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But when the church itself falls on financial hard times, as it has for the last several years, these disparities create friction. Church members have heard calls from the pulpit requesting that they give 25 percent more than they have in the past, even as Carter staged a swanky gala, on November 10, to celebrate his 40-year anniversary as a pastor. About 400 Carter admirers attended the event, paying a ticket price of $75 each, which went to Carter, not his church.
"There's an element of greed that needs to be addressed in Mount Olive and how the monies that are donated to the church are being used — incorrectly, in a lot of instances," says Franklin. He doesn't fault Carter for holding private galas or for collecting a handsome salary, as other former trustees do. His concern is transparency: "I don't know for a fact that people are misappropriating funds. I just know that the way we're spending money is not the way God would have us do."
What's more, questions about how donated funds are used is likely to lead to fewer donations. Since the trustees board was replaced and Carter's conduct has been called into question, there are more empty seats on Sunday at New Mount Olive, say members.
One longtime member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the June 28, 2006, prayer meeting was the last straw. "Since that meeting, I'm not a regular at service," says the former churchgoer. "I've become disillusioned. I visit other churches."
Former trustees Mitchell and Franklin have also been jaded by recent events, but still attend. In sermons when Carter rails against conspirators trying to undermine the church, they know he's talking about them. "It's been a mentally stressful year-and-a-half," says Mitchell. "Draining." He feels ostracized from his church, he says.
Franklin hears the same sermons and knows that he's a target, but he trusts in his righteousness. "I study the Bible and I know that God uses whom he chooses to use," says Franklin. "And I know what a prophet is — and Dr. Carter is not a prophet. To label someone as an 'agent of the Devil' and to say someone is 'unsaved' — he's not qualified to say that."
Mullins, named as one of the plaintiffs in the suit, has been trying to reconcile his own drifting from the church with his family's growing attachment to it. "My daughter loves New Mount Olive," he says. "She was raised in Mount Olive and Pastor Carter knows her. He treats my kids very well; they're just so conflicted. They say, 'Dad, please don't say anything this week.' What are you going to do?
"As a family we have to worship, but where are we going to go?"