The Curious World of Faith Builders International Ministries
Please read the following information I have received from a former FBIM member. It’s a first-hand account of someone who spent several years in Faith Builders International Ministries.
Please respect the anonymity of the person who sent me this information. Their main intention is to expose much of the wrongdoing which has gone on at this organization. Faith Builders is no stranger to controversy, and much of the information I have been supplied with can often be backed up by the public history offered by Pastors Jeff and Robin Pruitt on the church’s website.
I have not altered the facts given to me in any such manner as to distort the writer’s message. I have kept it in first-person and have only edited it for clarity and to protect the author’s identity. Because of Danny Gokey’s involvement, the Faith Builders organization, as well as the Sophia’s Heart Organization, may receive more media attention. Those who may be swayed to join or contribute to (whether directly or indirectly) FBIM because they are fans of Gokey and the show, well, hopefully they will read this post before writing a check.
Am I trying to destroy an American Idol contestant’s career? No. That’s not my intention whatsoever. This is a tiny blog in the great big interweb. But I am easily disturbed and disgusted when I hear stories about people being taken advantage of in the name of religion. I often make fun of devoutly religious Idol contestants on this blog, but that does not mean I disrespect people’s beliefs. I think the world would have fewer problems if we just took things less seriously! And I believe faith, if you have it, is a personal sort of thing and has nothing to do with MONEY. There is a fine line between tithing and grifting, and way too often, you see congregations and their leaders crossing this line in obvious ways.
(And if you think FBIM doesn’t absolutely adore money, just read this gem. Sadly, material prosperity through faith seems to be a popular vehicle for churches to get their congregations motivated these days. And these troubled economic times have helped draw in a larger audience in many congregations, following a historical trend. But this often can be yet another way for church’s to take advantage of their members who are desperately trying to live on a budget. There is often a “more you give, the more the Lord will return” mentality in today’s megachurches, and this translates into a message urging members to give more to their church, and this often means “give more money.” If you believe in God, do you really think he’s maintaining an Excel spreadsheet tallying up every human being’s tithings?)
A History of FBIM in Wisconsin
My story is based on wanting to tell the truth about the unfortunate and unchristian things that happen in this ministry.
I was asked to leave the worship team because I did not fit a specific image of youth. Because of this, I also left the church. I know what the Word of God says and what it does not say — There is no condemnation, there is only love. There is also no need to put on a show, and Faith Builders International Ministries is one of the best Christian shows you will ever have the chance to view. Perfection, and youth are key factors to fitting in. I request to remain anonymous because I still have business contacts within FBIM. If I were to be found out, I would be harassed by members and my business would certainly suffer. This has happened to many former FBIM members who had started businesses, only to subsequently fail in their respective communities because of the words of the Pruitt Family.
During the July 4th weekend in 1989, what would be known as FBIM started in a meeting hall in Newark Township, Rock County, Wisconsin. What was first called New Ark Christian Center (as a play on the name of the hall), was started by Jerry and Gloria Pruitt. Over the next few years, they grew out of the small meeting hall and progressed to what is now the building in Beloit, Wisconsin.
About 1996, Jerry’s son, Jeff, was leading the church’s music program and itching to start his own ministry. He left his father’s church and launched his own in a Madison school building. Jeff’s first church lasted less than one year, and by his own admission, it was not his calling from God. Pruitt returned for a short time, only to later once again be called to start a ministry in Milwaukee. Jeff’s church started in a park, and later went through phases in a Howard Johnson, an elementary school, and the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Milwaukee.
In 2001, Jerry Pruitt’s daughter Barb, left Beloit to venture to the Phoenix, Arizona area, reportedly due to the lack of good men in the area. Jerry Pruitt addressed the congregation “I can’t let my daughter walk with turkey’s when she can fly with eagles.” Within 1 year, Jerry Pruitt told the Beloit congregation he needed to move to Arizona and that his son Jeff would run both Wisconsin churches. Jerry Pruitt’s move to Arizona triggered the first marked division within the Faith Builders congregation. Within 6 months, 50% of the members of Faith Builders either moved to Arizona, or left because the new ways of the younger Pruitt were not friendly to those over 30. The focus of the music became oriented to hip-hop and rap, a rapid departure from the traditional Gospel styles of music.
During this time, Terry Morehouse was hired to run the business aspect of the church. Morehouse came in after being a top regional manager of Gander Mountain, one of the nation’s largest sporting goods retailers. Terry was also an experienced motivational speaker, often speaking to executives at large corporations, including Microsoft. It was clear at that time that the church was setting them up to be a “mega-business” and they needed a business acumen to support and achieve these goals. A year after being hired as the Business Administrator, the 43-year-old Morehouse married the sweet 19-year-old keyboard player. Nowhere was the thought was given to the lack of appropriateness, even though Morehouse and the young Rachel had known each other for 3 years prior to their marriage.
In 2003, Jeff was given the call to become the pastor at 7 churches in the area. Within a year, he had absorbed a South Milwaukee ministry which had been renamed Faith Builders Milwaukee South. This church was 100% Hispanic. This church was sold and it is no longer part of FBIM, but the profits [from the sale] are nowhere to be found, and the reason for disbanding the church was never mentioned to the congregation or designated church leaders.
It was also around 2003 that the giving envelopes were changed to state “even though we ask where you would like to direct your giving, Faith Builders International Ministries reserves the right to direct funds to whichever ministry it would like.”
From 2005-2007, Pastor Jeff Pruitt had a very prominent local TV show called Going Beyond Limitations. This show was supported by the Beloit membership. During this time, the Milwaukee church was raising money for a multimillion dollar church building and renovation. Going Beyond Limitations was broadcast daily in the Rockford, Chicago and Milwaukee metropolitan areas. For some reason, without notice to the givers, the TV show was cancelled and the monies donated to the show were diverted to other areas.
(Going Beyond Limitations focused on many disabled groups & individuals, yet there had been no consideration given to close captioning the show, which was required for Jeff Pruitt’s intended audience.)
The problems at FBIM are not new. In the last 5 years, two lead pastors have been forced to leave after questions arose concerning inappropriate sexual behavior. The latest, Neal Thomas, was made a lead pastor in Faith Builders, but within 3 months he was filing for divorce with his wife because of infidelity. It was rumored he was cheating on his wife with a member of the FBIM congregation, but Thomas disappeared with little notice and no information about his departure was given by the church. Thomas’ wife was Pastor Pruitt’s personal secretary, and she left the ministry to move with her family in Missouri. Again, no one in the ministry knew she was leaving. Like her estranged husband, she simply just disappeared.
Robin Pruitt formed the Style Ministry during the first year of being the pastor at the Beloit church. This ministry was designed to help women look their best outwardly. Robin’s husband Jeff’s preached on several occasion, women not wearing make-up can be considered a sin. (Quote from sermons given from 2002-2006). Jeff relayed that women who dress modestly (according to the Word of God) are ignorant of the meaning of the word and are as condemned as Pharisees. To fit into the Style Ministry, one should have lots of flashy clothes, jewelry and money to give to the offering. The Style Ministries would frequently have fashion shows for all the Style members to strut their stuff. If a member did not have the appropriate clothing or jewelry, pieces could be easily bought during the events from Pastor Robin Pruitt herself!
In 2005, Jerry Pruitt, the founder of the ministry, was made a Bishop by a Bishop who was not a friend or a part of FBIM. This interesting ritual was done in Beloit, although the elder Pruitt’s full-time residence was Arizona. Pruitt would occasionally return to Beloit only to find a shell of the church he had left behind. The last time I saw the senior Pruitt, there were less than 10 people left in the [Beloit] congregation who had known him when he was in charge.
In 2006, due to financial difficulties, the elder Pruitt returned to Beloit to beg for money from the congregation. The payments on the Escalade were getting behind, and the father begged the congregation, if you love your pastor you will pay for his car. He requested people line up to give $25 a month to pay for the transportation. Several members complied with Jerry Pruitt’s request and Pastor Jeff has been able to keep his beloved Cadillac Escalade.
Pruitt has even made comments about how he enjoyed driving down the “old neighborhood” to show off his car and how it is representative of the success he had achieved in life. He claims his Escalade is a blessing for his faithfulness. (I have known two widows who have left Faith Builders because they no longer receive help from the church, although their husbands had been large givers while they were alive.)
In 2007, due to many changes, many leaders left, as did many of the members. Between 2007-2009, less than 25% of the remaining members [from before this time] stayed. Faith Builders became a revolving door. People who left became focus of banning. During my membership at this church, I had wanted to contact several friends who had left, but was almost prohibited because they had spoken poorly of the pastors. The Pruitts would continually keep the focus on the internal group. Fellowship within the church is limited to 20 minutes before service at the in-house coffee shop.
My experience with Faith Builders is the closest thing I hope to ever experience to a cult. The same brainwashing techniques that are used in cults are used at Faith Builders. I do not think that most of the members have bad intent, it just happens one way or another. After I left, I was informed that the building in Beloit is literally falling apart, but money will not be raised to fix the roof, and the building in Milwaukee has to be paid for. For a ministry that was started 20 years ago to help an area that was ‘forsaken’ (as Jerry Pruitt had stated in his vision statement), only one person who started with the church remains in the ministries. With the almost 10,000 people who have at one time called this church home, only having one person being in attendance during the lifetime of the church speaks for itself.
Recently, an FBIM member has received national attention. Dan Gokey, the paid leader of the Praise & Worship Team, is one of the Top 36 finalists on American Idol. Gokey is not the first member of the church who has appeared on American Idol, but the first one who made it past the Hollywood rounds.
Gokey started singing with FBIM Milwaukee about the same time Pruitt started the Milwaukee church. Daniel and Sophia Gokey were married in the Milwaukee church by Pruitt himself, which is indicative of Gokey’s position within the organization. Pastor Pruitt did not typically perform marriage ceremonies for average members.
Danny Gokey was not an easy person to work with on the team. He was never on time, but in spring of 2007, the entire choir was disbanded because there were a few members who arrived late for a service. I can remember several times Dan arguing musical points with myself and others. Because of the intense structure of Faith Builders, there was no possibility to argue.
I have also seen Dan correct other experienced musicians, one who had been playing bass professionally many years before he was even born. Shortly after that particular incident, this bass player departed the church without any notice.
Gokey was very flirtatious with all the female singers. He always had a crowd and was certainly set up in the role of “lead singer.” Gokey was paid for his time, as were the others on the team. It was very clear he was a valued member that the team could not do without. His vacations were carefully planned so that replacements would always be considered adequate. In some instances, if the congregation discovered Danny was not singing, some would actually leave the service.
Gokey’s accomplishments, besides his paid position within the church, include the recording of Enter In, as well as a recording with Clint Brown. Dan also made several appearances on TBN [backed by other key musicians in FBIM].
Sophie [Danny Gokey’s deceased wife] was a sweet gal, each time that I met her.
God Bless everyone who may read this, and may God keep you safe and sound.