Black Church Becomes Perfect Target for Thieves

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  • Perhaps the conditions were too ripe for him to pass on this kind of action.

    Recently Michael Winans Jr., who’s related to the Winans family of gospel singers, was charged with wire fraud in connection with accusations that he operated an $8 million Ponzi scheme in which he promised people they’d make out big by investing in Saudi Arabian crude oil bonds.

    Instead, they wound up losing big. More than 1,000 investors were defrauded of anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000 each from October of 2007 through September of 2008, according to the Detroit Free Press.

    And just where did Winans find this gift of gullible investors who actually believed he was going to do what he said with their money?

    In Detroit’s churches, of course.

    As I said, the conditions of black people giving the church and whatever comes out of it an outsized amount of credibility and control in their lives were too ripe for him to pass up.

    Just as they were too ripe for Ephren Taylor, who peddled his success story as a teenage entrepreneur in church pulpits around the country, inspiring the faithful to such heights of feel-goodery that many apparently failed to apply a healthy dose of skepticism before trusting him with their money.

    As it turned out Taylor, like Winans, was peddling a Ponzi scheme; a scheme that the federal Securities and Exchange Commission said was geared to bilk more than $11 million from churchgoers – most of whom were black.

    Sadly enough, churchgoers like Lillian Wells, who heard Taylor speak at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, let him talk her into investing her entire life savings in a North Carolina real estate venture.

    Then he disappeared, along with her money.

    And when Wells was asked by ABC News how she came to trust Taylor, one of the things she said was, “He quoted scriptures.”

    That has to be one of the worst reasons to be impressed with someone who is asking you to take risks with money. But I suspect that more such stories could possibly be on the horizon.

    I say this because while there once was a time when churches mostly provided spiritual guidance to congregants, many churches – and mega-churches in particular – now provide guidance in virtually every aspect of people’s lives. There’s ministries for single people and married couples, and depending on the church and the need, there may be ministries for things ranging from physical fitness to public relations.

    And, of course, many churches now have ministries for financial management.

    Now there’s nothing wrong with the churches trying to look out for the needs of their congregants in this way. The problem, though, is that when people look to one institution for help in virtually every aspect of their lives, and that institution is one that pushes faith over everything else, many may fail to seek a second opinion.

    What that means is when a guy like Taylor encourages people to invest while standing in the pulpit of a church instead of doing that in a bank financial seminar or at an investment firm, chances are few people will question him.

    In fact, if he was encouraging people to invest in unfamiliar ventures during a financial seminar unconnected to him or the church, people with more investment knowledge would probably ask questions that might expose any chicanery.

    It’s appalling that con artists are now preying on black churchgoing people. Me, I’d fear that a special place in hell was being reserved for me if I enlisted God and the Scriptures to cheat people out of their life savings, or if I used the church as a conduit for leaving people broke and destitute.

    Yet if nothing else, what Winans and Taylor did should serve as a cautionary tale – that tale being that people quoting Scripture may not care about its power to enrich lives as much as they care about its power to fatten pockets.

    Those pockets being their own.

    Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her at tonyaajw@twitter. Or visit her webpage and blog, “Tonyaa’s Take,” at www.tonyaajweathersbee.com.
     

     

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