In March, Redemption Church leaders Ron and Hope Carpenter came to the aid of pastors John and Aventer Gray of Relentless Church when the Grays drew criticism over allegations of excessive spending and an affair.
“I love you. I believe in you,” Hope Carpenter said on the Relentless stage to vouch for their character amid national attention.
That moment is a stark contrast to now. In an apparent dispute between the two churches, representatives of Relentless released private messages they say are from Hope Carpenter to other church members in which the Rev. John Gray, pastor at Relentless, is called “a shady guy” and “very dishonest.”
Carpenter, according to the private message released by attorneys for Relentless, said “we will be taking our church back.”
Now the Carpenters are threatening to evict the Grays and Relentless Church from the property, and they have sent Relentless a letter terminating their lease agreement. Multiple attempts to reach Ron and Hope Carpenter by telephone, social media and through their lawyer, were unsuccessful as of Friday. Gray has not been available to talk as of late Friday, according to his spokesperson.
No eviction notice had been filed in Greenville County as of Friday, according to court records.
The Carpenters handed over the Greenville church building and congregation in 2018 after they decided to move their Redemption ministry to California.
Gray, who is featured in “The Book of John Gray” on Oprah Winfrey’s television network, agreed to come to Greenville, leaving his associate pastor role with megachurch pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston. He still preaches at Lakewood on occasion.
The transition played out on the Oprah Winfrey Network with one of “The Book of John Gray” episodes being dedicated to Gray’s decision to move to Greenville.
Both Ron Carpenter and John Gray spoke of the transition as mutually beneficial and a part of God’s calling for their lives and ministries.
In coming to Greenville, Gray formed Relentless Church with the existing congregation and some of the former Redemption staff.
Several months after arriving in Greenville, Gray drew national criticism when he bought his wife, Aventer, a $200,000 Lamborghini for an anniversary present. Headlines later accused John Gray of having an affair and using the expensive car gift as an apology. At the time of the backlash, Gray defended the car purchase by saying no church money was used to buy it. Gray has acknowledged an emotional affair but said it hadn’t turned sexual.
Shortly after, The Greenville News exclusively reported that Relentless Church bought John Gray a $1.8 million house in Simpsonville to be used as the church parsonage. Church leadership at the time said the house was needed to help entice a pastor of Gray’s “caliber” to Greenville.
The Carpenters’ visit to Greenville in March was aimed at defending the character of John and Aventer Gray amid the scrutiny over those incidents.
Hope Carpenter made a public reference to a Greenville News’ reporter, punctuated by her saying, “I cut people.”
“I got a knife right there in that pocketbook, so Greenville News, come on. We done went through that already. I’m still here, and guess who else is still gonna be here?” she said at the March 31 service.
After Carpenter’s comments were reported, Gray said he didn’t know in advance what Carpenter was going to say.
As part of the transition agreement, Ron Carpenter said he expected to leave more than $1 million from a recent expansion campaign for Gray to help him start up Relentless Church.
It was not immediately clear whether the $1 million gift is what is mentioned in a response letter to the Carpenters after Relentless received a letter telling the church to vacate the property.
“Redemption Church and Ron Carpenter could not follow through with all the terms of the original transition agreement related to property when Relentless moved in,” the Dec. 5 response letter reads.
The letter adds that as a result, a lease agreement was made and Relentless has been current on that lease agreement.
Redemption’s initial letter threatening eviction calls for the lease agreement to be terminated, but does not specifically state that Relentless was not making payments.
Relentless’ response letter includes screenshots of apparent Facebook messages sent by Hope Carpenter to Relentless members. The letter urges Carpenter to “cease and desist” with direct messages and correspondence.
“They are 3 to 4 months behind on all the bills that are in Redemption’s name. We have tried so hard to make it work with them but he is a shady man. Very dishonest!” the message purportedly from Hope Carpenter states. “We are very excited to have our campus back…”
Some current members are skeptical of the way the transition was handled.
“Whoever has done wrong in this definitely needs to be exposed,” said Robert Plemmons, who moved to Greenville from North Carolina to be a part of Relentless Church after following Redemption’s sermons for the previous two years. “A lot of relationships have been severed but there are some good people in our church.”
He said fellowship was lacking after Ron Carpenter left the church. He said he was leery of the church finances when John Gray, shortly after assuming the head pastor role, gave an open invitation during a Sunday service for anyone in need to come take tithe money.
He and his wife, Christa, said the “big money” parishioners left the church when the Carpenters left. He said the church went through high turnover both in church members and staff when the Carpenters left.
“The only people actually going there now from what I can tell are people in need who want something like a handout,” Plemmons said.
Plemmons said he would like to see the Carpenters come and turn Relentless into a satellite campus of Redemption if Gray has not upheld his end of the agreement.
“If pastor John was unaware then he needs to be given the chance to make amends and make things right,” Plemmons said.
Traci Fant, a Greenville social justice activist who is friends with the Grays and has worked with them on prison ministries, said that though the church has experienced some turnover of congregants, the Grays have grown Relentless and poured themselves into the community.
“I know that they tried very hard in that church,” Fant said. “They tried very hard in this community. They tried their very best to even blend in, to assist other organizations, to assist other churches.”
Fant isn’t a Relentless member and said she’s speaking out because she believes the Grays have been wronged.
“They walked in to something that they saw as a blessing that turned out to be a curse,” Fant said.
Click here to continue reading.