Visit to Johnson Memorial Baptist Church

Last night, I left Richmond at 5 p.m. and made the long trip up Rte 95 to Washington, D.C. to meet with a special group of pastors regarding SB 116.

It’s a long story but here’s the short version …

In December 2008, I was contacted to potentially represent a number of D.C.-area pastors who had been victimized by an ingenious marketing scam involving a bogus advertising kiosk to be installed in each church.  The kiosk, when it was installed, did not work or had no usable content.  It generated no revenue. 

As part of the deal, the churches were enticed to sign a leasing contract which obligated them to a series of payments for the kiosk and onerous penalties if they did not comply.  The leases specified that any “disputes” would be settled in Wisconsin(!) and that the leasing companies were given direct access to the church bank accounts to facilitate payments.

Next stop, disaster.

I had an initlal meeting with Rev. Thomas of Johnson Baptist in December 2008.  After meeting with several groups of pastors in early 2009 and seeing that the scope of the problem was big (more than 30 congregations in D.C. alone), it was apparent that one lawyer could not solve the problem.

Since two of the major impacted churches were based in Virginia, I contacted the former Attorney General, Bill Mims, to see if the AG’s office could step in and defend the Virginia churches.  The answer was “no.”  Why?  Because churches don’t have standing under Virginia’s consumer protection laws and thus the AG had no grounds to intervene.

SB 116 addressed that by giving churches standing to make consumer claims.  The bill passed the House and Senate unanimously.   It got some good media, thanks to the hard work of my Communications Director and the Interfaith Coalition which endorsed it and featured it on the front of their session newsletter.

That sets the stage for last night’s meeting, where I met again with Rev. Thomas of Johnson Baptist, which is located on Ridge Road high above Southeast D.C.  He was there with a passel of other pastors interested in our bill, including some from Richmond.  I was honestly moved when they greeted me with hugs and applause.  You don’t usually get that reaction in this business. 

I can’t say that SB 116 can “turn back the clock” and make restitution for the hundreds of thousands of dollars scammed from our local churches.  But we can try.  And, God willing, we’ll get the chance once the Governor signs the bill.

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