Days ahead of its long-awaited exit from bankruptcy, a local church was forced to further distance itself from its founding pastor after his very public display of support for Donald Trump earlier this month.
The Richmond Christian Center, which for more than two years has been fighting to keep its Cowardin Avenue church and get out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, issued a statement last week in attempt to clear the air regarding statements and television appearances made by its founding and currently estranged pastor, Stephen A. Parson Sr.
Parson was part of a group of more than 100 black pastors who made the trip to meet with the billionaire presidential candidate at his Trump Tower in New York on Nov. 30. He then was featured in numerous reports around the country endorsing Trump’s run for the White House.
While the RCC name wasn’t mentioned in most of the media coverage, angry observers apparently traced Parson back to the Richmond congregation and hit it with a barrage of calls and emails. It was enough that the church’s current leadership felt it needed to step in.
“The political views, opinions and party affiliations expressed by Stephen A. Parson, Sr. … are his alone, and do not reflect the views, opinions or positions, political or otherwise, of Richmond Christian Center’s Board of Trustees and/or the congregation,” the church said.
Seeking to show that Parson is not currently involved in the day-to-day at the church, RCC’s statement added: “Dr. Parson has been on sabbatical from the Richmond Christian Center since January 2015. His return is contingent upon the outcome of the Chapter 11 Bankruptcy proceedings.”
RCC trustee Calvin Yarbrough discussed the Trump-Parson dustup in a brief phone call Tuesday.
“We had to address it,” said Yarbrough, one of three RCC trustees who’s been leading the church since Parson stepped aside in January. “He’s out there doing his thing and not running it by anybody. What he’s saying, because he’s the founder, it’s impacting the church.”
Parson certainly made the rounds in the media following the pastors’ meeting with Trump. He got mentions in CNN, Time magazine, ABC News and elsewhere, including a grilling interview on cable network TVOne.
Richmond’s CBS 6 interviewed Parson after the Nov. 30 meeting, and a report from the Richmond Free Press describes in greater detail some of the calls the church received in response to Parson’s comments.
He was most prominently featured at a press conference on Dec. 1 in Northern Virginia where he was personally introduced by Trump.
“He’s been all over television the last couple of days and he’s a beautiful guy,” Trump said of Parson in the introduction.
Taking to the pulpit at the press conference, Parson said: “People ask me, ‘Why are you endorsing Donald Trump?’ Well, in my opinion, he’s the best and the only one who can beat Hillary Clinton.
“Listen, we gotta win and one thing about Donald Trump is he’s winner. Amen?”
He went on to discuss Trump’s ability to create wealth and said Richmond’s inner city needs jobs and businesses.
“I personally believe this is a movement,” he said, going on to mention Trump’s campaign slogan of “making America great again.”
Parson founded Richmond Christian Center in the 1980s and grew it to mega church status with thousands of members and numerous side businesses. The church sought the protection of Chapter 11 bankruptcy after running into trouble with its lender and facing foreclosure of its main church building.
Parson has stepped away from day-to-day activities at RCC while its bankruptcy case has played out, but he has still been a key figure in the case. He was accused by the bankruptcy trustee of wrongfully taking money out of the church for personal use, for which the court found he is on the hook.
And last month an attorney representing the bankruptcy trustee told the bankruptcy court that Parson was impeding the church’s exit from bankruptcy by instructing some congregants to send money for the reorganization fund directly to him, an assertion the pastor denies.
RCC is expected to have its Chapter 11 reorganization plan confirmed at a hearing today in Richmond federal bankruptcy court. It remains up in the air whether Parson will return to the church’s pulpit once it emerges from bankruptcy. One of the conditions of the reorganization plan is that his involvement in the church’s business affairs remains limited.
I thought it was illegal for church leaders to endorse a political candidate.