Jacob Johnson was allegedly left so rattled by the response he got when he asked if the church was being evicted during an intense staff meeting with Pastor John Gray of Relentless Church in Greenville, South Carolina, he later quit and ran to the police.
Johnson, who was the director of The Imagine Center, the gym at Relentless Church, told WYFF 4 News Wednesday that after Gray’s lawyers responded to a 30-day notice of termination of a non-residential lease from the owners of the building that houses the megachurch, he and other staffers met with Gray for a meeting two Thursdays ago.
In that meeting, Johnson said he pressed Gray for the truth about the church’s status.
"Do we know the truth of this situation? And I said, "'Are you pulling the wool over our eyes?’” Johnson said he asked Gray.
And that’s when things got ugly fast.
“The room shifted. It shifted tremendously to a sense where I no longer felt like I was at church. I no longer felt like I was safe. And I was really concerned about some of the leaders that jumped up and rushed at me as well as security that verbally assaulted me,” he continued.
Johnson explained that he didn't mean to offend anyone by his question but just wanted to know the truth.
“Note that it's hard to stand up to somebody that you've looked up to, someone that you've looked for guidance for. Someone to feed you. It's very hard to stand up against a man of God ... as a young man who my beliefs are very strong,” he said.
Local police confirmed with the outlet that Johnson filed a report about what happened at the meeting but there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge anyone.
It was also reported by WYFF 4 News that other staffers had also quit since the church’s lease became an issue.
Holly Baird, Gray’s publicist, did not immediately respond to questions from The Christian Post on Friday about Johnson’s allegations or the termination notice. However, she told WYFF 4 News that "they (Relentless) were served a termination of lease based on a verbal agreement."
A source also told CP that Relentless Church has video which allegedly disputes Johnson’s narrative about the meeting. He was allegedly verbally abusive and charged at Gray, prompting his security and others to protect him.
James Stephen Welch, a lawyer retained by Gray from the firm McGowan, Hood and Felder, LLC, recently argued in a letter shared with CP that megachurch pastors Hope and Ron Carpenter of Redemption World Outreach Center, which owns the building that houses Relentless Church, have not been abiding by the terms of their agreement.
The Carpenters moved to San Jose, California, last year and were officially installed as the new pastors of the 14,000-member Jubilee Christian Center, now rebranded as Redemption. They passed on the reins of their South Carolina church, which they founded in 1991, to the Grays.
“As you may be aware, Redemption Church and Ron Carpenter could not follow through will [sic] all the terms of the original transition agreement related to property when Relentless moved in. Subsequently, two leases were negotiated to allow Relentless to lease the properties (which you list in your letter) until Relentless exercised its option under those leases to obtain the properties. Based on those lease terms, Relentless has paid and is current on both leases, and possibly has overpaid based on rent increases by Ron Carpenter and Redemption,” Welch stated.
The lawyer argued that the relationship between his client and Hope Carpenter soured after she allegedly told Relentless members that Gray is a “shady man” and “dishonest,” and that she and her husband will soon be taking back their church.
In a statement to WYFF 4 News, Katari D. Buck, a partner at Asiatico Law, PLLC said after two years of negotiations they have not been able to work out a deal for the transition of the church. As a result, they have asked Relentless Church to vacate the property by Dec. 31.
"Because the parties have not been able to agree on a date for Relentless to vacate the property, Redemption has taken steps to protect its property rights by sending a notice of lease termination to Relentless through legal counsel, which requires Relentless to vacate the property by December 31, 2019. If Relentless does not vacate the property by December 31, 2019, Redemption will begin the necessary court process to have Relentless removed from the property in accordance with South Carolina law,” Buck wrote.
"Redemption is in receipt of the letter to its counsel from J. Stephen Welch on behalf of Relentless dated December 5, 2019. Redemption disagrees with the legal positions taken in the letter and is preparing a response. Redemption does not believe it benefits either party for this legal battle to be waged in the media, however, and instead will look to the court process for resolution,” she added.