Money-changer or soul-winner? Jamal Bryant accused of using rich rappers as a ‘money grab’
Article By Terrence J. Hill // EEW Magazine // Church Matters
In John 2:13-16, Jesus flipped the money changers’ tables for using the temple for selfish gain and turning it into what He called a “den of thieves” instead of a “house of prayer.”
On the heels of successfully hosting Kanye West’s “Sunday Service,” mega pastor Jamal Bryant is being accused of using the rapper—and some of his millionaire visiting guests— for a “money grab.”
The damaging criticism was levied at the New Birth leader, 48, by Atlanta rapper T.I., 38, and Grammy-winning rapper Killer Mike, 44, on a Thursday, Sep. 19, episode of T.I.’s Apple podcast, “Expeditiously.”
T.I., real name Clifford Harris, said he, his wife Tameka Harris, and another guest, only visited the church in support of his friend West, 42, but were targeted for money—something that left a bad taste in his mouth.
“Jamal already raised the offering,” said Harris. “When we sat down, there was a whole new agenda.”
That “new agenda” is a direct reference to an appeal made by the morning’s speaker, Bishop I.V. Hilliard, founder of New Light Christian Center Church, one of the largest megachurches in Texas. After his prosperity-focused message, the preacher asked 20 people to give a faith seed of $1,000.
Harris, who has teamed with religious leaders on numerous occasions to help the community, made it clear that he is not bashing all pastors—just this one.
“It’s not that I have a thing against pastors or against preachers so-to-speak,” he explained on his podcast. “It’s just [that] I’ve been raised in the trenches, and I was taught to peep game. You ain’t finna run no game on me. I will not be extorted.”
Harris is not the first person to believe Hilliard was gaming them. In 2013, many within and outside the faith community were upset when Hilliard sent an email newsletter seeking to raise $50, 000 in capital to replace the church’s helicopter blades.
While requesting $52 from each donor, he promised givers that they would receive a blessing from God—maybe even their dream vehicle—within 52 days or 52 weeks of sowing their monetary offering.
Though both rappers said West, who struggles with mental illness and is leaning into his faith in Christ, delivered a musical presentation that was both “powerful” and moving, Harris told his listening audience that Hilliard’s request for a lump sum of cold, hard cash ruined the experience.
“I felt like I shouldn’t have came,” he said, disgusted.
When Killer Mike, real name Michael Santiago Render, suggested that he and Harris would experience blowback from Christians, Harris said, he did not care. “We will be much richer because we were not duped into giving a thousand dollars to someone else to buy a new Cadillac,” he said.
When Bryant became aware of the conversation and the accompanying negative feelings about what transpired Sunday, he responded graciously. In a lengthy Instagram post, letting both Harris and Render know they were not the focus of Hilliard’s unplanned money appeal, he said, “Bishop Hilliard was invited months ago with no knowledge Kanye West was coming, or either of you.”
Bryant, a charismatic preacher with a strong reputation for community activism and public service, said, “There was NO money grab intention.”
Though the two rappers and others on the outside may believe New Birth is rolling in the dough, Bryant also worked to correct that assumption in his response. “The reality is when I came to New Birth 9 months ago, I was met with a 30 million dollar debt that must be paid so that we can be free to do real community development like affordable housing, entrepreneur work space, and medical clinics,” he explained.
Bryant further listed out specific work the ministry has already done in the community, such as: giving 5,000 pairs of new back-to-school shoes to kids of Atlanta; spearheading a campaign to support Bennett College; bailing out nonviolent offenders; partnering with Delta to send relief to Hurricane Dorian survivors; feeding furloughed workers for two weeks while the government was shut down, among other things.
“For none of these projects were you solicited for a donation,” Bryant pointed out. Render replied saying it was all “love” and that he and Harris are “just some sinners talking smack.”
Render, star of Netflix’s Trigger Warning, is not a big fan of Christianity in the first place. On one episode of his show, he debated Atlanta prosperity preacher Creflo Dollar and challenged him to embrace a Black Jesus.
“We have different conceptions of spirituality,” Render said. “My job is to ask questions. I just have had an issue with a group of oppressed people worshiping a deity that resembles the oppressor.”
Not all Christians believe Jesus, a Jew, was white.
Whatever Render thinks about the Christian faith, he assured Bryant that both he and Harris are with him, not against him.