Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Feds investigate mortgage scheme with link to Baptist pastors

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 emailthebishop@voicesfaith.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."


Anonymous said...

This is why if you're a religious person, I think it's good if your non-religious relatives or friends are told of some great thing you heard at church. They can more easily cast a skeptical eye upon it.

Or at least get some friends from other churches in other denominations. Stop being such an easy mark for these people.

That's my advice for people in the pews.

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

Christa - I posted an article on this at my site last night. One thing I found interesting is that CBS Atlanta did a PREVIOUS story on Fred Lee back in October before it was known he was pitching his scheme at churches (I provided the link to this October story by the same reporter), and there you see that this guy has a LONG history of mortgage shenanigans all the way back to 2002. So how a pastor could stand in front of his congregation and say this man "walks in integrity" thereby exposing his flock to a potentially fradulent mortgage scheme, is beyond me.

As I said in my article, I am watching and waiting to see how long it takes the GBC to issue a proclamation against mortgage schemes in churches (as they did against critical bloggers in 2007), and how long it takes them to dis-fellowship Hawkins' church like they did to the two churches in the GBC who did committed the dastardly deed of hiring female pastors.

I'm sure I'll be waiting a long time.

Thanks for the tip on this story.

Dr Who said...

This is a fact we have been reading since Doug posted against that GBC Executive officer and the Pastor from Ga since 2007 and received that proclamation,

The Georgia Baptist Convention is full of deceivers and deception. A fact that even the Ga Baptist Pastors and lay know, but won't and can't fight.

There is only TWO guys I know that have stood against them and who the GBC fear. If only other would take up the fight!

Now you guys are onto something.

Christa Brown said...

"The Georgia Baptist Convention is full of deceivers and deception."

Yes, this is something I myself know from first-hand experience. My own childhood molester was a long-time children's minister at the First Baptist Church of Atlanta. He was able to work at FBC-Atlanta even though there were Southern Baptist ministers in Texas who knew about his abuse of me as a kid (and one of whom ultimately swore to that knowledge). From Atlanta, he moved on to a couple churches in Florida, including the prominent FBC-Oviedo. As an adult, when I was trying to assure that he wouldn't be able to hurt anyone else, I notified the GBC because, at that point, I had tracked his career to Georgia. But I got absolutely no help from the GBC. It was as though they had never heard of him. In hindsight, realizing what prominent churches he worked at, I find it impossible to believe that no one at the GBC knew whether he was still in ministry (which he was) or knew where he had gone. And I find it shameful, callous, cold and cruel that no one in the GBC gave a hoot about the need to protect other kids against a children's minister who was known to have sexually abused a kid in Texas.

Anonymous said...

Dr Who;

We need to get those two guys to rally up a posse and get em removed!

Robert White, Mike Everson, Wayne Robertson, Gerald Harris, Tony Dickerson, Bucky Kennedy and all these "good ole awe shuck boys" within Georgia who control the GBC need to be replaced immediately.

I know Doug stopped Mike E from getting the position of Convention President a couple of years ago and I would be willing to bet if he had support he could start a "clean house" movement within GA.

But no one can do this alone, or maybe they can.