It continues to be a tough year for Randy White, pastor of Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Fla. After divorcing ex-wife Paula White, losing his daughter to brain cancer and watching his church go from one of the fastest-growing congregations in the country to losing almost half its membership, White is now facing more public controversy—this time regarding his church’s property.
Last Tuesday, the Evangelical Christian Credit Union (ECCU), which holds the church’s mortgage, began foreclosure proceedings after what ECCU spokesman Jac La Tour says was months of negotiating a loan agreement. Although an agreement was made, White refused to sign the modified version under the advice of lawyers, who said the changes gave all property, furnishings and intellectual rights to the bank. ECCU stated in court documents that the church was in default on a $1 million line of credit due in August and demanded immediate repayment on both that and the $12 million mortgage on Without Walls’ Tampa property. White, however, says church leaders had already been negotiating with ECCU for months—including two trips to the credit union’s headquarters in California—and had shown ECCU a signed contract from the sale of another property proving it could more than pay off its line of credit.
“In my opinion, it’s nothing more than greed from a Christian bank who’s supposed to be working with Christians,” White said. “I think it’s because they’re drowning, they’re pulling so many people in with them. They’re scrambling.”
On Sunday, an impassioned White told his congregation, “This church has never been late in seven and a half years. In fact, we gave them more money than any client they had.” In his hour-and-a-half message, he addressed both the current financial case and a series of unflattering stories in the Tampa Tribune that White says has resulted in a 30 percent decline in attendance. (White plans to sue the newspaper.) “We’re not going under and we’re not going away,” he assured Without Walls members. “I promise you this: I will handcuff myself to that column right there because right is right and wrong is wrong. We are a great church, and the devil has tried to take us out every single way that he can.” [tampabay.com, 11/6/08, 11/10/08; tbo.com, 11/10/08; tampabays10.com, 11/10/08]
Although last week’s historic election of Barack Obama as the United States’ next president obviously shattered racial barriers, many Christian leaders say it also highlighted a still-prevalent racial divide among churches and believers.
Associated Press exit polls showed that 74 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Republican candidate John McCain, while 94 percent of African-American believers voted for Obama. Yet according to many leaders, the underlying differences—and problems—emerged long before a single vote was cast.
“I think in the eagerness to protect the right to life issues, there were some things said … that were not always fair and that were insensitive that need to be rethought,” said T.D. Jakes, founding pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas. “I would love to see black and white Christians find common ground, and a deeper understanding of each other’s needs.”
Other black leaders voiced a stronger objection to the pre-election rhetoric, particularly from the white-dominated Christian right: “What they did is insult our biblical understanding,” said Derrick W. Hutchins, a leader in the predominantly black Church of God in Christ. “The white religious right-wing determined that if you didn’t vote for McCain, you were not meeting a standard of the Bible.”
Taking a more historical viewpoint, Shirley Caesar-Williams, pastor of Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church in Raleigh, N.C., told her congregation that “God has vindicated the black folk. Too long we’ve been at the bottom of the totem pole, but He has vindicated us—hallelujah! I don’t know about you, but I don’t have nothing to put my head down for, praise God. Because when I look toward Washington, D.C., we got a new family coming in. … And you know what? They look like us.” [AP, 11/7/08, 11/10/08]