It was the promise of blessings for donations that rapper T.I. said triggered his now viral smirk, as guest preacher Bishop I.V. Hilliard pressed congregants to give sacrificially two Sundays ago at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.
Speaking on his Apple Podcast “Expeditiously” with fellow rapper Killer Mike last Thursday, T.I. explained his facial expression, noting that Hilliard, pastor emeritus of New Light Christian Center Church in Houston, Texas, “had the nerve to say ‘c’mon y’all. Get your blessings heard.’”
“Are you telling me, I have to give $1,000 for the good Lord almighty to hear my blessings? … that’s probably when I made the face, as he says 'get your blessings heard,'” said T.I., whose real name is Clifford Joseph Harris Jr. “This is extortion. At this point you’re telling these people they will not be blessed unless they give their money to you. And this is the problem I have with black churches. That was why I had that face.”
The problem is “with all church,” Killer Mike interjected.
T.I. and Killer Mike, whose real name is Michael Santiago Render, are currently two of the nation’s most high-profile and outspoken rappers on social issues. And after watching Hilliard’s presentation along with several other celebrities who showed up at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest, Georgia, on Sept. 15, to support an installment of fellow rapper Kanye West’s “Sunday Service,” they both agreed that Hilliard used the Gospel to “con” churchgoers out of their money.
“It’s not that I have a thing against pastors or against preachers, so to speak,” said T.I. “It’s just I’ve been raised in the trenches, and I was taught to peep game You ain’t finna run no game on me. I will not be extorted.”
The prosperity gospel
The prosperity gospel teaches, among other things, that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth, and they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the "sowing of seeds" through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.
It’s a teaching that one of its most vociferous proponents, controversial televangelist Benny Hinn, earlier this month renounced as an “offense to the Lord.”
“I think it’s an offense to the Lord, it’s an offense to say give $1,000. I think it’s an offense to the Holy Spirit to place a price on the Gospel. I’m done with it. I will never again ask you to give $1,000 or whatever amount because I think the Holy Ghost is just fed up with it."
“Did you hear me?” Hinn asked as his audience responded affirmatively in high spirits.
“I think it hurts the Gospel, so I’m making this statement for the first time in my life and frankly, I don’t care what people think about me anymore,” he stated.
T.I. along with his wife and other friends, such as rapper 2 Chainz, whose real name is Tauheed Epps, sat in the front row of the Georgia church, currently led by Jamal Bryant, and cringed as Hilliard ask churchgoers to donate money to the church and get blessed for it.
In the appeal, Hilliard asked churchgoers to give “over and above” what they previously gave or pledged to give earlier in the service, noting that, “this giving is not going to me, it’s going to the church.”
“Now, I know many of you have already pledged to give and that sort of thing and you might want to give it today and not wait for the two weeks. I’ve already talked to pastor about it so he’s already in agreement with this …,” Hilliard said.
“I just want you to obey God this morning. ‘But we already gave an offering,’” he continued pre-empting expected protestation from congregants.
“I know you have. God knows you have. But I want you to do something special … I’m believing for 20 people to give $1,000 today,” I need a clap right there he pressed the congregants.
Hilliard then told the ones that couldn’t give to help in praying that those who could give, would give.
“If you don’t have $1,000 God ain’t asking you for it. All I’m asking you is to agree that those who do have it will give it,” he said.
“Can we try that again? I don’t really need but 19 ‘cause I’m gonna be one of them,” he said.
Hilliard then continued to press his appeal, noting that he is “so bold” with his teaching because “I know it works.”
“I couldn’t care less about what critics say … listen, I don’t do what I do because of critics. I do what I do because I am called of God to do it. Amen? Now listen, will you agree with me for my 20?” he said to a smattering of applause.
He then asked congregants to commit to give smaller amounts in his appeal before handing over the microphone to Bryant.
Rappers call it a 'con'
During their analysis of the appeal, the rappers agreed that it was a poorly constructed “con.”
“What happen was, there was a con being ran. There was a con being ran. If there’s a con it’s supposed to flow smooth. I ain’t supposed to see it coming,” said T.I., who agreed with Killer Mike that Bryant, who is the “normal” preacher for New Birth, is a good preacher.
T.I. explained how he was invited by West to support his “Sunday Service” but when he arrived, he along with his wife and 2Chainz were directed to the front row of the church. He said after he sat down, he began to feel a bit suspicious about “why would they want us on the front row. But I didn’t say anything.”
“I sat there patiently… Jamal was still preaching at the time. Jamal never asked for money, not one time. He did, however, say that there was gonna be a very special service today. And when I heard him say that, I think he’s talking about Kanye …,” T.I. said.
That special guest, however, turned out to be Hilliard, who announced that his sermon would be about “sacrifice.” Hilliard then made a presentation, including a slide show that seemed like a pitch to investors in a corporate setting, T.I. said.
“Then he tells a story about a time when he was a preacher and the church’s budget was in a five-figure deficit. And he said, ‘I had the money, I didn’t have it for that’ and immediately something told me, you gotta fill that deficit for that budget. And I said to myself but I don’t want to. And he said this, this is what he said, ‘And the thing is, when the spirit talk to you and tell you to make sacrifices you gotta do it fast before you talk yourself out of it,” T.I. recalled.
“I said ‘huh?’ You mean to tell me if I am compelled to do something that I tell myself later with my rational thinking mind I can’t afford to do I shouldn’t listen to my rational thinking mind? I should just go ahead and dive in, face first in the frozen lake?” he asked.
Recalling the view he had from his front-row seat, T.I., explained how prior to Hilliard making his appeal for 20 people to donate $1,000 each, that there were different people walking up to the stage “like strippers” making a variety of donation amounts.
“They laid down, 20s, a couple hundreds, whatever it was. I was close enough to the stage so I could see. And all the while this is going on, I’m looking at … 2Chainz … y’all saying ‘do you see this s**t’ right here?’” he said.
He said he also turned to his wife and pointed out that the spectacle on display was one of the reasons he doesn’t attend church.
He would later recall feeling similarly pressured to give at televangelist Creflo Dollar’s church.
“This is what I learned through a trigger warning with Creflo [Dollar]. I was prepared to just really go in and set the record straight. I went to Creflo’s church and if you didn’t have money (cash) they put up a text on the screen that you could text us, essentially Cashapp us and I was disgusted. But then I said to myself, the Catholic Church owns as much land as any other organization. The Catholic Church, rapes, pillages,” and it is accepted as normal, Killer Mike said.
“I am against the con. This is a con, they’re trying to trick me. You’re trying to trick me into believing that I need you to talk to God. That’s what I can’t go for,” T.I. insisted.
While Killer Mike, who said he was raised in church, noted that he no longer gives to the church, T.I. explained that he didn’t have a problem making a donation if it is done in the right way.
“I would give. You know when I give? If you would have told me, ‘Hey man, the church is really doing a lot for a lot of people and we can’t do it on our own; we need contributions from the people who around to help us to be able to do things, then I’d be like ‘… I’ll give you something. Cool.’ But you ain’t fittin to tell me come get my blessings heard and you need $1,000 from 20 people … that ain’t gonna happen,” he said.
T.I. argued that the focus on money and commerce in the church has been a distraction from the church’s main goal of saving souls.
“We can’t take religion seriously if it is just so visibly diabolical like that. Like that was dastardly. How do you expect young people, like you had this opportunity, you had all the young people, all these people who would have never normally got up out they bed. Left out the club … so they could come here. You had an opportunity, a genuine, a grand opportunity to show what this religion, this church and everything was all about and you blew it,” T.I. said.
While Killer Mike noted that the controversial approach to ministry may not have turned off everyone, he did agree that commerce in the church is something that Jesus wouldn’t support.
“You know one of the only acts of violence that Jesus ever committed in the Bible is when he flipped over the tables of the merchants in the temple, in the synagogue. He was so disgusted that there was commerce going on versus salvation that he became angry and flipped stuff,” Killer Mike said.
T.I. was also adamant that he would not allow any pastor to “exploit, extort or manipulate” his love for Jesus in the way that he saw on display at New Birth.
“One thing I know about God is first, church is not a place. It’s a state of being amongst a group of people. You know what I’m saying? The Bible says when two or more join the Lord is present. And with me and you, we talk about the Bible and you make me aware of things I didn’t know. I make you aware of things you didn’t know. That’s church, the presence of God is among us. We are fellowshipping. It don’t cost us a damn dime. You’re not going to convince me that my prayers hit the roof and fall back down to the floor because I didn’t give you $1,000, sir,” T.I. said.
Reacting to the criticism of Hilliard’s appeal, Bryant pointed to the extensive work being done by New Birth to uplift their community.
“To have both of you in church was meaningful for many reasons. This is the largest demographic of blacks who don’t buy into organized religion in our history and in large measure because of reasons you have illuminated,” Bryant noted on Instagram.
“To not give redress would be an assault to the body of Christ when I believe I am an ambassador as the two of you are for your field. I don’t want Sunday to be used as further ammunition as to why people don’t go to church without them knowing at this same church we gave 5000 pairs of new back to school shoes to kids of #Atlanta, or that we spearheaded 9 million campaign to support @bennett_college , or that we bailed out nonviolent offenders or that we partnered with @delta to send 4 cargo to #Bahamas for hurricane release or that we’ve partnered with @_hamptonu to place 95 displaced students or that we fed the furloughed workers for two weeks while the government was shut down or that we went into housing projects to feed kids of #dekalb county during spring break,” Bryant said.
“For none of these projects were you solicited for a donation. The reality is when I came to @newbirthmbc 9 months ago I was met with a 30 million dollar debt that must be paid so that we can be free to do real community development like affordable housing ,entrepreneur work space and medical clinics. I’ve been teaching on self-help which are values you both promote,” he continued.
Bryant further dismissed the notion that T.I. or any of his celebrity friends in the audience at New Birth on Sept. 15 were targeted.
“@bishophilliard was invited months ago with no knowledge #kanyewest was coming or either of you. So there was NO money grab intention but part of an internal strategy to mobilize our church community to move towards economic independence. As black men I hope we can come together ‘expeditiously’ to find common ground to build. I want to invite both of you to come and give church another chance. I promise you I’m more interested in your life than your life savings!” Bryant ended.
Responding to Bryant, T.I. acknowledged that even though he differed with the New Birth pastor on “some matters,” he is ready to unite “on behalf of our people” but he didn’t think he would be back at the church any time soon.
“Nothing but Love and Respect for you @jamalhbryant I’m still shoulder to shoulder in the struggle with you. Pardon my progress...U know God still has me under construction. Our views may differ on some matters, but we are both aligned and move in unison on behalf of our people. So yes of course we can come together... I never considered us separated or torn apart. I’m always willing to sit and fellowship with you or anybody else who institute change & make significant steps toward progress for our people,” the rapper said.
“Don’t know how soon I’ll be in your neck of the woods again tho so maybe another venue would better enable us to meet ‘ExpediTIously’ I’m here when you need me...Just as I always have been. Take it light, & continue to pray for me. Lord knows I need it,” he said.
Bryant also announced plans at the lambasted service to build affordable housing for seniors as well as a medical facility on the church’s campus that will serve the uninsured and underinsured.