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Quick and Dirty

God and Mannon

Pablo Fiasco

By Van Smith | Posted 7/28/2004

James E. Roberts and a handful of co-protesters stood in the rain in front the Baltimore Convention Center on Pratt Street on July 22, carrying a sign. It read: PIMPS IN THE PULPIT. Pretty tough words, and leveled, he explained on the phone the next day, not only at the Convention Center’s big draw for that weekend—the “Kingdom Conference,” a religious gathering sponsored by Baltimore’s New Psalmist Baptist Church—but at “churches overall.” He says he’s noted a trend he abhors, in which churches increasingly are led by “mega-ministers who raise money from the flock and spend it on themselves, and don’t even spend much of it on their own flocks.”

Roberts shares a few thoughts about the Rev. Walter S. Thomas Sr., too, the pastor of New Psalmist, which moved in 1996 from Cathedral and Franklin streets in midtown to a newly constructed, 48,000-square-foot facility on 19 West Baltimore acres in Uplands—a tax-exempt property currently assessed at more than $11 million. (Phone messages for Thomas left at the New Psalmist offices were not returned by press time.)

“He lives in a million-dollar house in Governors Run” in Ellicott City, Roberts claims. (Actually, property records show the pastor’s home there is valued at $635,000.) “He’s like a Hollywood Christian, introverted, all about self, not the spiritual, and he’s part of the whole thing where wealthy pastors are driving Mercedes—and actually, now, they’re starting to go for Bentleys. Imagine what you could do in Baltimore with the money it takes to buy a Bentley?”

Roberts admits that his rhetoric and protests have brought legal troubles in the past. The Rev. Kenneth Barney, pastor of New Antioch Baptist Church in Randallstown, pressed criminal charges against Roberts just before Christmas in 2002—a step he took after Roberts repeatedly protested with bullhorns outside New Antioch as Barney’s congregation arrived for worship on Sunday mornings. According to court records, the judge declined to penalize Roberts for the charges of harassment, disorderly conduct, and failure to obey a peace order. Roberts says he was “excommunicated” from New Antioch for his views on the wealth of church leaders.

When not protesting, Roberts has turned his efforts to West Baltimore, where he and others have built up their own house of God, called Mission Possible Ministries Inc, which operates a mens’ shelter at 1930-32 W. North Ave. He invited anyone interested to come see the work they do for the poor—and to visit the ministry’s Web site to see that the nonprofit’s bank balance stands just shy of $17,000.

“New Psalmist makes money every Sunday,” Roberts asserted. “But you can’t see how much money they have or what they pay their leaders. . . . We keep open books on the Internet. And we’re all volunteers, no one gets paid. Come on down and see for yourself.”

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