She Demands; Congregation Pays

Tampa Tribune/September 22, 2003
By Michael Fechter and John W. Allman

Tampa -- She stalks back and forth across the stage, intense and scowling, studying another envelope with a contribution inside from a church member, then growls into a microphone at the parishioner standing before her. This is not enough, she says. You want salvation? Then give more. This contribution is shameful. God's love isn't cheap.

Such is the way that Pastor Brenda Jefferson fills the Sunday collection plate at Deeper Life Christian Church. She confronts, cajoles, threatens, berates.

There is no mistaking her message: God demands a price for salvation. And church leaders are the ones to decide whether each donation is enough. Examples abound on a videotape the church sells for $15 of a June 29 service.

At one point on the video, Jefferson wonders aloud whether a woman church member who wrote $30 on an envelope meant instead to write $50.

"Maybe God is telling you to sow $50,'' Jefferson tells the woman, whom she calls Laura. Jefferson summons Laura to stand before a packed sanctuary and asks her repeatedly why she's contributing so little.

"Where's the other $20?'' Jefferson demands. "I want it.''

Giving To Be Blessed

After nearly 20 minutes, Laura appears to give more - it is impossible from the video to see how much - then is sent back to her seat.

The sermon is 90 minutes long. All of it is devoted to money. The video shows scores of people giving donations that range from 50 cents to $566. Those read aloud total $6,500. But dozens more are not announced.

The tape begins with Bishop Melvin B. Jefferson, Deeper Life's founder and leader, telling the audience he has a special treat. He plans to sit back while his wife leads the service.

"Hallelujah,'' Brenda Jefferson says, taking the microphone. "I'm expecting a miracle here tonight.''

The reason, she explains, is that God has told her to talk about sowing seeds. Sowing a seed is church-speak for making a donation.

Deeper Life has pressing financial needs that she has discovered while paying the bills, Jefferson says. And God, she says, has told her to appeal to the crowd for an offering because "after tonight there is going to be blessings over this church-house like you wouldn't believe.''

To reinforce the message, Jefferson frequently says God can bless or curse anyone he wants.

"You have to give up to be blessed,'' she says.

Next to the pulpit, church workers stretch out a white sheet, which she sprinkles with mustard seeds. Such seeds can provide generously if properly sown, she says.

"This is the night to be blessed, so you gotta sow your seed tonight,'' she urges. "It won't work tomorrow.''

People who don't give to God must rid themselves of a "coveting spirit,'' she says.

Reason For Being Tough

As she talks, people begin moving forward to put cash, checks and pledge envelopes on the sheet. Some hand the gifts directly to Jefferson, who inspects them closely. Some walk up empty-handed.

"You should always come to God's house with money,'' she shouts at one woman who says she cannot afford a tithe.

Next she targets a man whom she says God recently healed of cancer.

"God healed you, and you got the audacity to come to God's house and look sad? Come to God's house and not sow a seed? No,'' she says emphatically. "You ain't got the right type of salvation.''

The man shakes his head and laughs nervously during the tirade, wiping sweat from his face.

Another man pledges $200 but says he can't give it until after he has paid some bills.

That's not good enough, she says.

"Y'all always wait instead of sowing your seed,'' she tells the man. "God's going to curse everything you got because you don't pay your tithes. You're cursed with a curse. You gotta sow your seed, son, so you can be blessed. Even if you gotta go to court, you gotta let God bless you and have faith to sow your seed. Don't make God wait on his tithe money.''

Jefferson explains her tough preaching at times by saying God chastises those he loves. The congregation often breaks into applause or calls out to God.

Such is the case with Laura, the pastor explains, a former madam who has been with the church too long to revert to her old ways.

Jefferson bends down near the sermon's end and tells Laura: "Because of the seeds you sowed, God is going to take the taste of cigarettes out of your mouth.''

Laura nods and whispers, "It's gone.''

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