A visiting pastor caused a stir while delivering a brief sermon at a South Carolina megachurch on Sunday ― ending her speech with a threat of violence against critics of two fellow pastors.
Pastor Hope Carpenter, co-founder of San Jose’s Redemption Church, was defending John and Aventer Gray, the controversial pastors of Greenville’s Relentless Church. A local daily newspaper, the Greenville News, has published several stories in recent months that call out the Grays for their expensive tastes.
Carpenter, who used to lead the Greenville congregation with her husband Ron Carpenter Jr., was asked to speak for a few minutes at her old church on Sunday. She ended the speech about holding fast to faith by pouring praise on the Grays, who are married.
“I love you, Pastor John and Pastor Aventer. I believe in you,” Carpenter said from the stage, standing directly in front of the two pastors. “I’m praying for you. I’m rooting for you!”
Then, her speech shifted dramatically.
“I cut people. I got a knife right in that pocketbook,” Carpenter said, pointing to her seat and eliciting shocked looks from Aventer Gray.
“Greenville News, come on. We done went through this,” she continued, posturing as if getting ready for a fight.
“I’m still here, and guess who else is still going to be here?” she pointed to John Gray, who nodded in agreement as the congregation cheered.
HuffPost has reached out to the Carpenters and Redemption Church for comment on the threat.
The Grays have tried to distance themselves from the threat. Holly Baird, a spokeswoman for Relentless Church, told the Greenville News that the Grays had no idea what Carpenter was going to talk about when she was given the mic on Sunday.
Baird said that the Grays did not condone the comments.
“While we believe Pastor Hope was joking, we completely understand how her comments could be received in today’s climate,” Baird said in a statement. “Neither our pastors or anyone in our leadership would agree with any type of communication that would encourage or incite violence against another individual or entity.”
Greenville News’ executive editor Katrice Hardy issued a statement on Monday defending her newspaper’s coverage of Relentless Church. Hardy pointed out that the paper’s coverage has included positive stories, like the church’s efforts to launch an emergency homeless shelter.
The paper has also published stories about John Gray encouraging parishioners in need to take money from church offering plates.
“The Greenville News strives to cover every organization in our community in a fair and unbiased way,” Hardy said.
Hardy declined to provide additional comment to HuffPost about the threat.
In the past, Carpenter has provoked controversy for statements she made that criticized NFL players who kneel during the national anthem. Her husband later apologized for his wife’s comments, which he admitted were “racially insensitive.”
The Carpenters founded the Greenville congregation more than 25 years ago. In 2018, they moved to California to start a new church and John Gray took over leadership of Relentless Church.
John Gray is a former associate pastor at televangelist Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston. The pastor grabbed local and national headlines in December after he gifted his wife a Lamborghini Urus, a luxury SUV that starts at $200,000. Gray passionately defended the anniversary present, insisting that it was not purchased with church funds, but with revenue from his book deal, an Oprah Winfrey Network reality show, and “wise investments.”
In January, the Greenville News reported that the Grays lived in a $1.8 million home funded by Relentless Church. The cost of the home is 10 times greater than the median home value in Greenville County, the paper reported. The church’s chief financial officer told the Greenville News that the $1.8 million home was needed to entice a pastor of Gray’s “caliber” to relocate to Greenville.
In March, the paper reported that John Gray was asking parishioners to donate toward repairing the church’s roof. The pastor claimed the $250,000 project could be funded easily if 2,500 people each gave $100, and offered to pay $300 himself. The pastor also claimed that the church had accrued “millions of dollars” in debt under the Carpenters’ leadership, the paper reported.
John Gray has also received backlash for being one of several black pastors to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House last August. He said later on that he regrets the decision to attend the meeting and believes it was merely a photo opportunity for Trump.
As of January, Relentless Church had about 15,000 members.