Pastor John Gray responded to a critic on social media this week by comparing his recent roundtable meeting with President Donald Trump to Jesus' meeting with a hated tax collector.
On Wednesday, the pastor of Relentless Church in Greenville, South Carolina, responded to a fellow African-American pastor on Instagram after he criticized Gray and a group of about 20 other black pastors for meeting with Trump last Wednesday at the White House to discuss issues related to prison reform and urban job creation.
Pastor Keith McQueen, who founded Powerhouse Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, wrote that he "can't respect" Gray's decision to "condone the behavior of an egotistical, misogynistic, narcissistic clown that has turned our country into a circus with his quarrelsome and divisive rants."
McQueen further argued that Gray, who previously served as associate pastor at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, "has affirmed the behavior of this man by sitting at the table to 'discuss' prison reform and urban revitalization with a man that has never cared for urban populations and incites hatred towards minorities that are targeted and often locked up unjustly."
"We disagree with him on the behalf of young black men, women, Mexican #immigrants and their children #lgbt people and citizens that prefer a government that isn't illegally influenced by Russian leaders," McQueen wrote in his rant. "The Bible declares in the 1st Psalm to not sit in the seat of the scornful. The Bible declares in Proverbs 14:7 to flee from the company of fools. He took the influence given to him by God and affirmed by his following and sat it in the lap of @realdonaldtrump."
Gray, who sat next to Trump during the roundtable and said a prayer during the meeting, shot back with his own lengthy comment underneath McQueen's post.
"Hello pastor. Sitting at a table is neither affirming, endorsing, agreeing or aligning. If so, Jesus certainly couldn't have sat with Zacch[a]eus or been in the company of lepers," Gray contended. "High Priests couldn't go near lepers. Jesus made clear that He came eating and drinking and was a friend to sinners, tax collectors and wine bibbers."
As told in Luke, Jesus was in Jericho when he spotted Zacchaeus, a despised and corrupt tax collector seen as a traitor helping the Roman Empire, up in a tree and told him to come down because he wanted to visit his house. Zacchaeus declared that he would give back half of his possessions to the poor and would pay back those he extorted four times as much as he had taken. Jesus declared that salvation has come to Zacchaeus' house and that the Son of Man seeks to save the lost.
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Gray asked in his reply: "Was he aligning or affirming their behavior?"
"Of course not," Gray answered. "And an initial conversation doesn't portend for what could be produced in the future."
Gray continued by calling out McQueen for taking to social media to voice his disgust rather than reaching out personally to discuss the issue.
"I could never presume to know your calling or assignment since we don't know each other. But scripture does outline for us what believers should do if they have a disagreement. It starts with a one on one," Gray explained. "Then get two or three witnesses and then take it before the church. None of that happened before you posted about a fellow believer who had everything to lose and nothing to gain by being obedient to the God who sent me.
"That I didn't voice the accumulated pain of 400 years of REAL BROKENNESS in our black and brown communities is something I wish I could do," Gray added. "Some moments call for a level of wisdom that my emotions would rather do away with."
McQueen responded to Gray's reply by continuing his public tirade.
"@realjohngray the difference between Jesus and you sitting with @realdonaldtrump is that Jesus sat with the oppressed and not the oppressor," McQueen argued. "Jesus confronted the political figures of his day. The process of addressing disagreements between leaders is a process between believers and not preachers to politicians. The book of Jude speaks of those that are divisive and full of dissent and says HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM."
Gray again responded: "@pastormcqueen we are believers. I'm not a politician. You're a man of God. And I understand that we don't see this moment the same," Gray said. "Continue be great and change lives. Blessings to you and your family."
Gray explained last week after the initial blowback to the meeting that he almost did not attend the White House roundtable because he has opposed some of Trump's policies and actions. Gray said he prayed about the invite and was ultimately encouraged by God to attend.
Gray and other pastors who attended the meeting, such as Alabama Pastor Van Moody, have faced much backlash for attending the meeting. Moody defended his attendance in a news conference and a video posted to social media. Moody explained that there were pastors in the room of various political persuasions and the pastors did not know ahead of time which other pastors would be attending.
Among those in the room were prominent pro-Trump Ohio Pastor Darrell Scott, who caught the initial wave of media attention from the meeting because he said that Trump might be the "most pro-black" given the administration's work on prison reform and the black unemployment rate hitting an all-time low since 1972.
Earlier this week, Hillsong NYC Pastor Carl Lentz defended Gray amid the rounds of criticism he's received, such as the disparaging remarks made by controversial Pastor Jamal Bryant who accused Gray of "uncle tomming."
"I do not respect those that would disparage another, for believing they must walk through an open door like this. John please remember, we are not allowed to pick and choose who we lead, who we love, who we influence," Lentz, who pastors to celebrities like Justin Bieber, wrote. "It doesn't matter if the person is hated, or universally loved. It doesn't matter if the person is homeless, or internationally famous. It does not matter if people will impugn your motives, or the motives of a person in this case, inviting you to HIS TABLE. We are under orders to do what's right. Especially in the face of what is wrong."
"Somebody said to me 'yea but he was trying to use John as prop.' I laughed out loud," Lentz added. "I told him firstly, you don't know John. Secondly, that gives far too much credit to 'the other party.' Furthermore do you know how many times a meeting has started in life, when somebody had bad motives, yet the gospel prevailed? I'll take my chances on John Gray and the Grace of God all day, over somebody who thinks they are gonna have the upper hand."
It should be noted that following the meeting, Trump signaled a shift toward more openness to sentencing reform being included in a White House-backed prison reform bill when he met with a group of four Republican senators.
"[Critics do] not know that I have been working on this with this group for a long time, nearly a year-and-a-half," Maryland Bishop Harry Jackson, an evangelical adviser to the Trump administration who was included in the meeting, told CP. "This is not taking a picture. This is something that milestones are being talked about."