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Bishop Eddie Long apologizes for Torah scroll ceremony

(JTA) — A Baptist bishop in Georgia has apologized for a church service in which he was wrapped in a Torah scroll and called a king.

"The ceremony was not my suggestion, nor was it my intent, to participate in any ritual that is offensive in any manner to the Jewish community," Bishop Eddie Long wrote in a letter sent Saturday to Bill Nigut, Southeast Regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Nigut released the letter on Sunday.

Last week during a service at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., Ralph Messer, a Messianic Jew and self-described rabbi, ordered congregants to wrap Bishop Eddie Long in a Torah scroll and lift him up on a chair bar mitzvah-style while he held the Torah scroll, which was identified as being rescued from Auschwitz. The church has 25,000 members, according to its website.

Some 600,000 viewers have watched a video of the service on YouTube.

In an article in the Journal Constitution last week, Nigut was critical of the ceremony, saying it "in no way represents any Jewish ritual that I’m familiar with. We do not proclaim individuals to be kings."

In the letter sent to the ADL, Long also said that "I sincerely denounce any action that depicts me as a King, for I am merely just a servant of the Lord.”

Long was sued in September 2010 by four former church members who alleged that he used his position to coerce them into sexual relationships, according to the Journal Constitution. The suit was settled in May.

Nigut told CNN that he thought the apology was "very heartfelt, sincere" and that "I was very gratified by Bishop Long apparently recognizing what our concern was."

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