By Jeff Goldblatt
This was supposed to be the week that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. returned to the pulpit to preach for the first time since his anti-American sermons generated nationwide outrage and drew condemnation from his longtime parishioner, Barack Obama.
But, citing security concerns, Wright canceled his speaking engagements in Florida and Texas. A spokeswoman at his former church in Chicago said his schedule is pending.
A two-week FOX News investigation, however, has uncovered where Wright will be spending a good deal of his time in retirement, and it is a far cry from the impoverished Chicago streets where the preacher led his ministry for 36 years.
FOX News has uncovered documents that indicate Wright is about to move to a 10,340-square-foot, four-bedroom home in suburban Chicago, currently under construction in a gated community.
While it is not uncommon for an accomplished clergyman to live in luxury, Wright’s retirement residence is raising some questions.
“Some people think deals like this are hypocritical. Jeremiah Wright himself criticizes people from the pulpit for middle classism, for too much materialism,” said Andrew Walsh, Associate Director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life with Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.
“So he’s entitled to be tweaked here. So the question really is, how unusual is this? Somewhat unusual,” he said.
According to documents obtained from the Cook County Register of Deeds, Wright purchased two empty lots in Tinley Park, Ill., from Chicago restaurant chain owner Kenny Lewis for $345,000 in 2004.
Documents show Wright sold the property to his church, Trinity United, in December 2006, with the proceeds going to a living trust shared with his wife, Ramah.
The sale price for the land was just under $308,000, about $40,000 less than Wright’s original purchase two years earlier.
Public records of the sale show Trinity initially obtained a $10 million bank loan to purchase the property and build a new house on the land.
But further investigation with tax and real estate attorneys showed that the church had actually secured a $1.6 million mortgage for the home purchase, and attached a $10 million line of credit, for reasons unspecified in the paperwork.
There is apparently nothing wrong with that, according to non-profit tax expert Jack Siegel of Charity Governance Consulting, who examined public documents FOX News obtained from the Cook County Register of Deeds and the Village of Tinley Park.
“At least looking at it from a public document standpoint, there’s clearly not a problem that jumps out or some sort of wrongdoing,” Siegel said.
Siegel characterizes the transaction as unusual, however, because of the way Wright sold the property to Trinity and the way the deal was financed, with the attached $10 million line of credit.
Because churches are classified as private businesses, Trinity isn’t required to reveal its intended use for the line of credit. Nor, because it’s a non-profit entity, is it required to provide that information to the IRS.
A spokesman for ShoreBank, the Chicago-based financial institution that secured mortgages for the loans, said the deals were aboveboard.
Wright did not respond to repeated calls for comment, and Trinity United refused to discuss the specifics of the home it is building for him and the way the deal was financed.
The church referred FOX News to its denominational headquarters in Cleveland, which provided a statement of support:
“It is customary and appropriate in many Christian denominations, including the United Church of Christ, for local churches to offer housing provisions for retiring clergy, especially in cases where pastors have served long-term pastorates. We support efforts by our 5,700 local churches to ensure that retiring pastors and spouses have continuing housing, adequate pension and health care, as an expression of our continuing appreciation for their years of service. Each local UCC congregation is free to honor a retiring pastor in ways it feels most appropriate to address the needs of that clergyperson’s circumstances,” wrote the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, spokesman for UCC’s national office.
“This is about how these kinds of churches work,” notes Walsh. “These pastors who made big successful churches are real valuable commodities. Is it morally wrong? Well, Protestants don’t have the idea that their religious leaders should live modestly or aesthetically. We’re not talking Buddhist monks or Catholic priests here. There’s no tradition that says they have to live poor.”
Tradition at Trinity United centers on a congregation that’s unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian, according to the church’s website. There are also no apologies from the church for the home it’s building for its former senior pastor, who nurtured a religious empire that grew to have more than 8,000 congregants.
I don't care if my pastor was the next coming of Billy Graham, no way, no how would I ever approve of a $1.6m retirement home. I wonder what his pension and allowance is? A church should pay a pastor a salary that would enable him or her to retire into a decent home but surely $1.6m is going overboard. Once again Barack Obama and other parishioners should quit or hold the board accountable for this decision - Tim.