Author: Shanti Das Sunday June 21 2020, 12.01am, The Sunday Times
The lead pastors of a global evangelical church have stepped down after admitting that they were “racist” towards black worshippers.
Dave and Jenny Gilpin, who founded Hope City in 1991, resigned after trustees said they had created a “leadership culture that allowed [racism] to happen”.
Staff whistleblowers and former church members said they suffered discrimination at the hands of the leaders and witnessed overt racism, including rules designed to reduce the proportion of black people in the church and attract white people instead.
Hope City, part of an international network of so-called megachurches, describes itself as a “contemporary, vibrant, Christian church” that “loves people”. It has churches in London, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham, York and Sunderland and a headquarters called the Megacentre in Sheffield.
The church had an income of £7.1m last year, according to the Charity Commission.
Hope City tries hard to attract young people, broadcasting its music-led services on YouTube, promoting slick social media pages and hosting frequent networking events. But whistleblowers said the image hid a “toxic” culture and accused the Gilpins of pursuing an “evil agenda”.
They said the Gilpins, who moved to the UK from Australia, wanted more white members who would make generous donations.
Two employees who run the church’s social media pages said they were ordered to post fewer photos of black worshippers — roughly 40-50% of the congregation — on Instagram.
Others said black members were frequently ignored and “on-stage ratios” meant black singers and worship leaders were often asked to move aside in favour of white counterparts. One worship leader, a Sheffield University student, who posted publicly on social media about her time at Hope City, said she experienced “issues of favouritism” discriminating against black worshippers “countless times”.
Smart Banda, 29, who joined Hope City in Sheffield in February 2014, helped to run the church’s Instagram accounts. Banda said Dave Gilpin raised concerns over the page in 2015, saying it featured “too many black people”.
“He said: from here on, for every picture of a black person, there should be two of white people,” Banda said.
He said he had endured “many other” racist incidents, including jokes about slave ships and new white colleagues being promoted above him, which led him to leave the church last September.
Another former member, Brenda Chisala, a private tutor originally from Zambia, wrote on Facebook that the leaders of Hope City church were pursuing an “evil agenda”.
She appealed to black worshippers to “stop giving your money to a system that doesn’t make you feel that you belong, that marginalises you, that deliberately encouraged racism”.
The allegations came to light this month after the Hope City Instagram pages posted messages of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which provoked anger among members who accused the church of hypocrisy.
Dozens of people posted on social media sharing their own experiences. The main posts were subsequently deleted and several people who commented were blocked.
In a post on Instagram in response to the furore, Dave Gilpin admitted that the church had tried to stop white people “heading to almost all-white churches instead of ours. The answer to present ourselves as more multicultural by widening the people mix on teams was hurtful, harmful and destructive . . .
“In the tirade of pain, a number of black people left the church. For this I am deeply sorry. It was my fault.” He added that his wife, Jenny, had “always stood for the oppressed”.
In a video, Gilpin added: “Because we were getting — for a period of time — fewer white people attending in Sheffield, I tried to make the church more appealing to what I thought white people wanted.
“I’ve realised that this was completely racist . . . and that I have hurt many people. I am deeply sorry.”
The church said it had launched an investigation and took “recent allegations of racial discrimination very seriously”. Colin Davies, who chairs the board of Hope City, said: “We wish to make clear that racial discrimination is in no way commensurate with our church’s values or those of the wider Christian faith.
“We are implementing a detailed internal investigation to understand the extent of the issues raised and to ensure complete resolution of those issues.”
The Gilpins plan to leave the UK and return to Australia. Last week the Megacentre — a 100,000 sq ft conference hall in Sheffield — went on sale for £1.85m.
Article also published by Premier Christian News