(Photo: TD Jakes Ministries via The Christian Post)
Pastor Paula White broke her silence Thursday night, addressing all the scandals that she has been associated with since her divorce in 2007.
"We’re letting our hair down," White told thousands at the 2011 Pastors and Leadership Conference in Orlando, Fla. "I'm not here to look cute ... I came to let the devil know ... I'm stronger than I've ever been."
Though the two-hour message began with shouts of encouragement and notes of affirmation for the participating leaders who may be facing challenges or opposition, by the end of the night it was apparent that the popular charismatic pastor was also preaching to herself.
"I have a word to those who have all odds stacked against them," she preached. "You're about to get your bounce back."
"The enemy strategically plotted against you, hunted you like prey, set out to destroy you, tried to wreck your mind, destroy your heart, jack up your family, take your ministry, ruin your reputation ... and he thought that he had you. He set you up and thought this is what will kill them.
"I came to put every devil on notice ... I'm getting my dream back, I'm getting my prophesy back, I'm getting my vision back, I'm getting my anointing back, I'm getting my strength back."
White, who calls herself the "former messed up Mississippi girl," let the audience know that she would be "very vulnerable and very open" that night.
Before walking back through her tumultuous past few years, she told them, "I think it's time we stop being hypocrites in the pulpit. I think ... it's time that we take the mask off to this generation and show them that we have the same issues and the same struggles."
"We (sic) going public with all our stuff. Somebody's got to get real in the church now."
She did just that, opening up about the pressures that piled up and the crises in her life that the media was all over.
It all began in 2004 when the IRS launched a nine-year investigation into the personal and organizational finances of White and her then husband, Randy.
Just two years earlier in 2002, White had written in her journal: "I'm living heaven on earth. Life cannot get any better."
"I'm above the struggle and beneath the radar. I love my husband and my husband loves me. And we do. The kids are doing good. And millions of dollars in the bank. Not sick," she recalled feeling at the time.
White had risen to prominence as a preacher, motivational speaker, author and TV personality after co-founding what is now Without Walls International Church with her husband and starting her own ministry.
She was living her dream life, as she described to pastors at the Orlando conference.
But after the IRS investigation began, she began to face challenge after challenge to the point where she wanted to and even tried to quit.
"You can handle something if it's for a short season. But how do I praise Him when my days turn into weeks and my weeks turn into months and my months turn into years and my years turn into decades?" she said. "How do I praise Him under that continual pressure? That kind of pressure wears you out."
Listing the numerous trials she went through, White said she experienced a midlife meltdown, compassion fatigue, her friend being falsely accused and sent to prison, a stroke, addiction to the prescription medication she was given following her stroke, and problems in her marriage.
Continuing, she added that her church staff split in the middle with some turning on the Whites and going to the media.
She maintained that the articles written based on allegations from former church staff were "mostly, totally unfounded" and "lies." The Whites were accused of being all about money and fame.
She also indicated that the staff turned on the church because they couldn’t "supply the staff with the lifestyle that they were used to."
Family problems were added when White found out that her son had a drug addiction and was sexually abused by another male at a staff member's house. She then had to experience the pain of her non-biological daughter battling brain cancer. Kristen, Randy's oldest daughter, died in 2008 at age 30.
In the midst of all this, White said she was being pressured to preach and prophesy and fulfill her role in the church.
"[Bishop] Randy, Pastor Paula, give me a word, marry me, bury me, pay these bills, prophesy. Why aren't you doing this? Why isn't it like it used to be? We don't like the music. We leaving the church because you didn't know our names and you didn't come have lasagna with us," she said, mimicking the demands and criticisms she was met with.
White noted that it was under "that kind of pressure" and "in a really weak moment" that she and her husband made the decision to divorce in 2007. The split was amicable.
According to White, her husband closed up to her. While she traveled the world preaching, she pondered, "Why can I win the world and not go home and win the one that I love?"
She recounted a time when Randy took her into a dark room, placed a mask on her, spun her around and told her to find her way out. With tears, White said she sat there for half an hour, scared and calling out to him. He took off her mask and informed her that that is what he felt like he was going through.
When the two announced their split, Randy had agreed to take the responsibility. And "God told me to keep my mouth shut," she said.
Randy, who no longer co-pastors Without Walls, is now writing a book, she noted.
But she added, "I'm proud of him. He never quit .... God or anything else."
The trials continued even after the divorce when White and televangelist Benny Hinn were pictured last summer in The National Enquirer leaving a hotel in Rome holding hands. They were accused of having an affair and being engaged.
On Thursday, White flatly denied that she ever had an affair.
"They're going to talk about you and write ... because it sells ragtag magazines," she said. "They're going to lie on you but God's going to tell you to keep your mouth shut."
There was also the so-called Grassley investigation. Sen. Charles Grassley launched a Senate probe in 2007 into six influential ministries, including White's, following complaints of opulent spending and possible abuse of nonprofit status.
The probe came to a close in January of this year. With little cooperation from most of the ministries, which called the investigation an attack on their religious freedom and privacy rights, Grassley's office was unable to make any conclusion about the spending of the ministries and handed out no penalties.
White interpreted that to mean her ministry was cleared.
"The church better recognize, it should be thanking six ministries for fighting for the body of Christ for saying 'we are not going to let you dictate to us how we interpret Scripture' and you can't tell us 'because Jesus rode in on a donkey' because if you start telling us how to interpret Scripture in one way, you'll tell us how to interpret it in every way," White said in frustration. Grassley had referred to Jesus' humble entrance into Jerusalem to make the point that ministers today don't really need Bentleys and Rolls-Royces to spread the Gospel.
"I preach in countries if I say 'Jesus Christ is the only way, the truth and the life,' they'll arrest me. And don't think America's that far away. Unless the people of righteousness stand up and say 'we're not going to allow for this because you cannot take what is our First Amendment rights. You can't do that!" White asserted. "We pay taxes. We work hard. We do it by the books. We have integrity. But you're going to make a public misery and mess out of it like something's wrong!"
Stressing that her church gave $9 million to mission in January 2007, built education centers in Pakistan, put students through college, fed and continue to feed thousands every week, and helped transform countless lives, White said, "Are you serious? You want to fight over a $50,000 what? Excuse me?!"
Her long, emotional testimony was met with applause and support from the thousands of pastors in the conference room in Orlando.
Though at the time, she wondered whether she would be able to overcome the trials, she now says what the devil meant for bad, God has turned around to work for the good.
"God uses every enemy, every lawsuit, every lie, every betrayal, all the brokenness," she stressed.
"It's not over. I got my bounce back. That's my message."
The three-day Pastors and Leadership Conference, hosted by Bishop T.D. Jakes, kicked off on Thursday.