Two days after federal prosecutors announced a 14-count indictment against him related to allegations of tax fraud, Bishop Anthony L. Jinwright, senior pastor of Greater Salem Church, issued a brief statement proclaiming his innocence.
“I am not guilty of such allegations,” his statement read. “No evidence to support these charges has been presented against me and I therefore await my day in court.”
Jinwright, 52, who also owns AL Jinwright Funeral Services, went on to uphold his Constitutional presumption of innocence. Declining further comment, he said he has no desire to try his case in the city’s newsrooms.
Fair enough. But Jinwright misses the point.
Some of the most damning content in the 16-page indictment isn’t exactly criminal, but it is the type of revelation that can end a pastor’s effective career and undermine the important work of the church.
In short, Jinwright owes the Christian community more than a proclamation of legal innocence. He owes an explanation.
According to some of the background information used to build a criminal case against him, the feds allege that Jinwright:
- Accepted $3.1 million in pay and reimbursements from Greater Salem from 2001 to 2006.
- Drove numerous luxury cars, including a $244,182 Mercedes-Benz Maybach, a $175,832 Bentley GT and a $352,500 Rolls-Royce Phantom.
- Accepted a $151,000 housing allowance.
- Was paid a $54,000 vehicle allowance.
- Allowed his church to pay income tax and Social Security liabilities on his behalf totaling $100,000.
- Enjoyed unlimited use of a church-owned Mercedes-Benz.
- Used a church-issued credit card for personal expenses.
Nowhere is Jinwright accused of defrauding Greater Salem. The feds apparently are interested only in his alleged crimes — five counts of tax evasion, five counts of filing false tax returns, three counts of mail fraud and one count of making false statements to a federal agent.
Motivated only by love for their preacher, one must presume, members of Greater Salem apparently voted freely to lavish their pastor with expensive perks. No crime there, folks.
But shouldn’t we demand more from the men and women who occupy our sacred pulpits?
Can a preacher behind the wheel of a $300,000 vehicle effectively espouse the teachings of a selfless Christ?
And what would Jinwright say to critics — many of them young, black men — who no longer see the African American church as relevant to the myriad problems that beset our communities?
Preachers growing rich off the generosity of believers is nothing new, of course. History has given us the odious likes of the Rev. Ike and Jim Bakker, plus a few others I would offend some readers to name.
But I’ve also known preachers who take seriously their charge to serve God’s people. They have never traded their Bibles for the allure of Bling.
Jinwright is correct when he asserts that his guilt or innocence will be decided in a court of laws. But in the halls of public opinion, he faces perhaps a far tougher challenge — and so should the church leaders who enabled his lavish lifestyle.
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com.