October 16, 2007
Church Without Walls International in Tampa, Florida is one of the largest evangelical mega-churches in America. It boasts a weekly attendance in the thousands and a $40 million annual budget. The church and its pastors are firmly rooted in prosperity theology, combined with an emphasis on self-fulfillment psychology. Until recently the church had been co-pastored by Paula White and her husband of 18 years, Randy White. The Whites announced in August that they would be divorcing and yet continue their respective ministries: Randy as the Senior Pastor of Church Without Walls and Paula as a televangelist, author and conference speaker.
Even when repentance and resignation would seem to be the prudent course, it’s perhaps not surprising to see the Whites cling to their powerful, public positions; “ministry” has been very good to Randy and Paula White. According to Tampa Bay Online, the home they own in Tampa is valued at $2.2 million. Paula White recently purchased a Trump Towers condo in New York City valued at $3.5 million. According to the accounting firm that handles the church’s finances, the White’s “were approved to take (an annual salary) up to $3 million collectively” from the church.
Recently, Paula White was a guest on my radio program. The bulk of our conversation was centered on the “me-centered” nature of her latest book, “You’re All That: Understand God’s Design for Your Life.” The main point of the book is to portray God as one who designed you for your own fulfillment and happiness. (This, of course, contradicts Scripture which says in manifold ways that God designed you for His own glory (cf. Isa. 43:7).)
However, given the public nature of White’s divorce, I began the interview by asking her to justify statements made by members of her church, and posted at Tampa Bay Online, that her divorce “wouldn’t weaken the church in any way.” How is that possible, I asked? Beyond the impact on the church, how is it possible that two high-profile ministers could conclude that their own relationship was so damaged that divorce was the only solution, and yet believe themselves spiritually fit to continue their ministries? White had no concrete answers which led her to conclude our conversation rather abruptly in a desperate attempt to shift the focus:
And while we're talking about painful, difficult situations, with all due respect…we've taken 30 minutes on divorce. But I don't understand why an interviewer, or a believer as yourself, has not asked me how my daughter, who has a death sentence, with third and fourth stage cancer—how she's doing now.
For a moment I sat in shocked silence. For one thing, I didn't know about her daughter’s illness. But more importantly, I was shocked that White would use a family tragedy to make me look like a terrible person given her inability to offer legitimate answers to my legitimate questions about her theology and lifestyle.
What, I thought, does her daughter's illness have to do with answering questions about her divorce and psychologically saturated prosperity theology? Is what Paula White believes and teaches above criticism because she has a terminally ill daughter?
Interestingly, the daughter in question is actually her estranged husband Randy's daughter from a previous marriage. And this person is not a child, but an adult. Paula White led me and my audience to believe that she had a young child at home dying of cancer; she played the sympathy card when it became apparent she had lost the sympathy of the audience on the issues she was asked to address.
Paula White is a well-managed image worth millions of dollars. Behind that image, however, is a real person, a wounded and broken human being, who lives in fear of being exposed. Paula White revealed how broken she is when she used her dying daughter as a desperate cover to protect her well managed image.
It’s not only her daughter that needs our prayers. It’s Paula White as well.
Paul Edwards is the host of The Paul Edwards Program, a columnist and pastor. His program is heard daily on WLQV in Detroit and on godandculture.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.