Pastor John Gray told his congregation he is not backing down during Sunday morning's sermon at his Relentless Church in Greenville, South Carolina.
"I have heard that we are being evicted," the embattled preacher said, as the first lady Aventer Gray looked on. "We are not being evicted because we have paid our bills."
Gray took over as pastor of the former Redemption Church after the original owners, Ron and Hope Carpenter, moved to San Jose, California to take over another church.
But now the Carpenters want their church back after what they say is financial mismanagement and failure to pay the rent.
The drama peaked earlier this year when Pastor Gray asked his flock for $250,000 for repairs on the roof. He asked 2,500 church members to tithe $100 each toward the fund. He said the Carpenters left the church in debt.
"(Ron Carpenter) handed us keys. The keys were not to a paid off building, the keys were to an opportunity, an opportunity to continue the work," Gray said. "Nothing you see is paid off. It wasn't paid off when we got here."
In April 2019, Hope Carpenter made a surprise visit to Relentless and addressed the congregation. "I cut people" and "I got a knife right there in that pocketbook, so Greenville News, come on," she said, according to The Greenville News.
— BCNN1 (@bcnn1) December 5, 2019
In November, the Carpenters served an eviction notice on Gray, giving him until December 31 to clear out of the church he renamed "Relentless" after taking over in 2017.
But Gray told his congregation that the lease is all paid up and they are not going anywhere.
In his 8:30 a.m. sermon, Gray said "We are quietly working behind the scenes, and it's unfortunate that something was shared outside the body of Christ... We are not going to adjudicate this in public."
The scandal forced Greenville residents and Gray's supporters to take sides.
"[I don't know] what John Gray did or did not do. But my problem is with the bigger issue of white preachers pastoring majority black congregations, who, when the money (back to them) ain’t right (allegedly), they want to come back and "rescue" the church from the inept black pastor," tweeted seminary student Kevin Vandiver.
Gray urged his congregation not to "trash talk" the Carpenters. He encouraged his followers to stay focused and not become distracted.
"All of this is a distraction because the enemy wants us to fight each other," he said, according to The Greenville News.
"I promise we are not leaving this city," he said, adding that Relentless will be open next Sunday and the Sunday after that.
"We're going to be here. We're going to be in Greenville. We're going to be Relentless Church for as long as Jesus says so."