When Pastor John Moore decided to invite renowned televangelist Juanita Bynum to preach at his Experience Church in Chesapeake, Virginia, last Sunday, he said he was warned it could cost him. Perhaps even more than the $3,000 down payment, half the offering collected, and other charges she exacted from his church of fewer than 100 members.
But Moore said he didn’t listen. He was too excited by the idea of making history with his Breaking the Rules conference featuring the international prophetess and Pastor Jamal Bryant of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.
“I was advised by some senior bishops — and my lawyer — not to invite her, but I didn’t listen to the senior leaders. I wanted to be one of the first millennial pastors to host Dr. Bynum. And as a result of not listening to senior leaders I got burned,” Moore told The Christian Post this week.
The conference held at his 5-year-old church was touted as a “game changer for entrepreneurs, ministries, businesses and creative visionaries” on online posters reflecting Bynum’s smiling likeness.
On Sunday, the day she was expected to fire up Moore’s already charged church with a powerful word from God, Bynum broke down in tears during a Facebook Live broadcast.
She explained that she decided to cancel her appearance at Moore’s church because the 35-year-old married preacher allegedly entered her nearly $500 a night room at the Hilton Norfolk The Main hotel uninvited. He allegedly saw her underwear and other clothes laid out while she was not in the room as reported by a staff member of the hotel to her assistant, and she was too shaken to preach.
“The fact that I’m getting ready to go and stand in somebody’s pulpit who’s seen my underwear, I’m sorry people, I just felt naked and I still do and just felt so violated,” Bynum said in the Facebook Live broadcast shortly after midnight.
“I said to my assistant, ‘What do you mean he’s been in my room? … You mean like been in my room and saw all my underwear?’ And she said, ‘Yes ma’am.’ And I said, ‘Well, how do you know that?’ And she said because the secretary called upstairs,” Bynum said.
She then explained that the hotel’s manager had called her assistant to ask why she had two rooms booked in her name. Bynum said her assistant told the manager that she did not have two rooms in her name but checked in with Bynum’s credentials as she is accustomed to do which gave her permission to prepare the room.
The manager said Bynum asked if all of her “stuff, her underwear [was] laid out over everything like the pastor said it is?”
Moore insisted that he meant no harm when he entered Bynum’s room. “I never seen any underwear, none of that,” he told The Christian Post. He also said he never made the claim to any Hilton staff member that he had seen Bynum’s underwear.
“Absolutely not. That is a lie,” he said.
And after trying and failing to meet the televangelist's long list of exacting demands, Moore said he still hasn’t formally met the woman who left him all by himself to explain to a crowd of more than 300 people, some of whom had traveled from several states to see her, why she wasn’t going to preach God’s Word as planned on Sunday.
“That was one of the most awkward moments of my life that I will never ever forget. I told the people, we appreciate and we honor Dr. Juanita Bynum and her gift but unfortunately, Dr. Bynum will not be here tonight. She is in town and she is in her room. But because of unforeseen circumstances that are out of my hands, she will not be here tonight. … The people stood up with applause and we continued to move on in the service,” he said.
Women in ministry
While some critics thought Bynum’s controversial broadcast of what happened was an overreaction, the incident has sparked a deep conversation about privacy and decorum, and drew swift support from women in ministry. Theologian Candice Marie Benbow and others argue that Moore was out of line when he entered Bynum's room uninvited.
“Juanita Bynum had every right not to preach at Experience Church. I honestly don't know any male pastor, with good sense or intentions, who would go into a woman's hotel room without her knowledge or consent. He was foul. She was right,” wrote Benbow on Twitter Wednesday.
“I have preached and done workshops for pastors I have known for years ... men I consider my brothers—NEGROES WHO HAVE SEEN ME IN MY BONNET ON FACETIME—and they have NEVER gone into my room when I was there in a professional capacity. It's just some things you don't do,” she continued.
“Women have a right to feel safe and that was a breach of safety. Add to that, he had absolutely no regard for her reputation. He didn't even care about what it meant for her, a black clergywoman, to have a man — the pastor no less — seen going into and coming out of her hotel room," Benbow continued.
“Do y'all know how hard some sisters work to keep their names and reputations intact only for this [and y'alls little post preaching meals where y'all talk about sisters over chicken wings] to ruin it?! And when brothers and sisters in ministry reduce her decision to an overreaction, I be wanting y'all to give y'all degrees and ordination credentials back. Because y'all don't read and you don't listen."
Moore said he has hosted several high-profile preachers at his church before, but Bynum was the most famous female preacher he had ever invited to an event. Usually, he said, it is his wife who handles the welcome of female preachers but she was out of town at the time he entered Bynum’s room.
When he contracted her to preach at the conference on July 21, Moore said they negotiated a down payment of $3,000 plus half of the night’s offering as well as airfare, accommodation, and other travel expenses for her and her staff. The contract also came with several riders explaining how Bynum wanted things to be handled, such as the type of car she wanted to be picked up in at the airport.
Moore said he was working hard on the contract to make sure Bynum had a good experience in Virginia and things were exactly as she wanted, but her staff made things difficult for him.
Here's what happened, according to Moore.
Moore said he went to the hotel on July 20 to make sure everything was fine and then on Saturday, before her arrival, he delivered some “goodies” which he gives to all of the church’s guests “just to say thank you.”
The hotel staff initially gave Moore a key to a room he discovered was not Bynum’s, he said. They later gave him another key to her room but when he got there he saw luggage inside and assumed that he was in the wrong room again because Bynum wasn't yet in town. He was aware that her staff, including her assistant Uneika Chambers, had arrived early and were supposed to be in their own rooms.
He explained that Bynum was supposed to arrive in Virginia on Saturday morning but her arrival was delayed by several hours so he decided to use the opportunity to personally deliver the church’s welcome packet, which included a framed photograph of Bynum, which triggered the unfortunate series of events that ended with the prophetess canceling her appearance and taking all his money with her too.
“With all of our guests, my wife would normally be there. Because we are from Virginia, we like to show Southern hospitality, and so we go above and beyond to show our guests that we really appreciate them. Knowing that Dr. Bynum wasn’t gonna be there until later on, I wanted to put those items in her room very quickly and leave,” Moore said.
“When I opened up the room, the suite, it’s like a hallway. To the right is the bathroom and the bed area. But as soon as I opened the door I saw these black luggage. I said, ‘Hello, hello, is there anyone in here? There wasn’t a response. Immediately, I walked out of the room,” he said.
Moore explained that he didn’t “go far” into the room because he was alarmed by the luggage he thought belonged to another guest. He immediately went to the hotel staff and complained that there was somebody inside Bynum’s hotel room and it needed to be fixed.
And that’s when the hotel staff reached out to Bynum’s assistant, Uneika Chambers, and informed her that Moore had set foot inside the prophetess’ room and seen her underwear, according to Bynum’s Facebook post.
Hilton’s response on privacy
When questioned about the violation of Bynum’s privacy by gaining access to her room, Moore suggested to CP that he had a right to access the room because he had paid for it.
Two separate Hilton representatives informed of Moore’s denial that he saw Bynum’s underwear confirmed Thursday that the incident was being “investigated” but could not confirm whether he had said anything about Bynum’s underwear to staff.
“Because we were reached out to by a representing party of Ms. Bynum, any and all questions asked on the incident has to go through corporate. We have to protect the privacy rights of Ms. Bynum and any other party involved,” a manager at the hotel said Thursday.
A more formal response from the Hilton Norfolk The Main hotel was pending Thursday night.
While Moore denies that he saw Bynum’s underwear, the televangelist’s assistant suggested to "Larry Reid Live" that Moore did admit to seeing her boss’ underwear when she confronted him and two different managers at the hotel “to discuss and figure out why he was let into the room” moments after it happened.
She explained that prior to Moore’s entrance into Bynum’s room, she told him in an earlier conversation that she was preparing the room and he agreed that she should go ahead and do her work.
“For me to get that call moments later for which she is very irritated, ‘Hello Ms. Chambers, why do you have two rooms in your name?’ And I said, ‘Well yes. My boss, she isn’t here yet.' 'Yeah, yeah, Juanita Bynum. But the room, does it have luggage in it and she has underwear everywhere?’… She was going on and on,” Chambers said of the hotel manager.
“I interrupted her and said, ‘Ma’am, wait a minute. Why do you know what’s in her room?' She replied, ‘Well, the pastor, he paid for the room. He has a right to have a key to the room. I gave him a key.' And I said ‘No, no, no, no,” Chambers insisted.
She then went down to the lobby and met with Moore and the managers. She explained that at check-in one of the hotel managers confirmed with her that only Bynum’s name was listed on her room and she asked that Bynum’s name be removed from the room and only her name be used.
“I looked at Pastor Moore and said, ‘Did you not just tell me that you entered Dr. Bynum’s room? There was luggage everywhere and then you saw her garments and underwear and things of that nature in the room. And he nodded, ‘Well yeah!’ He didn’t say it calmly,” Chambers said.
She explained that when she looked at the manager’s reaction to the conversation “she had her hand over her mouth.”
Chambers said she asked Moore directly why he went into Bynum’s room and he said, “‘Here at Experience Church, we like to express ourselves and show our love. He had three bags in his hand and a backpack."
“And I said, ‘OK, I understand that. We appreciate your gratitude and you showing Dr. Bynum that you love her. We are excited to be here. It’s all great.' And he said, ‘Yeah, I had a picture framed of Dr. Bynum and her mother. I wanted to set it up. I’ve got gift baskets and things of that nature,'” she said.
Chambers explained that she didn’t know what was inside the bag Moore had because he never showed it to her. She said she told Moore he could not put the photo in Bynum’s room because the issue of her mother is “very sensitive.” Chambers added that she offered to take the picture and give it to Bynum later but Moore insisted on giving it to her himself.
Chambers explained that even though Moore was excited to meet Bynum and present a welcome video, she told him it wasn’t Bynum’s policy to meet with pastors before she ministers.
“I expressed to him, I know you really want to do this, but Dr. Bynum’s policy, because she operates in the prophetic gift, she does not see ministers before she preaches, only after. So anything she relays prophetically is solely from God and she has no contact with you. That’s the only reason that that policy is there. It’s not because she doesn’t want to see you. Of course, she wants to see you. She agreed to come to your ministry. Dr. Bynum is just as excited as we are. And he just begins to get extremely frustrated and just get very, very upset,” Chambers recalled.
She said a frustrated Moore described the experience as “pure hell” and quipped, ‘’I don’t even drink but I want to go to the bar.’”
In his interview with CP, Moore insisted that he really was just trying to impress a preacher he and his wife admired, but ended up deeply disappointed.
“We are 5 years old, so we are pretty much still babies. We have a congregation of a little less than a hundred people that attend. And so normally, when our guests come in town, my wife and I, we really try to take the lead in being hospitable to whoever it is. We’ve had plenty of guests that we have hosted before and we pretty much did the same thing. A matter of fact, they enjoyed it,” he said.
“One year we had a painted picture made of our guest. One time we had a custom robe for them with our name and their name on it,” he noted.
“We respected and honored who she (Bynum) was and just wanted to make sure everything went well. Dr. Jamal Bryant, this is his third year coming to us. He’s come to us for three years and each year we show Southern hospitality. And I think it speaks volumes for someone of his magnitude to come consistently for three years and never have a complaint. We’re known for our hospitality and that’s what we wanted to display to Dr. Bynum, but unfortunately, that didn’t take place. She says that she is low maintenance, but according to her rider it’s totally the opposite,” he argued. “We always go by what’s written. And so we follow what was written. What she said on her video contradicted what’s on her rider.”
Getting money back
Moore said Chambers was nasty to him while she insists that he was arrogant and refused to listen.
“Anybody that knows me, knows that’s not my character. Ms. Uneika Chambers was so nasty to me. Her attitude was just ungodly. We’re supposed to be believers, we’re supposed to be Christians. The way she acted was terrible,” he said.
When asked if he had any regrets about the situation, he said: “I think because of how stressful it was I wanted to make sure everything was right. I’ve learned my lesson. I probably could have gotten another female since my wife wasn’t there to do it,” he said.
For the moment though, he is working on getting his money back from Bynum, who, he said, decided to cancel their agreement because she allegedly didn’t like how his armor-bearer was dressed when he picked her up at the airport.
He explained that Bynum was supposed to arrive in Virginia at 6 p.m. on Saturday but then her staff informed him that she would be arriving at 12:10 a.m.
“Elder James Vaughn told me that they would pick her up themselves so I wouldn’t have to worry about our team picking her up. Saturday night, me and my wife, we are in the bed getting ready to go to sleep. ... I get a phone call from Ms. Uneika Chambers saying Dr. Bynum needs to be picked up immediately. She’s coming in at 12:10 a.m. and it’s 11:45 p.m. Mind you that the airport is in Norfolk and my wife and I we live in Hampton,” Moore said.
He said he and his wife offered to get Bynum from the airport but Chambers refused. Moore tried to explain that it was late and could be difficult to make other arrangements. He said she offered to use his vehicle to pick up Bynum but he said that would be a liability issue.
“I had to end up calling one of my armor bearers almost at 12 o’clock. I called him, he lives in Virginia Beach. He had to leave his family to go late at night to pick up Juanita Bynum. When he gets to the airport, he’s trying to help them with their luggage … he has on jeans, a T-shirt, he has tattoos, and a fitted hat.
“I get a text message [from James Vaughn] that reads ‘this is how Dr. Bynum was picked up tonight at the airport. Really? After all that was discussed? She is cancelling and will refund your 3,000 deposit.’ That was at 12:49 a.m.,” Moore said, explaining that Bynum’s staff had taken a photo of his armor-bearer and sent it to him.
“At 12:57 a.m. he responds and says, ‘She is livid. She says the contract was broken and she is not returning the deposit. All because of the way he was dressed. And that’s what I didn’t share but I got to tell the truth. I respect her but she has put a damage on my church,” Moore said.
“At 2 o’clock in the morning, I’m now talking to my armor-bearer, trying to calm him down. He’s married, he has a family, he’s at seminary. … He told me, he said, ‘Pastor, I don’t mean no harm, I love you and I respect you, but if she comes to church tomorrow night I’m not coming,'” he explained.
“I thought I was dreaming. I thought I was getting pranked. I’ve never in my life experienced anything like this. My church is hurting. My wife is hurting because we really respected and honored her … I always respected my elders,” said the 35-year-old preacher. “If she didn’t like Saturday night why stay? And for us to pay for that room and you canceled?”
Moore says he and his lawyer will gently try to recoup the money from Bynum, but if she doesn’t respond favorably he might have to fight her for it in court.
“I’m meeting my lawyer and we’re going to try to send her a letter to let her know if she can reimburse us for all that we [did], our expenses to bring her. We’re trying to reason with her before going to court with her. We should reason together. But if we can’t reason together, we’re gonna have to take the next step,” he said.