treatment of religion is typically a mile wide and an inch deep, and coverage of Bishop Eddie Long's roiling sex scandal is no different. Stories about the allegations that Long coerced teen and young adult males at his church-based Longfellows Academy into having sex have gained national traction. Try a Google news story search on "Eddie Long" - 3,840 search results and climbing.

But add to that search an additional word, "tithe" and you'll get all of 6 search results. One might suppose all the cash sloshing around Eddie Long's church and bank accounts might generate even a little interest. Apparently not, and the media neglect is especially curious because of the widely recognized truism that sex, money, and power tend to flow together.

As Tabachnick suggests, Bishop Eddie Long represents a gathering trend in American evangelicalism - the anti-democratic concentration of authority under fast rising church networks under the authoritarian control of self-made "apostles" :

Bishop Eddie Long may or may not be guilty of the charges of abusing his authority and having sexual relationships with four young men.  However, the current Dominionist trend results in congregations where members are supposed to submit to the almost absolute authority of their anointed leaders, a change that removes the congregation as a balance or check to the power of the pastor.  Long claims spiritual authority over more than his New Birth mega-church in Lithonia, Georgia.  He is the 'apostolic authority' over churches in The Father's House  network, including 79 churches in Georgia alone.  Many evangelical churches are shifting away from their traditional democratically governed structures.  A model for making the transition was the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, formerly led by Ted Haggard (who defended Long in broadcasts over the weekend).  Haggard wrote his 1998 book The Life Giving Church as a guide to pastors in making the transition to what he and his colleagues dubbed 'New Apostolic' churches and networks.

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Once a church has shifted to this model, the pastor can no longer be hired and fired by the membership but becomes the authority over his flock.  Only his overseers or spiritual authority figures can remove or discipline him.   In these networks an apostle (or bishop in some cases) provides spiritual or apostolic "covering" over others.

Their growing authoritarian nature and the concentration of power in these apostolic church networks has irritated and dismayed even some in the apostolic movement such as J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine (and a former apostle in C. Peter Wagner's mammoth International Coalition of Apostles - ICA ) who blasted in a 2009 Charisma op-ed,

Some charismatic apostles became mini-popes who carved out their fiefdoms. Suddenly the independent charismatic movement had more invasive authoritarianism than the denominations these pastors abandoned 10 years earlier.

In some circles apostles demanded total allegiance from the leaders who were "under" them. Some required a policy of "tithing up," creating a monstrous organizational structure similar to a spiritual Amway. So-called apostles with huge "downlines" made exorbitant amounts of money. One leader even offered pastors the opportunity to become "spiritual sons" by contributing $1,000 a month to his ministry.

If we can now make some informed guesses about where some of Long's money comes from, Tabachnick's second story segment highlight's the ultimate agenda - political power:

Like the apostles and prophets of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) and other Dominionist networks, Long does not believe in separation of church and state.  And similar to the NAR prophets, Long believes that God gives messages directly to him to pass on to his flock.  In his book Taking Authority he states,

God has strongly communicated to me His displeasure with our nation's growing acceptance of the mythical "separation of church and state" heresy.  I am convinced this so-called separation was never the intent of our nation's founding fathers - it is merely a device fraudulently created by an errant Supreme Court totally apart from historical precedent, tradition, or even the will of the people.

Also, like many other New Apostolics and Dominionists, Eddie Long is known for his extensive charitable work.  And also like the New Apostolics, this work is at least partially intended to provide access and gain authority over government as mandated in dominion theology.

In 2001 church growth specialist C. Peter Wagner announced the advent of the "New Apostolic Reformation" which, Wagner has continually stated, is at least as significant if not more so than the Protestant Reformation was. Wagner now heads what is possibly the biggest charismatic evangelical apostolic network on Earth (the ICA), but he's also one of the apostolic movement's leading strategists.

So where does Wagner see Eddie Long as fitting in? Tabachnick provides a striking quote from a Peter Wagner article titled "Let's take Dominion Now!" -

In an article titled "Let's Take Dominion Now!" (and also in his book Church in the Workplace), C. Peter Wagner describes Eddie Long as providing a model for city `transformation.'  Wagner quotes Long's book Taking Authority,

    The New Birth congregation finances and operates vital support programs in the city and pumps large sums of money and thousands of volunteer hours into key areas such as youth offender intervention programs, public school programs, and support and outreach programs for homeless women and children. We are involved in every aspect of life, and we are making a major impact in the Atlanta metropolitan areas.

    This, in turn, is causing us to gain major footholds in the city infrastructure, . . . the criminal court system, public high schools, the Georgia State Senate, the United States Senate, and even into the White House itself. . . . When you are a politician in a major metropolitan area, it isn't wise to dismiss or ignore a highly unified, committed, and motivated group of voters exceeding twenty-two thousand people representing almost every voting precinct in your city.

In light of the fact that Eddie Long's church received a million-dollar grant from George W. Bush's Faith Based Initiative, Wagner's analysis is striking, and all the more so for the authoritarian and intolerant nature of the new apostolic movement Long represents. As Rachel Tabachnick details, Eddie Long's teachings are both virulently anti-gay and also openly contemptuous of church-state separation.

Eddie Long and C., Peter Wagner are dominionists - they want to extend church authority over every sphere of society including the political realm. The strongly anti-democratic nature of dominionism comes out perhaps most strikingly in the doctrine of "spiritual fatherhood" that's now in mainstream media parlance especially due to the fact that Eddie Long has been accused of coercing sex from his "spiritual sons."

The "Spiritual Father" concept, as Tabachnick relates, is part of the "Discipleship and Shepherding" movement that erupted out of a small but astonishingly influential Ft. Lauderdale ministry during the early 1970's.

The movement spread so explosively across America and grew so extreme that, as author Sara Diamond described in her groundbreaking 1989 book Spiritual Warfare, Pat Robertson, who along with his wife Dede had been close to the "Fort Lauderdale Five" who launched the Discipleship and Shepherding movement, became sufficiently alarmed that in 1975 he tried to squash it. As Diamond quoted Robertson's internal 700 Club memos,    

"The so-called 'submission-shepherding' cult is vastly worse than anything I could have conceived of...

    ...In these cells, each member is under total domination by the shepherd.  The shepherd can forbid the husband and wife from living together....  When one man said he would not be under subjection to any man, he was told, ` you will be ruined spiritually, financially, and ruined physically.' "

Leaving its coercive spiritual aspects aside, the Discipleship and Shepherding movement established the sort of pyramidal hierarchies of authority one would typically find in a military structure - "shepherds" could disciple "sheep", or serve as "spiritual fathers" to "spiritual sons" but such "sheep" or "sons" could in turn take roles as shepherds or spiritual fathers to other Christians presumably lower in the spiritual pecking order. And so on down the line.

All of which brings us to a startling video Tabachnick showcases in her 2nd story segment, from a 2003 trip Bishop Eddie Long made to New Zealand, where he declared at a Wellington, NZ megachurch that powerful New Zealand megachurch leader Brian Tamaki (who has his own apostolic network of churches in his country) would in 5 years rule the nation of New Zealand: spiritually, economically, politically - total dominance.

Tamaki prophesied a church-based takeover of New Zealand would occur within five years and Eddie Long, whom Brian Tamaki has described as a "spiritual father," lustily endorsed Tamaki's theocratic vision,

"He made a declaration that in five years you shall be ruling and reigning in this nation. That means you control the wealth, that means you control the riches, that means you control the politics, that means you control the social order, that means that you are in charge. Touch your neighbor and say, `It happens because of order.'"

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