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By Valerie D. Lockhart
    Hands flocked in the air in sync to the rhythm of the pastor’s energetic musical sermon. Preaching in a hum-like tone he rapped, “If you gave a little then give some more, don’t worry about DTE or the landlord knocking on your door. Put the Lord first and open up your purse. God will rid you of any curse. Can I get an Amen?”
     Responding on cue, two deacons ran to the back to secure the rear doors and one secured the side door. No one was allowed to enter or leave the sanctuary, once the doors were locked. Collection plates were passed down each aisle for the third time during the 90-minute sermon.
     Chantel Martin frowned, as the plate started down her aisle. A $10 bill was all she had left in her purse, which was to be used for bus fare to get back home and to work over the next few days. She quickly passed the plate to the next person, who shook their head in disgust.
     “Instead of feeling spiritually built up, I felt guilty and depressed,” said the 23-year-old single mother of two. “I was especially hurt, when my pastor and his wife drove past me and my kids at the bus stop in their brand new Mercedes and didn’t offer us a ride home. They’re always bragging on how God blessed them with a condo and a new car. If I gave more, then God will bless me too. But, since when did God need money? And, in whose pockets are my tithes going in? I feel like I’m getting pimped in the name of the Lord.”
  Martin is not alone. Michael Jamison said he left his church, after learning how his pastor used money from the collection plates to buy a new home in the suburbs.
  “I was homeless and living in a shelter,” he said. “I was collecting cans and bottles and cashing them in to get bus fare to go to church twice a week. Then, one day my pastor told me how he had just purchased a home in Bloomfield Hills. He wouldn’t even help me to get an apartment or rent a room in somebody’s home. When I asked him how he could afford such a home, he told me that one of the sisters left all of her money to the church when she died. The church was the beneficiary on her life insurance policy that was worth $500,000. Then, I thought about how we were all being pimped. I stopped going after that.”
  Several members of a mega church outside of Detroit stop attending, when they learned of their pastor fathering a child with his wife’s teenage niece.
  “I was disgusted, when I saw how the first lady continued to stand by his side and to support him,” said Sister Jones, who refused to use her real name to conceal her identity. “He tried to justify his actions by using the scripture on how we’re all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. If he can do this with his own niece, then how many other women in the congregation is he screwing? He should be held at a higher level being a spiritual leader. He was just given a tap on the hand and asked to step down. But, he has churches in other states that he still leads.”
  As many in the congregation struggle with homelessness, unemployment, hunger and debilitating illnesses, some spiritual leaders are reaping prosperity at the expense of their members.
  “Several pastors have built housing complexes, and then charge exorbitant rent that the average member can’t afford,” explained Theola Barnes, 76, of Detroit. “What good is it to build a house off of the tithes paid by your members, and then rent it to a middle class suburbanite to bring them back to the city? The people in your congregation are the ones suffering, but because they can’t pay you leave them out in the cold to fend for themselves. You cook dinners at the church for the hungry, and then charge $10 for a plate. If I don’t pay, I don’t eat. Meanwhile, you drive around in a fancy car with a customize license plate that says ‘pastor’. You’re living high off the hog, while the rest of us struggle to get a bone with a little meat.”
  According to statistics released by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), one-quarter (25%) of Americans claim no formal religious identity. 
  “Among the reasons Americans identified as important motivations in leaving their childhood religion are: they stopped believing in the religion’s teachings (60%), their family was never that religious when they were growing up (32%), and their experience of negative religious teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people (29%). Fewer than one in five Americans who left their childhood religion point to the clergy sexual-abuse scandal (19%), a traumatic event in their life (18%), or their congregation becoming too focused on politics (16%) as an important reason for disaffiliating,” noted the report.
  Others say that those professing to be a prophet are actually profiting off of their members.
  “Who’s checking the ministers to see if they’re paying their tithes,” asked Anthony Thomas. “Women are gullible and will fall for a preacher’s lies. But, men look beneath the collar to see the truth.”
  Meanwhile, Martin struggles with the decision to pay tithes over paying her bills.
  “I asked my pastor for help to pay my rent to keep a roof over me and my kids’ heads and he offered to loan me the money,” she said. “I’m not disappointed that he didn’t just give me the money. A loan is cool but tacking on 25% interest with a $75 late fee is outrageous. This is worse than a payday loan. I said forget it, and went to Social Services for help. I’m praying to God that he leads me in the right direction – to a church that genuinely loves and cares for people. I will no longer be hustled by a pimp in the pulpit.”
  Can someone say, “Amen”?