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.