The Inter-denominational Theological Center has invited arguably its most famous alumnus Eddie Long, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, to be its commencement speaker this year. You would think that this would be a most welcoming and rejoiceful time for the institution, as one of its sons would be coming home to share his ministry. However, all is not well in Mudville. Apparently, Long's questionable ethics, financial misdealings, and theological irresponsibility has led some to request resending of the invitation. A group of graduating students have written a letter to the President of ITC, Dr. Michael Battle, expressing their concerns and laying out the specific issues which they believe should warrant Long's dismissal as this years commencement speaker. Protest, boycotts, and even a walkout is under consideration.
To add an interesting twist to this predicament for ITC and to demonstrate the folly of theological liberalism, apparently Dr. James Cone, the preeminent black liberation theologian of our time, was scheduled to receive an honorary degree at this year's commencement. According to reports he is planning to boycott the ceremony because of Bishop Long's presence. Cone has been a vocal critic of Long and the prosperity gospel purveyors (and you thought only Reformed guys played mean - heretics can play hardball as well). What fascinates me, however, is how Cone can bemoan Long, Creflo Dollar, TD Jakes and the rest of the prosperity princes and not realize that it was his hermeneutic that basically fostered the prosperity gospel. Here is the irony, Cone dislikes the hermeneutical and missiological approach of Long, Dollar, and Jakes, yet all they have done is become the grandchildren of Cone's subjective, existential approach to biblical interpretation. Liberation theology sought to dismiss the objective truth of Scripture in return for a subjective approach that allowed for Scripture twisting to fit the social and political struggle of a certain people group (in Cone's case, Black America). Prosperity theology does the same, only with the twist that God's design for the poor is indeed liberation, not unto political power, rather economic freedom and prosperity. Cone may not appreciate how far Long and others have taken it, but he is responsible for letting the rooster out of the pen. And to paraphrase one of his heroes, the prosperity gospel is nothing more than the liberation, subjective hermeneutic coming home to roost. It is liberation by any means necessary. Cone chose the way of poverty and blackness. Long chooses the way of wealth and prosperity. Neither one has chosen the way of the cross.