ATLANTA — Bishop Eddie Long, one of several ministers targeted by a Senate investigation into alleged financial wrongdoing, called the request for records "unjust" and "intrusive."
During a brief address to his congregation in Lithonia, Ga., during a Sunday service yesterday, Long said Sen. Charles Grassley's request for financial information was "an attack on our religious freedom and privacy rights."
It was Long's first comment on the issue beyond a statement issued last week saying he would cooperate with the request.
Grassley, R-Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, began his investigation after he received tips about preachers who ride in Rolls Royces and have reportedly paid $30,000 for a conference table.
Grassley said stories of excessive lifestyles and spending by ministry leaders caused him to wonder whether the tax breaks given to ministries were being abused. He has questioned other charities in previous years, including the Red Cross and the United Way.
Grassley said he was not interested in religion or doctrine, only the tax issues. But Long, bishop of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, sees it as an attack.
"(Grassley) wants to impose the will of government on our religious rights," he said.
Many in the emotional and supportive crowd stood and cheered for Long several times during his brief statement.
Grassley has asked for documents from five other ministries around the country, including the Rev. Creflo Dollar of World Changers Church International in College Park. The other four are: Randy and Paula White of Florida, the Rev. Benny Hinn, and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Texas, and David and Joyce Meyer of Missouri.
Dollar said he had released his church's finances in response to the Senate investigation. He added that his salary comes from personal investments, including businesses and real estate ventures. But he said the church gave him a Rolls Royce, which he said he uses largely for special occasions.