How Grace Fellowship Church became a national crossroads for church leaders
Grace Fellowship is a small, modest evangelical church in South Carolina.
It was founded in 1984 by a married couple and its mission statement is simple: to build love.
Its founder, Rev. David Lee, said the church believes that all people are created in God’s image and are entitled to a loving and compassionate community.
The church has been the subject of several lawsuits over the years, most recently over a claim of sexual assault by a former pastor.
“We believe that God loves all people and that no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, or who you love, no one is above God,” Lee said.
Lee’s wife, Kimberly, is a pastor at the church.
Grace Fellowship has had a rocky relationship with the federal government.
The family fled the country in 1992 and had no permanent address in the United States, so the church has used a series of fake passports to set up temporary addresses and passports in countries like South Korea, France, Russia, China and India.
Lee said he did not know about the church’s efforts to hide its identity.
“They’re trying to get away from us,” Lee told Recode in an interview in the church offices.
He said the government has been more aggressive in its efforts to monitor and investigate church leaders.
In 2011, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives raided Grace Fellowship’s office, seizing computers and documents.
A year later, the church filed for bankruptcy protection, citing the financial burden of the federal investigation.
Grace Fellows membership has declined in recent years.
The majority of Grace Fellowship members are white and about half are men, according to church membership data.
A majority of members are married.
Lee and Kimberly Lee did not respond to requests for comment from Recode.
Grace’s history of lawsuits has also prompted the church to distance itself from its controversial past.
Lee acknowledged that his wife was a former member of Grace, and that the church is now “a different church” and “does not have any links to the original church.”
“There’s been a lot of controversy,” Lee acknowledged, “and we want to try to move on and move forward.”
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