Tuesday, June 12, 2007

There's Trouble in Tampa Bay
By J. Lee Grady

Some people think I have a glamorous career because I get to interview Christian authors, musicians and celebrities. I've never looked at it that way. In fact, sometimes the things I learn on this job make me downright sick.

I felt a bit woozy last week after learning about yet another potential scandal in the volatile world of independent charismatic ministries. I am referring to recent allegations made against Randy and Paula White, pastors of the 23,500-member Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Fla. After the Tampa Tribune ran a full-length investigative piece on the Whites on May 20, my e-mail box quickly became clogged with messages from all over the nation.

Everyone was asking the same question: "What is Charisma going to do about this?" Some accused me of "covering up" these allegations?even though I didn't know about them yet.

Here's my official answer: We are studying the situation and will interview the Whites to get their side of the story. I hope we discover that the charges are baseless because the body of Christ has endured enough disgrace in the last year.

The article in the Tribune raises fair questions about the Whites' spending habits, accounting practices and business dealings. It mentions their $1.9 million jet, their $2.1 million home in Tampa and Paula's $3.5 million Trump Tower condo in New York. It even claims that the Whites took economic advantage of an elderly widow in their congregation.

In a later article, which ran in the newspaper on May 25, a former member of the White's church said she was told she won a free house in a contest the church sponsored in 2002. She even went to a ribbon cutting and was given a tour of the house?a celebration that was shown on local television. But today, 25-year-old LaShonda Dupree says Without Walls officials explained to her that they only intended to give her the down payment for the home.

The Whites, to their credit, provided responses to many of the Tribune's questions. Regarding Dupree's story, Randy told the newspaper that the contest clearly stated that the winner would get a down payment only. "We tried to do a good thing and it backfired," he said.

Regarding the elderly widow, 85-year-old "Mother Ruth" McGinnis, the Whites claim that the woman fully agreed to their financial terms. Regarding their personal wealth and lucrative church budget, the Whites maintain that their church supports more than 90 missions and outreach programs and gave more than $3.1 million to various charities last year.

Just yesterday I was able to contact the Whites and got a short statement from them about the Tribune story. Paula told me: "In regards to the articles that have recently been published, we have been advised not to make an official statement at this time. However, Mother Ruth continues to sit on the front row and LaShonda [Dupree] continues to come to church every Sunday. The fruit of our ministry of evangelism and restoration speaks for itself and we continue to do what we are called to do."

The newspaper raised other issues that relate more to the Whites' flamboyant lifestyle than their business ethics. When asked about both Randy's and Paula's plastic surgeries, Randy told reporters that they must "look the part" in order to make their frequent television appearances. It also mentioned Randy's tattoos, gun collection and a 2005 appearance on the cover of Makes and Models, a monthly magazine devoted to exotic cars and motorcycles.

The newspaper also mentioned widely circulated rumors about marital problems between the Whites?rumors that have been fueled by the fact that Paula spends much of her time in New York while Randy is trying to start a new congregation in Southern California to reach movie stars. Randy and Paula told the newspaper that they have been true to their marriage vows, while acknowledging that they are under a huge amount of stress because Randy's adult daughter, Kristen Hernando, was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor and requires his constant attention.

What do we as Christians do when our leaders are accused of wrongdoing? In the case of Randy and Paula White, we must demand some answers. The public is requiring accountability. And because the Bible tells us that those who teach the Word must submit to a stricter standard (James 3:1), we can't just brush these things off.

At the same time, let's remember that the devil would love to destroy another ministry that has blessed thousands and led many to Christ. I am a journalist, but I am also a Christian. I'm not going to rush to judgment. I love Randy and Paula and I have benefited from their courageous efforts to transform the inner city of Tampa.

So much is at stake here. Instead of going on a witch hunt, maybe we all need to reflect on what God is saying through this trouble in Tampa. And maybe we need to ask some hard questions that apply not only to the Whites but also to every ministry in this country. I usually get in trouble for asking questions, but ask them I will:

· Why do we put Christian leaders on pedestals and expect them to be superhuman? · Why do we give church leaders unbridled authority and spending power? · Why don't church members require more ethical and financial accountability? · How can we better train leaders to handle the pressures that come with fame and wealth?

Please pray for Randy and Paula, his daughter Kristen, and for Charisma as we seek to resolve these issues as a skeptical world watches.


J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma.

1 comment:

Igy said...

Thanks for posting this!

It is time for some of these leaders to start having answers!!

This "extravagent living" with condo's and roll-royces is a total joke!!

Whatever happen to "He must increase, but I must decrease??" John 3:30

Again, thanks for posting this and I pray we do start hearing some answers!!