Megachurch Co-Pastors Announce Divorce
The married duo pastoring one of the nation's biggest churches is planning for divorce.
Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International in Tampa, Fla., announced their decision to split at their Thursday evening service, shocking most congregants and bringing some to tears.
"It's the most difficult decision I've ever had to make in my entire life," Randy White told the congregation with Paula by his side at the podium appearing choked up, according to Tampa Bay Online.
Married nearly 18 years, the Whites, who have both been married and divorced before, said in interviews that the split is amicable. They also mentioned that the divorce comes after years of visits to counselors.
Trouble in the couple's marriage was picked up by The Tampa Tribune in May as the two were rarely seen preaching together anymore.
Both blamed the two different directions their lives are going.
Paula, 41, the church's senior pastor, leads her own ministry, making frequent trips as a sought-after speaker, author and televangelist. She leads monthly services at her newly opened Life by Design Empowerment Center in New York, appears regularly on "The Tyra Banks Show" as a life coach and serves as oversight pastor at Family Praise Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Meanwhile, Randy, 49, has been traveling to Malibu, Calif., where he plans to start another church, he told his Tampa congregation. He already signed a one-year lease on a beachfront dwelling there but plans for the new church are on hold, according to TBO.
Randy White will remain at Without Walls as senior pastor and Paula will remain based in Tampa and pledged to return frequently to preach.
Some congregants said the surprising announcement won't deter their continual attendance.
The announcement "didn't weaken the church in any way," said Kerran Fuller, who has been attending the church for less than a year, according to the TBO.
Still, Randy predicts attendance at the 23,000-member church "will take a hit" and finances will also be affected. Paula White Ministries brings in about $50,000 to $80,000 a week, said Randy.
Critics have raised questions over the Whites' financial wealth with church revenues at nearly $40 million last year and a $22 million debt, according to Without Walls church board member Alick Clark of Action, Calif. The couple has a Bayshore Boulevard home with an assessed value of $2.22 million, a New York condo valued at about $3.5 million and a private jet, as reported by TBO.
Randy said most of the couple's personal income reportedly comes from private businesses, including a real estate company and sales in books and other resources to the church, according to The Tampa Tribune.
Some have left the church when the couple's theology "stopped lining up biblically," said former staff member Larry DeLaRosa.
The Whites preach a prosperity message. Critics say their message of prosperity were at the expense of humility and family values.
"Too many ministries have become big business. That message is desecrating the church today," Clarke said, according to TBO.
The Whites have declined to say what the church pays them but say the church now supports more than 90 missions and in-house and community outreach programs.
"What they've done for this community, people have no idea," Tampa physician Sydel LeGrande told the local Tribune.
"I know they're not perfect. I've heard some of the things said around town, and some of it is probably true, but this much I know: God has placed a tremendous call on their lives. It requires a lot of them," said LeGrande, also a congregant at Without Walls, known as the perfect church for people who aren't, for a dozen years.
Others seem to disagree.
The Rev. Hector Gomez, a former Without Walls staff member who left in 2000, told the Tribune that the church is all about money and fame now.
"A lot of drama inside and too much attention paid to getting exposure and publicity on the outside," he said.
As the Whites prepare to go their separate ways, Randy announced this week there will be some changes at Without Walls, including becoming less independent by teaming with other ministries in the city and more visible in the community.
Meanwhile, Paula, who rose to international renown, said she knows followers will feel disappointed by the announcement given that evangelical Christians hold marriage as a sacred institution and a cornerstone of a godly life, according to TBO.
"I wish there was a magic formula that gave you guarantees in life," she said. "Now I have to draw deep into my faith and let God draw me out of this dark place."
She told congregants on Thursday that the decision was one of the most painful of their lives but expressed hope saying, "God always comes to you in the dark places of life."
Also acknowledging that the news would let a lot of people down, Randy said he takes "100 percent responsibility" for the split.
Randy and Paula White founded Without Walls International as South Tampa Christian Center in 1991.