This Pint-Sized Preacher May Be a Prophet, But Who's Profiting?

Page 4 of 5

A few months later, Todd Durham built a website for his son that called the boy "the world's youngest licensed and ordained minister" and sold "Terry Durham products." The site shows a photo of the child — akin to an actor's headshot — clad in a pinstriped suit. In one hand, he holds the Bible. With the other, he points into the camera. "Please be advised Terry Durham is an international Minister," the site reads. "Booking will result in a contract and service fees."

On a recent Friday night, in an empty church parking lot, Todd Durham becomes animated as he speaks about his son. "Terry is the Hannah Montana of gospel!" he says. "When you're hot, everybody wants a piece of you."

The scene could have been plucked from Jesus Camp: In an immaculate white suit, 9-year-old Terry puts a microphone to his lips as benchfuls of children stare up at him with admiration. It's early 2007, and he urges the church crowd, "Don't lose faith." As he speaks, a young man his height — with buzzed hair and a neon-green shirt — limps toward him on crutches.

Midsentence, Terry reaches out and palms the injured boy's head. "Heal him in the name of Jesus!" Terry hollers.

The crowd cheers. The music blares. Overcome, the injured boy throws down his crutches and prances off-camera without a limp. "That child walked away dancing!" Monroe insists.  

Around that time, Terry's audiences began to grow. With larger crowds came larger offerings. In February 2007, Terry preached at the Titus Harvest Dome Spectrum Church in Jacksonville before a gathering of 7,000. Trinity Broadcast Network, an international Christian television station, shot footage. Harvest Dome Minister Phillip Brown remembers that the show was so popular, they had to bring chairs into the aisles. "It was packed," he says, "You could see the hand of the Lord come upon him."

TV news quickly caught on. That same year, Terry appeared on the Today Show. Then ABC Nightly News shot footage of the 9-year-old in a segment about child preachers in which a mustached anchorman asked: "But whose word is it?" They aired clips of women falling to their knees at Terry's touch. Randall Balmer, a professor at Barnard College, explained that Terry and kids like him were "parroting their parents." He later told New Times: "There's an element of exploitation... it turns preaching into a spectacle."

Some fans treated Terry as a Christ in the making. "We got calls every day," Monroe says. "They wanted him to cure they sick sister or they dieing mama."

Other viewers approached Terry on the street. One starstruck 20-something ran up to Terry at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport two years ago. "Can you touch my wallet?" she asked, explaining her financial woes. A 105-year-old woman vowed to have Terry bless her before she passed away.

Churches across the country began inviting the boy. The family stayed in the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City — a $300-per-night oceanview hotel — and the Hilton in Newark, New Jersey. A millionaire in the Cayman Islands put them up in her mansion, Monroe says. "She wanted to be the one to take care of Terry."

Adds Todd Durham: "It's very lavish... with limos and fine dining."

By the end of 2007, Monroe and the twins had upgraded homes again — to a cream-colored $286,000 place with a pool in Margate. Though she was still on government disability checks, Monroe opened her current storefront church at Powerline and McNab roads in Fort Lauderdale. It was called True Gospel Deliverance Ministry. She declined to talk about church finances, saying, "The money is our business."

This past March 1, the New York Times ran a story on Terry with the headline "11-Year-Old Boy in Florida Is a Man of God on Sunday." It quoted heavily from Monroe, noting she "had a vision in which a child joined her at the pulpit." It makes no reference to the family's criminal history or the substantial offerings during guest appearances. 

Monroe says the boy is doing God's bidding. She is cagey about Terry's income. "We're not making millions," she says.

Todd Durham adds: "I put more time and money into this business than I get back." He says the cash will go to pay for Terry's education.

Terry doesn't pay much attention to the money. On a recent Saturday, he dedicated the entire day to preparing a sermon titled "God Is a Provider" while his cousins attended a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.

New Times asked if he ever misses out on normal kid stuff. "No," Monroe answered for him.

Terry adds: "People say my grandma is pushing me. But God chose me."

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Natalie O'Neill