Pastors reach out to congregation after "only white people" email controversy

Published: Sep. 5, 2013 at 12:03 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 5, 2013 at 12:04 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Pastors of a north Charlotte church that is embroiled in controversy, after an email requested that "only white people" greet people at the front door, are reaching out to their congregation with a new message.

A viewer contacted WBTV after getting an email from Pastor Makeda Pennycooke, an African-American woman, at Freedom House Church along Salome Church Road.

The email was sent to a group of church volunteers who act as greeters for the church's 9 a.m. service.

"We are continuing to work to bring our racial demographic pendulum back to mid-line," Pennycooke wrote in an email to volunteers. "So we would like to ask that only white people be on the front doors."

Carmen Thomas, who has attended and served at the church for the past two years says she was appalled.

"It was a hurtful email," she said. "You can put a white face all over the front door. But when you come through those doors, you're going to see African Americans, you're gonna see Asians. You're going to see people of color."

In a statement to WBTV, the church says the email was a mistake and an apology email was sent within 24 hours of the original email

"The email was sent by one of our longtime pastors in an attempt to emphasize that our greeting team reflect the racial diversity of our entire congregation."

Pastors then reportedly met with staff and church members to make sure nothing like this happens again.

In a message sent out on Wednesday, church officials say the "past few days have been some of the most difficult this church has faced."

"As the pressure has closed in from the media and others, our team has been seeking God and pushing through some tough questions," the email from pastors Troy and Penny Maxwell stated. "We know you've done the same. Thank you for the support you've shown through comments on various news articles and social media posts. The love of our church family astounds us daily, and we're grateful for you."

They say Pennycooke sent an email apology and they sent one of their own.

"We're humbled to share that nearly everyone who was hurt and offended by the original email followed Jesus' principle laid out in Matthew 18," the pastors wrote. "They came to us directly and allowed us to repent and seek their forgiveness."

But while Thomas says forgiveness is important, she points out that's not the only issue.

"That's not the issue," she said. "The issue is respect, justice. Common sense."

Thomas would also like to know who approved the original email.

"I've been there for 2 years," she said. "I worked behind the scenes and I'm convinced that nothing. Not a thing to the surface without somebody's approval from the top."

The Maxwells say they acknowledge "our role in these events" and say the fallout from the email and story is "an obvious attack from the enemy."

"It's no coincidence that he's trying to undermine one of our most valued and recognizable traits: our diversity," the email read.

The pastors say they are "disturbed by how the media has spun this situation with sensationalism and ratings-boosting headlines" but say they aren't surprised.

"This is the media's job, but our job is to honor Jesus and respond as He would: with grace and humility, prayer and forgiveness," they said. "Interviews have been requested, but we haven't responded because our apologies are owed and have been given to you — our church family. Should we choose to grant an interview at some point, we pray that God will direct our steps and speak clearly in His timing."

WBTV has been in contact with the church since August 27th and has given the church multiple opportunities to tell its side of the story. As of Wednesday night, the church has chosen to respond only via email statements.

The pastors asked the congregation to pray for their services and their church.

"Remember, we're a church defined by our diversity. This means we love everyone, no matter what! Let's put that truth into practice this weekend, as we come prepared to show love and be the hands and feet of Jesus," they said. "As we honor Him, He will honor us."

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