(Photo: The Christian Post via Redemptionichurchod.com)
Ron Carpenter, senior pastor of the 19,000-member Redemption World Outreach Center in Greenville, S.C., revealed last October that his marriage has been rocked by his wife's infidelity for the past 10 years, and attributed the turmoil to her unspecified "sickness." Yet, Pastor Ron, as the RWOC family calls him, has no intention of stepping down from the pulpit, not even briefly, because "his integrity [is] 100 percent intact," according to the executive director of the megachurch.
In fact, Pastor Carpenter will be back in the pulpit this Sunday, only one week after announcing at the end of his Jan. 5 sermon that he would immediately be flying to an undisclosed location to seek counseling with his wife and RWOC co-founder, Hope Hilley Carpenter.
"We have a guest speaker that will be here [for mid-week Bible study] while he's away, but he will be back in the pulpit on Sunday," Redemption's Executive Director Travis Hayes told The Christian Post on Wednesday via phone.
Asked if Pastor Carpenter intended on taking any time off to focus on his broken marriage and family, Hayes said that is what the RWOC senior pastor has been doing this week between Sunday services.
"He's not leaving the pulpit, but he is seeking guidance from a multitude of counselors, including Dr. Sam Chand and Bishop T.D. Jakes, as well as the folks they (the Carpenters) are seeing together out of town," Hayes explained. Clarifying Pastor Carpenter's remarks last Sunday, he emphasized that the pastor and his wife were not actually with Chand or Jakes while out of town.
"He doesn't plan on stepping down," repeated Hayes. "He is taking the time, spending lots of time with God and advisors and counselors but doesn't plan on taking any time off. He believes God has got a relevant word for him and God is using all of this situation, and he's sharing it with the congregation and they seem to be embracing it."
Leading by Example
The Carpenters, who met at International Pentecostal Holiness Church-affiliated Emmanuel College in Georgia, have been married for 23 years, are in their mid-40s and have three children. The couple 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 spans three campuses, and Pastor Carpenter's messages reach an even wider audience via online streaming and through his globally televised "Redemption With Ron Carpenter" television program.
Pastor Carpenter first revealed his marital woes last October, taking the occasion of his Sunday sermon to instead have a "family discussion" with his flock about Mrs. Carpenter having committed adultery multiple times in the past decade, and seeking psychiatric help. Hope Carpenter, he said, had "voluntarily entered a treatment program with tears in her eyes" and asked him "to protect her" and "represent her."
Carpenter, whose father is the late Ronald W. Carpenter, Sr., former presiding bishop of the IPHC, said he chose to cover his wife with love after first learning of her infidelities, because Christ was his own covering. He also said he did not want to be hypocritical by failing to practice what he himself preached.
The exact nature of Mrs. Carpenter's "sickness" was not disclosed, and while Pastor Carpenter suggested in October that she would be in a year-long program, his wife appears in a photo that was posted online Dec. 24 by their daughter-in-law, who wrote in the caption: "Glad to have my mother-in-law home!"
Redemption World Outreach Center congregants appeared overwhelmed when they heard on Jan. 5 that Carpenter had changed his previously declared "solid" position on avoiding reconciliation with his wife. "I had a very dramatic experience a few weeks ago with God that turned my heart," the pastor explained. "I just cannot let the enemy win. I cannot let him win."
RWOC congregants wiped away tears, shouted "hallelujahs," and embraced one another.
Carpenter said that his wife has for a long time "been willing" to reconcile, and that his heart was "open for God to do a miracle."
He added, "We need your prayers, because I thought and she thought about y'all, that if you look at us and see us not willing to fight, what message does that send to you?"
Carpenter, not as visibly upset last Sunday as he had appeared during his October revelation, also told congregants that he loved them, and thanked them for "hanging in there with us."
"I'm broken over your willingness to be associated with people who have experienced such trouble. I'm sorry you've had to defend us. I'm sorry you've heard jokes. I'm sorry, and I can't change all that, but all I can do is get back in the game and give God His day. The critics have had their day. Let's give God His day."
'On Track and 100 Percent Intact'
"For the last 10 years, I have been masking a situation that has absolutely almost destroyed me," Carpenter told his congregation in October. "In 2004, the date we dedicated this facility, Easter Sunday 2004, I left here to find a very different woman than I had ever met."
"I don't know what happened," said Carpenter. "I went home to a person that for the next 10 years I did not marry and I have not known."
Calling his wife's behavior "erratic, reckless, nonsensical, (and) destructive," Carpenter told his flock that he had "sat through two years of grueling therapy with her to no avail" and the situation continued to grow worse.
Carpenter also shared during his Jan. 5 sermon on "Grace" that he was not good at compartmentalizing. "What that means is that I'm not good at being one person out of church, and another person in church," he explained. "Whatever's happening to me privately, you're gonnna get the overflow of it when I pick up this microphone."
In addition to sparking online debate about the wisdom of disclosing the personal details of his broken marriage and suggestions that Carpenter had thrown his wife under the bus, there were questions related to 1 Timothy 3 and its implications for a church leader whose family life was experiencing unrest. "If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?" asks 1 Tim. 3:5, used among a handful of other Bible passages by Christians to lay out qualifications for church leaders.
Hayes, ROWC's executive director, told CP that not only have church members been overwhelmingly supportive of their pastor, but that "(Carpenter) has been inundated by the who's who of Christian ministries just with giving him love and support."
"Even the ministry, not just him, the ministry as a whole, we've been inundated by the love and support of not only of local ministries, but other ministries across the nation," said Hayes.
Hayes explained that he, along with two other executive members, Elder Rick Smith and Bishop Paul Gaehring, handle the business- and ministry-related aspects of RWOC and keep Pastor Carpenter abreast of daily issues, allowing him "during the weekdays, Monday through Friday, to be able to take the time he needs to focus on his family right now."
"Redemption also has a board of directors, which is an advisory board of directors to the senior pastor, and those include Bishop Kenneth Ulmer (Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, Calif.), Bishop Gary Oliver (Tabernacle of Praise in Fort Worth, Texas) and several other gentlemen who act (in) an advisory and counseling role for Pastor Ron and the organization."
Hayes added that, while not on the board of directors, Bishop T.D. Jakes and Dr. Sam Chand are looked to "for wisdom and guidance in a lot of situations, so they've been more than helpful in this situation." Chand, a ministry consultant and leadership expert, was present when Jim Bolin was restored last summer as pastor of Trinity Chapel in Powder Springs, Ga., after he had stepped down in 2008 over inappropriate sexual behavior. Jakes, founding and senior pastor of The Potter's House in Dallas, Texas, hosts the annual Pastor's and Leadership Conference, among several other projects meant to equip ministry leaders.
"All of those parties are aware of everything that's taken place and is taking place and the direction [the] pastor is headed," Hayes told CP concerning the advisory board's involvement in Pastor Carpenter's decision-making process.
Hayes said neither "yes" nor "no" when asked if the demands of 1 Timothy 3:5 apply in Pastor Carpenter's present situation.
"I think none of us, regardless of your position, whether you're Billy Graham or whether you're an usher greeting in your local body, I don't think any of us are exempt from hardship at all," said Hayes. "I think the enemy takes care of that. I think the higher you are on that totem pole, the larger the bulls-eye or the target is on your back. The more you're doing for God, the bigger the target."
The executive director added, "I don't think that target, that bulls-eye, that attempt from the enemy to weaken you or the message that you're bringing, I don't think that exempts you from…it doesn't void you from the ability to be able to bring the message of God. The gifts are irrevocable, and what God has called you to do, God has called you to do regardless. I think (Pastor Carpenter's) definitely capable, definitely doing a good job of bringing the message and bringing the word of God to his congregation and to the world, to our constituency worldwide, even in other nations.
"I think the support, not only in the local churches in our satellite campuses, but our worldwide ministry, our partnerships through TBN and our partnerships through some of the other organizations that we're part of, the support has just been overwhelming. I think that definitely speaks to that."
Listen to audio excerpts of Hayes' response in the clip below:
The International Pentecostal Holiness Church's 2013-2017 Manual lists strict guidelines for "divorced or remarried persons" who are credentialed ministers or seeking credentials, and explains eligibility for continuing one's ministry under the following restrictions: A. The candidate's former spouse has died or remarried; B. The candidate divorced and remarried prior to adult Christian conversion; C. The candidate's former marriage partner was guilty of sexual immorality and was unwilling to repent and live faithfully with the candidate; D. The candidate's former marriage partner willingly and permanently deserted the believing spouse (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:8-9; Romans 7:1-4; 1 Corinthians 7:15; 25-28, 39; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Malachi 2:16).
It is unknown how Carpenter's ministry position would be affected, if at all, if he and his wife were to divorce. Requests made to the national IPHC office as well as the South Carolina Conference for clarification regarding its Manual and principles for senior pastors were not met by press time. Redemption World Outreach Center was cited in 2011 upon its 20th anniversary as the IPHC's largest church.
Pastor Carpenter, who appears on Jan. 15 as a speaker at the 2014 THRIVE Conference hosted by Calvary Church in Irving, Texas, remains "on track" and "is focused," according to his executive director.
"I think the most important thing for folks to remember is that we're all human, even Pastor Ron, even the folks that we put up on pedestals, we're all human," said Hayes. "But Pastor Ron is on track, he is focused. He's on track with the vision and the mandate that God has on his life, not only for him personally but also for this ministry. He's got things in order: God first, his wife and family second, and this congregation, this organization third. He is on track and headed in the right direction. His mercy, his grace and his integrity are 100 percent intact."
The Christian Post's request to Bishop T.D. Jakes' representative for comment on his relationship with Carpenter was not granted. Dr. Sam Chand, noted by RWOC as one of its pastor's advisors or counselors, confirmed that he counsels Carpenter "from time to time," but said he was not able to discuss the marital issues Pastor Carpenter has made public. Messages left with Pastor Kenneth Ulmer's and Bishop Gary Oliver's assistants were not returned by time of publication.