SC megachurch pas­tor de­fends meet­ing with Trump at White House

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY NOAH FEIT [email protected]­

Less than a day af­ter vis­it­ing the White House last week, the pas­tor of a South Caroli­namegachurch was field­ing crit­i­cism af­ter sit­ting next to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

John Gray, the head of Relentless Church in Greenville, is­sued a long state­ment on his meet­ing with Trump on so­cial me­dia.

Gray was part of a group of black re­li­gious lead­ers from across the United States who met with the pres­i­dent for what the White House called Trump’s “Meet­ing with In­ner City Pastors.”

Gray pre­vi­ously was a pas­tor at Joel Os­teen’s Lake­wood Church in Texas. He also is the star of a re­al­ity TV show on Oprah Win­frey’s OWN Net­work, which re­ports will re­sume shoot­ing in Greenville.

He jus­ti­fied his at­ten­dance and ad­mit­ted the de­ci­sion to sit, speak and pray with Trump was not an easy to make, say­ing he was aware of the “op­tics” of the sit­u­a­tion.

“My wife told me ‘If you go, no one will hear what you say. They won’t un­der­stand why you’re there. And any good that could come out of it will get lost in trans­la­tion,’ ” Gray wrote on Facebook. “I had not one thing to gain by be­ing there. Not. One.” So why did Gray go? Ac­cord­ing to his Facebook post, which in­cluded a video that has been viewed nearly 200,000 times on Gray’s page and the Facebook page for Relentless Church, he did it to help peo­ple by speak­ing about prison re­form.

“That could greatly end up ben­e­fit­ing many peo­ple who look just like me,” Gray wrote, but added his ini­tial re­ac­tion was to turn down the in­vi­ta­tion be­cause of how di­vi­sive and con­tro­ver­sial the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been.

“The pain of so many is too real. The hurt. The iso­la­tion. The sense of dis­en­fran­chise­ment. The real hate that has bub­bled to the sur­face of the national dis­course. I my­self have been vo­cal about my per­sonal dis­agree­ments with key pol­icy de­ci­sions of this ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“I have ev­ery­thing to lose. Cred­i­bil­ity. Rep­u­ta­tion. Ev­ery nat­u­ral in­cli­na­tion says stay home. Don’t get played.”

But he did at­tend. He spoke, and he led the open­ing prayer. He sat im­me­di­ately to Trump’s right.

When he was given a plat­form from the presi- dent, Gray said he was grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity and em­pha­sized “the very best prin­ci­ples of scrip­ture call us to fight for the poor, for the op­pressed, for those who have made mis­takes,” ac­cord­ing to White House tran­scripts.

While sit­ting next to Trump, Gray in­voked the name of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Dr. King said we can­not in­flu­ence a ta­ble that we are not seated at. And so we pray that this con­ver­sa­tion will be fruit­ful and pro­duc­tive, and hon­or­ing of the best tra­di­tions of this na­tion,” White House tran­scripts show Gray say­ing.

In re­flec­tion, Gray does not wa­ver in his de­ci­sion. But he is reach­ing out to those who were up­set by it.

The two Facebook posts have a com­bined 6,000plus re­ac­tions, nearly 3,000 com­ments and close to 5,000 shares.

And Gray wants those who are crit­i­cal of him, as well as those who sup­ported his visit, to be heard.

“The pain of those who have been hurt is real. And I would be a dis­hon­or­able man not to ac­knowl­edge that,” Gray posted. “But I will honor what I be­lieve was the man­date onmy life to be there and avail­able to God should He choose to give me voice. This post is in no way at­tempt­ing to in­val­i­date the vis­ceral re­ac­tion of those who can’t imag­ine why I would be in the room.”

Gray was not the only pas­tor in at­ten­dance who was crit­i­cized. Phillip Goudeaux of Cal­vary Chris­tian Cen­ter in Sacra­mento, Calif., re­ceived blow back for his at­ten­dance, which some viewed as an en­dorse­ment of the pres­i­dent.

Pas­tor Dar­rell Scott of Cleve­land Heights, Ohio, was crit­i­cal of Barack Obama at the­meet­ing. Among other things, he said Trump was go­ing to be “the most pro-black pres­i­dent that we’ve had in our life­time.”

Gray closed his Facebook post by mak­ing sure fol­low­ers knew he was not the pas­tor who made those re­marks: “(OH YEAH, the pas­tor who said the cur­rent pres­i­dent was the most pro-Black pres­i­dent ever WAS NOT ME-so get that STRAIGHT) love y’all.”

Gray ar­rived in Greenville in­May. Prior to be­ing known as Relentless Church, the megachurch was called Re­demp­tion Church and was led by Ron Car­pen­ter Jr.

Car­pen­ter­moved out west when he took over Ju­bilee Chris­tian Cen­ter in San Jose, Calif., but not be­fore in­tro­duc­ing Gray, The State re­ported in­May.


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks dur­ing a meet­ing with in­ner city pastors in the Cab­i­net Room of the White House in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day. Relentless Church Pas­tor John Gray is next to him.

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