Interview with Bishop Charles Ellis

Last Sunday, Greater Grace Temple, a church in Detroit, Michigan, brought three hybrid SUVs onto their altar. During the service, Bishop Charles Ellis lead his congregation in prayers for the bailout of the auto industry to go through.

Yesterday, I posted an entry about the service, and I admitted that it bothered me. But I wanted to hear the Bishop Ellis's side. I emailed the church with an interview request, and Greater Grace's Communications Director, Melvin Epps, kindly connected me to Bishop Ellis, who graciously answered my questions.

Jordan Green: First of all, thank you for taking the time to talk with us.

I feel like I should explain something here. I am a white, middle-class Christian from Portland, Oregon. For myself and many of our readers, hearing the report about Greater Grace Temple’s Sunday service elicited a sense of cynicism. The idea of putting cars up on the altar seems like sacrilege.

But the more I read about your church, the more I realized the cultural differences at play...racial, cultural, theological and geographical...and I wanted to ask for your side of the story. For starters, can you tell us what your community is facing with the threat of the major American automakers collapsing? How has your congregation been affected so far?

Bishop Charles Ellis: We have seen the workforce of the automotive industry decrease over the past four decades. We have, as well, witnessed those who remain in the industry experiencing pay and benefit cuts. Even one worker having to do the work of many in both the blue and white collar divisions. When a plant closes, it devastates the township, community, area stores and businesses.

I felt the burden of these workers and felt compelled of God to address the crisis spiritually in my second Sunday worship service. The sermon God gave me was entitled “A Hybrid Hope” and I thought to have some illustrated props as my background to drive the point home. There was not even a second thought as to the hybrid vehicles, because our church is very passionate about illustrations. We minister several illustrated sermons per year and have used various props (horses, donkeys, chickens, roosters, golf carts, vehicles, pyrotechnics, etc).

Our illustrations have become so widely known that buses come from as far as Indiana, Illinois and Ohio to view them. All of our illustrated messages conclude with hundreds giving their lives to Christ, being baptized in water and receiving the Holy Spirit. We firmly believe that our methods are effective and we will never try to minister to an “iPod” generation with an “8 track cassette tape” method. Illustrations is the way for Greater Grace Temple and Bishop Charles H. Ellis III.

JG: Why do you think the auto industry is in trouble? Is there a spiritual aspect to the dangers they now face?

Bishop Ellis: There is probably enough blame to go around with respect to the failures of our automotive industry. Executive decisions, planning strategies, futuristic outlooks, compensation packages, workforce cost, designs and efficiency have all played a role in our ability to viably compete in this global automotive community. The encouraging thing is that all segments of the industry seem to be working together to make the necessary sacrifices to solve this crisis.

JG: Why do you think a majority of Americans are opposed to a bailout?

Bishop Ellis: I believe that most Americans have a bad taste from the bailouts of the financial and insurance industries, especially in the aftermath of unwise corporate executive decisions to use some of those funds for elegant retreats. I also think much of America does not fully understand the intertwined dependence of many of our communities to healthy automotive plants and its industry.

JG: There was a picture taken recently of a group of white Evangelical Christians praying for the economy over a bronze bull on Wall Street. To many, the image brought to mind the Israelites praying to a golden calf while Moses was with God on Mount Sinai. Fairly or unfairly, photos from Greater Grace’s Sunday service might prompt a similar response. How would you respond to those making that comparison?

Bishop Ellis: I would ask people to consider the totality of the demonstration before they chime in with a response. In a court of law, the jury cannot discuss or deliberate until ALL the evidence is in. Any Christian worth his/her religious worth would not likely pass any judgment until they have full understanding of what they are considering. The Bible says in Proverbs 4:7, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” My full sermon and ministry presentation can be viewed on our website, www.greatergrace.org.

JG: Do you believe Christians in America have a problem with materialism?

Bishop Ellis: I believe that there are enough Christians in America to have many different opinions on materialism as well as other subjects including praise and worship styles, tithing, fasting, apparel, adornment, non-Christian activities, etc. This is probably why we have so diverse a church community and hundreds of religious organizations.

JG: Do you think there is a chasm between white and African-American churches in the United States? If so, what do you think are the primary reasons for that divide?

Bishop Ellis: I firmly believe that slavery, segregation and years of discrimination have done irreparable harm to the spirit of fellowship within God’s church (not the building, but the ecclesia). I have for a long time held the view that it is not strange to witness a Caucasian-lead church with a significant African-American population, but the opposite is very rare even in the largest of African-American congregations.

JG: How can we be praying for your congregation and the city of Detroit?

Bishop Ellis: I would hope that everyone would at least be praying for the will of God to take preeminence in this crisis and not the political agendas of man. In praying for us you are actually praying for yourselves as well. Remember that we are all interdependent of one another.


  1. Appreciate your interview Jordan. Nicely done.

  2. Bishop Ellis responded quite tastefully and eloquently. I am proud to be covered by a man of God with such a heart for the people. I believe that most aren't offended by the back drop of cars as props, but rather they didn't think to do it first! Remeber this endeavor was not about the worship of vehicles but the restoration and assurance of hope not so much in the industry but our all powerfull savior, JESUS!No this it's not about congress either. Don't forget that the Bible says, " the government is on HIS shoulders.
    Aletha C.Smith,Detroit

  3. I'm so pleased that an Christian from Oregon could take time to get the heart of the matter regarding Christians from the other side of the nation. What a great community of believers.

    This was a great interview.

    And that must be a huge church if you can get three automobiles on the stage! Most churches in my area are lucky to have enough room for a small worship team and a real drum set.

  4. I really appreciate that you went to the source, Jordan. That was what I kind of hoped somebody would do, and honestly, if more people called for clarity throughout the history of christianity I feel there would be far more agreement among believers (as opposed to denominational break-offs, for example). This act of yours was huge, truly. Kudos.

  5. Thanks Jordan! I appreciate your willingness to, not only comment on the situation, but to dig a bit to see more of the source.

    And thank you Bishop Ellis for being so gracious to take the questions of Jordan, and in a way the questions of this rag-tag community!

  6. Thanks, Jordan, for your humility in the opening paragragh as I'm sure it set the stage for the interview.

    Thank you, too, for taking the time to ask for clarity. How much better (or more generous, or more loving) would we all be if we just asked a few more questions?

  7. This is perhaps the most unbiased, fair interview that I have ever read/seen. Great job.

  8. Great interview. May the mainstream media be infected with your spirit of humility and a hunger for truth and understanding. We would all benefit.

    I appreciated Bishop Ellis' comments on the spiritual divide between blacks and whites in American ecclesia. I believe our new president represents God's desire to heal our nation's racial relations. May He have His way with us.

  9. I am quiet tired of people distorting and twisting the doctrine of God to suit their own perception of things. What happens is that you create a false idea of who God really is, and essential make an idol for yourself to worship. People WAKE UP! Many of you are spiritual apathetic, and dependent on a Pastor or church to "give you a word". Few people are actually studying the deepness of God's word, and being filled with the Holy Spirit. PEOPLE RETURN TO SCRIPTURE, RETURN TO THE LORD OUR GOD. For He is a JUST, MERCIFUl, FAITHFUL, HOLY, RIGHTEOUS, AND JEALOUS. His attributes are beyond what we can comprehend, and begin to list. I think we need to study the parables of Jesus to really begin to understand this life is not a joke, and we were created to please our Creator, anything else is a DECEPTION.

  10. All I'm saying is is that we still have to be careful how we just allow certain things to happen in the house of God. Before you know it many other things may be allowed to happen. Where is the reverence for God and where do we draw the line? This is the altar you know!!!

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  12. Bishop Jordan Ellis responded quite tastefully and eloquently. I believe that most aren't offended by the back drop of cars as props, but rather they didn't think to do it first!I really appreciate that you went to the source, Jordan.Thanks, Jordan, for your humility in the opening paragragh as I'm sure it set the stage for the interview.