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Church employee says she lost job once tithing dipped

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 11:41 AM
TAMPA -

Carolyn Jackson and her husband gave a lot of money to Revealing Truth Ministries.

So three years ago, church staff encouraged her to apply for a job there.

During the work week, she served as a receptionist and later as its magazine editor. On Sundays, the Jacksons filled church baskets with thousands of dollars in tithe, offering and other giving.

In May, Jackson lost her job, not for poor performance, but because her tithing had dropped off. In a time of financial difficulty for her family, Jackson stopped giving 10 percent of her income to the ministry, which many Christians believe is biblically mandated.

"I stood there and I started to cry," Jackson said. "We never stopped giving. I still gave as much as I could give."

Church leaders declined comment, referring questions to their Dallas-based attorney. The attorney, Brooke Asiatico, said Jackson resigned after being asked about her failure to follow the church's written tithing policy for employees.

"Because employees are often seen as role models by the church congregation, it is especially important that employees uphold the tenets of faith of the church," Asiatico said. "When an employee is unwilling to accept the church's counsel or unwilling to uphold the tenets of faith of the church, the employment relationship is no longer tenable."

Jackson filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She asked for $50,000 in lost wages.

The two sides tried to resolve the matter through mediation earlier this month, but negotiations ended after the church rejected the settlement offer, said JoAnn Blount, a human rights investigator who served as mediator.

In the complaint, Jackson said the church discriminated against her when they let her go.
She claimed that after a lot of prayer, she made peace with giving less than 10 percent during a difficult stretch.

The case is now assigned to an investigator.

"We are confident that there will be no finding of unlawful discrimination," Asiatico said. "This is, again, because federal law allows churches to make employment decisions based on religious beliefs and tenets of faith, such as tithing."

Jackson and her husband, Gerald, became so impressed with Revealing Truth Ministries that six years ago they moved from Haines City to Tampa to be closer to the congregation.

Revealing Truth is a predominantly black ministry with its main campus at 5201 N. Armenia Ave.

Pastor Gregory Powe leads the ministry and his wife, Deborah, who is the CFO. They own a $2.5 million home in Avila and a 34-foot pleasure boat named, "ANOINTED III."

The church prefers to hire members of the congregation, but they must be "in good standing" for at least one year, according to the employee handbook.

Employees must live in a godly manner, the handbook states. Staffers must keep their finances in order and refrain from "immoral or unacceptable conduct" at work and in private.

Revealing Truth requires employees to tithe. It's noted below an item in the handbook outlining mandatory staff prayer every morning before work.

"Failure to do so may result to [sic] the following actions: Verbal and written warnings and/or immediate termination."

Jackson was not immediately hired by the church. She and her husband regularly attended, but she worked as an office manager at a local company.

When that business shut down, church staffers urged Jackson to apply for a position as a receptionist.

She started in January 2007. She answered calls on the ministry's 18 phone lines, sorted mail, even prayed with congregants who called on the prayer line. She was later promoted to editor of the church magazine, Truth.

The couple continued to tithe and gave a separate offering, Jackson said.

But in the last year or so, the Jacksons had to give money to family members suffering new financial hardships.

Their church giving fell off.

In 2007, the church paid Jackson $24,608, tax records show. That same year, the Jacksons gave the ministry $11,364, according to giving records provided by the couple. That included tithe, offering and other giving.

The next year, the Jacksons' donations dipped to $6,783.

In May, church leaders began to verbally reprimand some staffers whose giving had slipped, Jackson said.

On May 13, Deborah Powe called Jackson into her office. Powe told her she was being let go for inconsistent tithing.

Jackson said Powe asked her to sign a letter of resignation the church had drafted.

Powe told Jackson if she signed the letter they would give her a good reference for future employers.
Heart thumping and mind racing, she signed it.

"It was a lie," Jackson said. "I feel I was manipulated into signing a statement that was far from the truth."

The church will work with staffers experiencing financial strain, Asiatico said. "Ms. Jackson did not express to Pastor Deborah that she had any financial hardship; in fact, she offered no explanation as to why she was not tithing before she resigned."

At least two other staffers were fired for not tithing, Jackson said. One of those staffers did not want to be named in the story, but gave a similar account. She described Jackson as a model employee. The other could not be reached for comment.

Jackson notes that she and her husband never stopped tithing, they just weren't giving as much. "I believe in the tithe," she said.

Jackson has not found work. She and her husband continue to look for a new church to call home.
Whatever congregation they join each Sunday, they always leave their tithe in the offering basket.


Reporter Michelle Bearden contributed to this report. Reporter Baird Helgeson can be reached at (813) 259-7668.

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