Hope Carpenter, co-founder of Redemption World Outreach Center in Greenville, S.C., was enthusiastically welcomed back by congregants on Sunday months after her marital infidelities were exposed at the pulpit by her husband, Pastor Ron Carpenter. Carpenter, this time around, took other Christian leaders to task for supporting him when he declared he would be seeking a divorce.
With his wife and family sitting in the very first row of the sanctuary, Pastor Carpenter manned the pulpit not to preach a sermon, but to tell "a story" about how God changed his "hardened heart" and reminded him of his marriage vows and how his love for his wife should reflect Christ's love for the Church.
Reading from several passages he said he felt led to by God one "miserable" night when he was looking for answers, Carpenter began his story by reading from Mark 10:1-11. The New Testament passage describes Jesus' interaction with some Pharisees ("church folks," as Carpenter called them) on the subject of divorce.
When asked by the Pharisees divorce was allowed, Jesus responded, "It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law."
"But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female,'" Jesus continued. "'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.'"
"I don't care what they do, they are not two. They are one," Carpenter commented on the passage.
"Therefore what God has joined together, don't let people mess it up," he added.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke attribute similar remarks to Jesus on the issue of divorce, although two passages in Matthew include Jesus' suggestion that "sexual immorality" was grounds for divorce (5:31-32 and 19:1-9).
Carpenter also read from 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, in which the apostle Paul suggests that believers with "unbelieving" spouses who are willing to remain married could influence their eventual conversion to Christianity.
Carpenter's interpretation: "He said if your first instinct is to give up on it, how do you know what could've happened? Why do you give up on God so quickly? He said how will you ever know what I could've done if you didn't even give me a shot?"
Revisiting his Oct. 2013 confession of his marital woes, which the Pentecostal preacher had said involved adultery and an unspecified "sickness" on Hope Carpenter's part, Carpenter reminded congregants of his emotional state at the time in explaining why he had been dead set against reconciling with his wife.
He explained that the emotion was so raw at the time that he had told those helping his wife, who had voluntarily checked into an unidentified facility, that she would not be welcomed back to the home they had shared.
Carpenter's then relayed that afterward, he had an exchange with God in which he said he heard the "near audible" voice of God tell him to call Mrs. Carpenter at the facility she had voluntarily checked into "and tell her you will not abandon her." Out of what he said was a "sheer fear of God" and not "lovey-dovey feelings," Carpenter did what he felt God wanted him to do.
"A man can only put away his wife because of the hardness of his heart," Carpenter repeated, returning to the Mark 10 passage.
"I read that Scripture on my way toward filing papers and I'm thinking, 'I don't want to live like that. … How can I preach every Sunday with a hard heart?"
"How am I going to get up and preach to the grace and the mercy and the goodness of God and my heart's full of brick and mortar? I looked at God and said, 'I don't want to live like that.'"
"I've had marriage conferences for 10 years, and then when I have to face the same thing that everybody's in there trying to get help from me to face, I can't face it myself? ... I don't want to sit under nobody like that," he added.
Pastor Carpenter reminded congregants that the marriage vow was not only between the husband and wife, but also between the couple and God.
"These are vows to God. God takes covenant so serious. And if you cannot mean your vows, don't go up there," the minister added.
Carpenter went on to read from Rev. 12:9-11 and spoke of dying to himself, living for Christ, and no longer being a lover of himself, but a lover of the truth and righteousness.
"Now this is just me and God, God wearing me out," Carpenter said of the night he felt led to read these Bible passages at a time he called the most "miserable" period of in his 45 and a half years of life. "This is me getting all the voices out of my head and saying, 'What do You want? What is Your standard?'"
He also read from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 about the characteristics of love. "When you tell somebody 'I love you,' that's what you say. So unless you mean this, don't say it," said Carpenter.
After sharing 1 John 4:18, Carpenter suggested that none of the passages he had read describing love had anything to do with "any emotion or any feeling."
He added, "It was a commitment made. In fact, it's such a commitment it says I will love you until the feelings come back. I'm here when I don't feel nothing. And I'm here till they return. I will suffer, I will bear, I will believe and I will hope. And while I'm believing and hoping, I won't keep your wrongs posted on the refrigerator for you to read. Because I do not rejoice in iniquity. I rejoice in what God says."
"The demonstration of Christ in the earth is not a preacher and preaching," Carpenter continued, commenting on Ephesians 5's discussion on Christ and the Church. "It's about a marriage that don't bust up. It's about a Christ who will stay with the Church at all costs."
Carpenter added in a whirlwind closing that saw him gripping the mic and pumping a fist in the air, "All I'm asking you to do is understand is that your vows mean something to God."
"Those of you whose marriages are about to fall apart… if you will say, 'I will fight...'" he trailed off.
Regaining composure, Carpenter took to the steps of the altar and said he he had one final "assignment" before dismissing worshippers.
"I've got to call out the leaders in America," he explained.
Pointing at the cameras recording his message and broadcasting it live on the Internet, the pastor added, "I love you guys and I may be risking a lot of relationships right now, but when I said I wasn't getting reconciled, you immersed me in support.
"Now that I've announced that I'm gonna fight for my vows, I ain't heard from none of you. None of you. The only two that I have heard from, you ridiculed me. If that's where the leaders' standards are, no wonder the people are so jacked up.
"I'm not calling the leadership to perfection cause I tried to do that and it crushed us. But I am calling you to fight. I'm calling you to fight. I'm calling you to support me in this decision, not just the last one."
He continued, turning to the congregation, "I'm asking this church to let us come and worship together understanding we are not a finished product. But we are aggressively pursuing getting every devil under our feet and we will not stop until total victory. We make that pledge to you."
Ron and Hope Carpenter have been married for 23 years and have three children. The Carpenters founded Redemption World Outreach Center in 1991 with just three people and "a passion for breaking down the walls of racism, crossing cultural lines, and changing poverty mindsets..." The multiracial RWOC congregation, affiliated with the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, spans three campuses and is home to about 19,000 members.