Church members want pastor out after arrests and church deal

By Mike McDaniel - bio | email | Twitter

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A Hattiesburg house of God is becoming a house divided, all because some members of Friendship Baptist Church aren't happy with the church's current pastor, complete with a laundry list of issues, including multiple arrests and a church still not complete.

"A lot of the old members, they done left the church," said church trustee Louis Bethley, Jr.

Reverend Gerry James came to Friendship Baptist Church just less than 10 years ago. When he did, some church leaders say he began to take control of everything, including the church's finances. After the church burned in 2007, insurance paid out $450,000 to build a new church, but now, church leaders say the money has ran out and the church isn't complete.

"All you have is a shell," said church member Howard McPhail.

"I'd like to know where the money went, that's what we need to know, where all the money went to," said church deacon James Bethley.

Construction on the Tipton Street church, which started in December of last year, came to a halt about two months ago.

"It's saddens my heart, to see that the church is in the state that it is now and the money is gone. It should have been completed, it should have been completed," said McPhail.

Rev. James says the church is having to make upgrades to codes not covered by the insurance payout and is waiting for more money from the insurance company.

"After we are completely reimbursed we will completely finish that building, we're just waiting on a full reimbursement," said James.

Some members aren't buying it saying the cause is extreme mismanagement.

"You can't tell me for $450,000 you couldn't build a church of that size out there," said McPhail.

"I explained to them almost two years ago this church is going to be out of money, we're going to be without a church and we going to be without a pastor and everything is coming true," said Louis Bethley.

With a church at a standstill, Rev. James found himself going from the church house to the big house. Back in July, James was arrested in Gulfport, on multiple charges, including DUI, no proof of insurance, running a red light, threatening a police officer and possession of marijuana in a vehicle. All in the same day.

"I was stopped, I was arrested, but I'm not guilty until proven guilty," said James.

Meanwhile, church leaders have already requested his resignation, but the reverend says that won't be happening just because of a smear campaign.

"I have a mixed crowd of sheep and goat and I'm the shepard there of," said James.

A shepard church members say has too much power and now a criminal record, and want the church back in the hands of those who are supposed to run it.

"The affairs of the church are to be ran by the deacons and the trustees, not the preacher. The preacher is hired to preach," said McPhail.

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