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Empowerment Temple hires activist Rev. Robert Turner after firing Jamal Bryant’s successor

Robert R.A. Turner
Rev. Robert R.A. Turner. |

Less than two months after firing lead pastor GJ Barnes for failing to file timely audit reports, the Baltimore-based Empowerment Temple AME Church founded by megachurch pastor Jamal Bryant announced Rev. Robert R.A. Turner of the historic Vernon AME Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma as his replacement. 

"God never closes one door without opening another. Join us this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. as we welcome our new senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Robert R.A. Turner," the church said in a Facebook post Tuesday.

Tulsa's Vernon AME Church is "the only standing black-owned structure on Historic Greenwood Ave from the Black Wall Street era and one of the only edifices that remain from the worst race massacres in American history," according to the church's website.

Turner, a 39-year-old Alabama native, took over as Vernon AME Church's lead pastor some four years ago based on a calling from God. He told Tulsa World that he is following God again to Empowerment Temple.

"I came here following God," Turner explained. "And now I'm leaving to follow God."

Turner said he never sought the opportunity at Empowerment Temple but accepted the offer to lead the megachurch after being contacted by the church about the job one night after he dreamed he was preaching a Sunday morning sermon there. He told the newspaper the last time he visited the church was several years ago.

"It came out of the blue," Turner said. "But God spoke to me, so I have to go."

Despite only serving in Tulsa for four years, Turner leaves behind a legacy of activism, seeking reparations for Tulsa Race Massacre. On Wednesday, Vice released a video feature focused on his activism.

Before his Sunday welcome, Turner is expected to join Bryant, who now serves at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia, in a conversation on Instagram this Saturday at 5 p.m

Bryant left Empowerment Temple in 2019 to become the senior pastor of the more high-profile New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in DeKalb County, a church previously led by the late Pastor Eddie Long.

In an extended statement to his followers on Facebook Wednesday, Turner said he intends to keep fighting for reparations even though he is leaving Tulsa "with a heavy heart."

"My pastoral course here in Tulsa has finished. God has shown me another place He has for me to go. As with Vernon I did not seek this new opportunity. It found me. There is another church, community and cause to take on. I will take it with much greater appreciation, preparation and wisdom because of my time here in Tulsa. Vernon you were the best, Greenwood you are forever in my heart," he wrote.

"The cause of reparations is still my passion I will now be headquartered elsewhere while I fight for it. I am confident the next pastor will take you to even greater heights. My desire is that in 2121 they will look back on what we did in 2021 and find inspiration as I look back on what our church did in 1921 and find encouragement. It will continue to inspire me wherever I go."

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