The pastor of Georgia’s largest church, a prominent backer of President George W. Bush’s “faith-based” initiative, is under scrutiny for receiving excessive compensation from a non-profit organization.
Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., was the subject of a lengthy story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in late August. The newspaper reported that Long, 52, accepted more than $3 million in salary and benefits, including a $1.4-million home and a $350,000 automobile from a now-defunct tax-exempt group called Bishop Eddie Long Ministries, Inc.
Financial records showed that the ministry made $3.1 million in donations from 1997 to 2000. During the same period, the non-profit charity also paid Long at least $3 million in salary and benefits. Long and his wife sat on the group’s four-person board.
Long, a black conservative, has been a prominent backer of Bush’s faith-based initiative. In a 2003 book, A Revolution of Compassion, Long is quoted as saying, “I had the opportunity to sit and talk with President Bush when he was running for office. He has very deep religious convictions. I just personally feel those are part of the man. He knows that the church has been very effective in changing communities – more effective than government. So why waste money by ignoring faith-based services?”
The Washington Blade reported in September that Long’s ministry received a $1-million faith-based grant from the U.S. Administration of Children & Families.
Long has also been active in opposing same-sex marriage in Georgia and recently led a controversial anti-gay march in Atlanta that invoked the name of Martin Luther King.
Long opponents said King would not have supported the march. The Rev. Timothy McDonald, a Long critic, suggested there was a tie between the anti-gay activism and the faith-based initiative.
“If you look at the black pastors who’ve come out with the faith-based money, they’re the same ones who have come out with campaigns on the gay marriage issue,” McDonald said.
Long insists he has done nothing wrong.
“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,” he told the Journal-Constitution.
Long also insisted that pastors have no reason to live frugally.
“I would love to sit with you and walk you through the Bible to show that Jesus wasn’t poor,” he said.
But Internal Revenue Service regulations and non-profit watchdog organizations indicate that Long is skating on thin ice legally. IRS rules state that non-profits must not “provide a substantial benefit to private interests.” The regulations also state that tax-exempt groups should pay their executives “reasonable compensation.”
“In general, an individual’s salary and benefits should not be excessive and must be approved by the majority of board of directors who are unpaid and not related to the individual,” an IRS spokesman, Mark Green, said in a statement.
Jeff Krehely, deputy director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in Washington, D.C., looked at Long’s situation and called it problematic.
“After reviewing the compensation packages of foundation executives, including those who have been written up in the press as being excessive, I’ve never seen anything quite like what Long [was] getting, when you include his salary, the house and the car,” Krehely said.