Pastor on a bully pulpit at 59th Street Baptist Church?

The Rev. Dr. Daly Barnes, outside the 59 Street Baptist Church. (Kate McCann / Staff Photographer)
The Rev. Dr. Daly Barnes, outside the 59 Street Baptist Church. (Kate McCann / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 07, 2012

AFTER MONTHS of watching her beloved 59th Street Baptist Church torn apart by a nasty battle over its controversial fire-and-brimstone pastor, Awanda Jackson is heartsick.

Sitting at the kitchen table in her friend Mirlon Johnson's house, across the street from the church on 59th Street near Pine, Jackson tried to contain the sadness and anger welling up inside her - but she couldn't.

She suddenly arose from her chair like a preacher mounting the pulpit. "I don't want to call the man an anti-Christ, but he's almost in that category, the way he treats people," said Jackson, 62, a longtime trustee who has attended the West Philadelphia church since she was 16.

Johnson, a church member since 1998, nodded in solemn agreement. "Let all the church members vote on whether he stays or goes," she said. "Just a vote, that's all we ask. We have the right. We have the votes. But he won't call a meeting and let us vote."

Jackson was one of two dozen church officials who were fired recently after voting to dismiss the Rev. Daly Barnes Jr., who's been accused of terrorizing his wife at home and cursing her out in the church.

The resulting schism has rattled the 52-year-old congregation. A committee of deacons and church trustees voted to fire Barnes, and sent him a formal dismissal letter in January. But the embattled pastor's supporters met and voted to fire those trustees and deacons, and Barnes spread the word that he suspects one of his enemies has played fast and loose with thousands of dollars of church funds.

Barnes said he has a retired Philadelphia police detective investigating years of church financial records. "I don't tolerate stealing from the house of the Lord under no circumstance," he said.

A neighborhood newspaper, the Westside Weekly, mounted a front-page campaign throughout February to get Barnes fired, emphasizing his refusal to discuss a September 2010 domestic disturbance at his Upper Merion home that led to his arrest.

Last week, Barnes, 54, told the Daily News: "Whitney Houston is dead and I'm on the front page and she's on the back? Whitney Houston is an icon. You don't put her on the back page."

Regarding the paper's editor, Tyree Johnson, he said, "You're going to take Black History Month to tear down a black pastor?"

The Barnes brouhaha began a few months after his arrival in 2010, when Upper Merion Township police arrested him after being called to his house because of a domestic disturbance.

He was charged with making terroristic threats, obstruction and harassment - all misdemeanors - as well as disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, summary offenses on a par with traffic violations.

In Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. The more serious charges were dropped. Barnes was sentenced to three months' probation and was ordered to have no contact with his wife, Denise, and to undergo psychiatric evaluation and treatment.

Barnes told the Daily News that the "terroristic threats" he was originally charged with - which reportedly included references to a kitchen knife and a murder-suicide - weren't really ominous, as proved by his wife attending church shortly after the incident.

"If she's scared of a murder-suicide, why was she sitting in the front row?" Barnes said. "She wasn't just sitting in the front row; she was standing in the front row, standing in support of her husband preaching. I preach at two Sunday services. Where was she in between those services? In the pastor's study, having breakfast with me. Hello?

"If anything, my wife looked pampered, not battered. These people don't know nothing about me."

Barnes said that the "no contact" requirement in his plea agreement was a clerical mistake and that the agreement should have read "no offensive contact."

"Every time my probation lady told me I couldn't have any contact with Denise, I would laugh," Barnes said. "I couldn't help from laughing. What am I supposed to do when my wife calls me? Hang up the phone?

"When they told Denise there wasn't supposed to be no contact, she said, 'You can't tell me that I can't talk to my husband.' "

Barnes added: "How are we having no contact when we're going to marriage counseling? She comes to the house. We go to dinner. We go shopping. Nothing changed."

Baptist church law, Barnes said, states that a felony is grounds for church members' taking action against a pastor.

"The charges against me were reduced to a summary offense," he said. "You try to destroy my life and my ministry over a summary charge that has nothing to do with you?"

At the time, Barnes said, "I took the rap because I was trying to save my marriage." The couple has since separated.

Denise Barnes said yesterday that she was the one who asked that the charges be reduced. "Just because my husband and I are no longer together doesn't mean I don't fully support him and still care about him," she said. "He's a strong man. He's a good man."

Barnes also dismissed as irrelevant a February 2011 incident between him and his wife that occurred inside the church.

Lanita Smith, a church member since 1990 and its clerk for several years until her recent dismissal, said she was working on a church bulletin when she "heard a ruckus coming from down the stairs."

"There was a bumping and a knocking, and I heard Rev. Barnes talking a bunch of MFs and lesbian this, lesbian that, all this kind of nonsense," she said. "I called the deacon and said, 'They're tearing up the church.' "

Smith said she walked to the top of the stairs and looked down.

"Rev. Barnes and his wife came out of the lounge area downstairs," Smith said. "Her glasses were broken. She ran up the steps. He ran up behind her, shouting MFs, arguing about her not answering his phone calls on her cellphone. A few minutes later, when she ran down the steps; she didn't have her wig on. Then he comes down the steps with the wig in his hand."

The word spread among members that the pastor had assaulted his wife in church.

One of the fired deacons, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that he saw both Barnes and his wife at the time of the incident and that "if he didn't assault his wife, I guess the wind in the church must have blown her wig off and broken her glasses, right?"

Barnes vehemently denied assaulting his wife, telling this reporter, "Well, like, duh! She works at the [Montgomery County] commissioner's office. She's worked there for three commissioners. So if I assaulted her, why did I never face an assault charge, Sir?"

"He's a man who never explains himself," Jackson said. "He will hold you hostage by talking rhetoric. He changed the locks on the church doors, so only his supporters can get in, except for services. He treats the rest of us like lepers."

She said that although the church continues to be open to all for Sunday services, pro-Barnes members keep a close watch on anti-Barnes members, creating a toxic atmosphere.

"I worked hard for my spirituality and I'm trying to be a good Christian," Jackson said, her voice quavering with tension. "I would die for the 59th Street Baptist Church. I should be able to go in and be with my church and not have two of the pastor's people follow me to the bathroom."

Sarah Amos, 62, who has been going to 59th Street Baptist for 50 years, said she supports Barnes because "he's a man of God, teaching and preaching God's word, and as long as he's doing that, I will stand by him."

Barnes is a man, Amos said, and man is not perfect. "I have worked with ministers and pastors that was running with women in their congregation. I worked with a woman who would go to this hotel on Baltimore Pike to meet a pastor."

That only proves the fallibility of man, she said. "I go to church to follow God's word, not man's. God's word is in the Bible, and that's where Pastor Barnes teaches from. As long as he does that, I'll be a faithful member."

Jackson said she could overlook Barnes' controversial personal life but not his making life miserable inside the church for longtime members who want a new pastor.

"I don't care if you sleep with a bear in the woods, as long as you don't bring it into the sanctuary," Jackson said. "I don't care what goes on in King of Prussia. I care what goes on in the 59th Street Baptist Church.

"Everything is a personal vendetta for Pastor Barnes," she said. "Since he's been here, not one positive thing has he done for our church. He's a good fire-and-brimstone preacher, but the man does not care anything about the people in the church. He took our loving church family and just tore it apart."

Email Dan Geringer at geringd@phillynews.com

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