Preying on the Congregation

Dozens of worshipers packed the Sunday-night service at Grace Christian World Church last December to hear the words of a visiting minister who had traveled all the way from Montreal. The members' dress was more casual than that of the morning churchgoers, their attitudes more relaxed. The evangelical Christians had come to the storefront church in Lauderhill for some old-fashioned teachings from the Gospel, a sermon on hope and faith, soul-lifting music, and healing from the minister.

But Letitia McPherson's words were a bit unconventional that night. Something drove the minister to scrap her prepared sermon and preach on the topic of sexual indiscretion within churches, according to Edina Bayne, McPherson's assistant pastor, who recently recalled what happened that evening. McPherson, she said, quoted passages from Genesis 49 -- in which Jacob chastises one of his sons for sleeping with concubines. Stedroy Williams, pastor of the Lauderhill church, held his head in his hands. A married father of three, Williams, age 39, had founded the ministry in 1992.

After finishing her sermon, McPherson, with microphone in hand, began her altar ministry, urging parishioners to come up front for prayer and healing. Williams, meanwhile, left the church to drive visitors from a work-release program in Pompano Beach back to their prison. Well after Williams had exited, McPherson spotted a man in the back of the church who appeared to be agitated.

"Are you angry?" she shouted to the man. "Come forward, brother, I need to pray for you."

At first he ignored McPherson. But ten minutes later, McPherson turned around to find him standing in front of her, his face a stern mask. "I came here for one purpose tonight," he uttered into the microphone, calmly and deliberately. "I came here to kill someone."

Everyone knew the man, who had been a member of the church for more than a year. But no one had a clue as to what he was talking about.

"You're not going to kill anybody," said McPherson.

"Yes I am," he replied, "I'm going to kill him."


"Stedroy Williams."

Bayne said that McPherson continued talking to the man in an attempt to calm him. "I don't know what this is about, but you're not going to do that," she said. "I'm going to pray for you. You have to change your agenda."

Then came the man's stunning allegation. "What do you do with such a one?" he asked, referring to Williams. "What do you do with someone who has molested your daughter?"

McPherson quickly handed the microphone to the assistant pastor, Michael Beerom, and ushered the man into the back office, according to Bayne. Beerom stood there, dumbfounded, she said. Then one of the church's two singers grabbed the mic and started singing a favorite hymn of the church, one that turned out to be somewhat prophetic: "No Weapon Formed Against Me Shall Prosper."

In the office the man told McPherson that, on the previous night, his nine-year-old daughter had told him that Williams had molested her about a year earlier. The father immediately filed a police report, he told McPherson, then drove to Williams' house and confronted the pastor, who denied the allegation. "But he couldn't look me in the eyes," says the man, who talked to New Times on the condition that only his first name, Ricky, be used, in order to shield the identity of his daughter.

Ricky says he left Williams alone that night, but the more he thought about what his daughter had told him, the more his blood boiled. So the next night he went to the church with his brother to take care of Williams.

As it turned out, the police report, which was filed in Lauderhill, did not lead to a single charge. In fact Williams has not been charged with any crime thus far, and the Lauderhill police have officially closed their investigation into the girl's claims.

But Ricky's public accusation that December night brought to light what members of the Grace Christian World Church see as a troubling pattern of transgressions on the part of the pastor. For some it confirmed what had been rumored for years and was the latest example of a national phenomenon: church leaders preying upon parishioners, using positions of trust and respect to take advantage of women sexually. For others the allegations, if they are true, show how vulnerable members of a small, independent church are. Williams' operation is regulated neither by government nor a church council. He's literally running a "one-man show," according to Bayne, who adds, "It's scary."

Edina Bayne did not set out to bring Stedroy Williams down. She and McPherson were invited to Grace Christian World Church, where they found themselves reluctantly embroiled in strife. In fact Bayne wonders why the scandal couldn't have broken "two weeks earlier or two weeks later." But she thinks she knows the reason. God, she believes, wanted her and McPherson to stop Ricky from killing Williams and to expose what was going on inside the Lauderhill parish.

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Julie Kay