Tuesday, December 14, 2010
In Atlanta, federal authorities are investigating a “controversial mortgage scheme” that allegedly preyed on financially troubled homeowners, and two Baptist mega-church pastors are linked to it.
As told by CBS Atlanta reporter Wendy Saltzman, at least a thousand people paid Matrix Capital a $1,500 upfront fee based on the company’s promise that it could get their mortgage payments lowered. But according to investigators, “most of them ended up in bankruptcy and losing their homes” instead.
Southern Baptist mega-church pastor Gary Hawkins was "the face of the company's promotional video," and he “vouched” for Fred Lee, the man behind the company. Many of the victims attended a Matrix seminar that was presented inside Hawkins’ Voices of Faith church, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. With 11,000 members, Voices of Faith also claims to be “one of the fastest growing churches in the Georgia Baptist Convention.”
Independent Baptist pastor Eddie Long also allowed Matrix to present seminars at his prominent New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.
People say they trusted the Matrix representative, Fred Lee, “because he made those promises in the sanctity of their local church.” Now, CBS News reports that people are asking whether these two mega-church leaders got “kick-backs to betray their flocks and expose their congregations to financial disaster.”
Police say that Southern Baptist pastor Hawkins was “less than forthcoming with records that would have shown if payments were made” either to him personally or to the church.
Independent Baptist pastor Eddie Long is the same pastor who is also embroiled in civil lawsuits alleging clergy sex abuse. Four young men have accused him of using spiritual authority to coerce them into sexual acts when they were teen church members.
Both Hawkins and Long refer to themselves as “bishops” – a title that is unusual in Baptist life. Nevertheless, both pastors are indeed Baptist.
When news of the Eddie Long scandal first broke, some Baptists tried to distance themselves by claiming that Long wasn’t really a Baptist -- despite the fact that his church is called New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. But the Southern Baptist Convention is about as Baptist as you can get, and the SBC’s own website lists pastor Gary Hawkins’ email address as firstname.lastname@example.org. So make no mistake about it, self-named “bishops” exist in Baptist life, and both of the pastors who are being investigated in this mortgage scheme are Baptist.
(For more explanation on “Baptist bishops,” see this article in Slate, recognizing that, nowadays, some Baptist churches do indeed have “bishops” and naming Baptist historian Doug Weaver of Baylor University – the largest Baptist university in the world – as one of its sources for the information.)
Without accountability, power corrupts. In Baptistland, we have repeatedly seen this truth manifested, not only in the context of clergy sex abuse, but also in the context of financial shenanigans.
For both types of corruption, the root of the problem is a systemic lack of accountability. This is the root that Baptists so desperately need to remedy.
Related posts on financial mismanagement and misdealings in Baptistland: "Almighty Dollar"; "Spending God's Money"; and "He could have been stopped."
Related post on "Another Eddie Long controversy."
Posted by Christa Brown at 10:35 AM