Pastor with a pastA black pastor feels he’s “in harm’s way” in this rural community because of his race and the controversy over his ministry.
By: By Teri Finneman and Amy Dalrymple, INFORUM
© Copyright 2007, The Forum, Wheaton, Minn.
A black pastor feels he’s “in harm’s way” in this rural community because of his race and the controversy over his ministry.
Since moving to this town of 1,500 people three years ago, Danny Barnes says he’s been physically assaulted and his church property vandalized.
He also believes law enforcement officials don’t want him or his ministry in the region.
Barnes, 50, oversees a ministry called Thy Kingdom Come that brings alcohol and drug addicts to town to attend his faith-based treatment.
He established his ministry in 1991 after he “got saved” during a stay in jail. Previously, Barnes says he was a career criminal, involved in drug dealing, prostitution and other criminal activity.
Now committed to helping others, Barnes says he’s been treated unfairly since arriving in Wheaton.
Barnes claims he was the victim of a hate crime Sept. 26 when he and a Wheaton resident got into a fight at his church. He faces felony charges in connection with this most recent incident. Police treated the other man as the victim, Barnes said, even though he too was charged with assault.
“The tolerance that this community has for hate crimes against ethnic groups … the police have a tolerance for that. A high tolerance,” Barnes said.
However, city officials and police deny that racism is a factor or that they’re out to get Barnes and his ministry.
“Absolutely not. The Police Department simply responds to complaints by the public and investigates them as they come along,” said Wheaton City Administrator Jamie Beyer, spokeswoman for the city and Police Chief Michael Johannsen.
The Police Department hasn’t received formal complaints of racism or complaints about Barnes’ ministry, Beyer said.
Wheaton Mayor Janet Weick and City Council member Ed Rikimoto say they’ve seen no evidence of racial attacks toward Barnes.
Rikimoto said in some ways, Barnes is doing good for the community by straightening out people who are in drug or alcohol recovery.
But there are some negative aspects to bringing those people into Wheaton, Rikimoto said.
“If they fall off the wagon, the city police officer has had to go over there a couple times,” he said.
Meanwhile, some residents have viewed the new pastor’s practices as controversial.
Last year, the local newspaper devoted nearly an entire page for a question-and-answer story with Barnes “based on concerns that have developed in the community regarding the ministry.”
So how did a former pimp who now says he’s dedicated to ministry end up in Wheaton?
“It’s where God called me to be,” Barnes said.
Barnes, who says he’s originally from the Twin Cities area, told The Wheaton Gazette in 2006 he was a molested child who grew up not knowing right from wrong.
Barnes told The Forum that he didn’t finish high school and married at age 16.
He and his wife tried to have a family, he said, but he grew up in a criminal lifestyle and quickly became one. His record is now filled with drug, violence and sex offenses in multiple states.
Barnes says he “got saved” in 1984 in Colorado after a jail chaplain told him Jesus loved him. After praying and believing he saw a sign from God, Barnes turned to a life of ministry.
“I was the worst of sinners,” Barnes said. “God came into my life.”
As a result of his struggles and his new faith in God, Barnes decided he wanted to teach others how to overcome their problems.
“When I quit drinking, quit using drugs, I wanted to teach how to have a full life without being under the influence of alcohol and drugs. It’s a large problem in our society,” he said.
Over the years, Barnes says he’s been involved with several denominations. His current ministry is nondenominational.
Barnes developed his faith-based drug and alcohol treatment program, where “everything that I offer comes from the Bible.”
Members spend one year in the program: six months of treatment and six months of re-entry, including finding work in the community.
Barnes isn’t a licensed counselor, but says his real-life experience is his best resource.
“Because I did it, I can teach it,” he said. “Lives are changing in this ministry.”
Current members of Barnes’ ministry praise his work and what he’s done for them.
Patrick Settle, 29, is a former drug addict who credits Barnes for teaching him to live “a good, healthy life.” Settle said he’s staying off drugs, learning how to handle finances and holding down a job.
Not everyone is impressed with Barnes’ work, however. Kay Nikolas, Roberts County, S.D., county attorney, said a few defendants in drug and alcohol cases went to Barnes for treatment at the request of a defense attorney.
Barnes gave a false impression of his ministry, implying that his organization was an approved treatment center or an offshoot of a recognized program, Nikolas said.
Two people completed his program and at least one left with complaints about it, she said.
“At this point, I wouldn’t send anybody to pastor Danny Barnes anymore,” Nikolas said.
Stanley Gallagher, 60, a lifetime Wheaton resident and local doctor, defends Barnes’ ministry.
“Danny is a minister that uses some unorthodox methods, but he’s taken some of the worst people you could imagine – people that are on drugs and people that have not worked and people that have just been kind of a failure to themselves and society – and he makes them get a job, he makes them work and he makes them get off the drugs,” Gallagher said.
Barnes says he now has 12 people in treatment and between 30 to 50 people who attend his church. He doesn’t charge those who participate in his treatment program.
The ministry receives its funding from tithes and offerings, Barnes said.
“People hear about what we do, they appreciate it and they believe in it. Then they write a check,” he said.
Ministry members also contribute 10 percent of their income to the ministry.
“Not because they owe me anything,” Barnes said. “That’s (tithing) a biblical principal.”
After years of living around the country, Barnes says he spent five years in Minneapolis before moving to Wheaton.
His work in the Twin Cities involved going into heavy drug and prostitution areas, taking people off the streets and placing them in existing faith-based treatment programs, he said.
Barnes has a heart for people on the street who are hurting, said James Tribble, senior pastor of Bread of Life Church in Minneapolis.
“I watched him help so many people,” said Tribble, an ex-drug addict and ex-gang member who “surrendered my life to God in 1997.”
After seeing Barnes’ work, Tribble helped him connect with a new opportunity – taking over the empty Calvary Worship Center in Wheaton.
Barnes accepted the assignment “because it’s where I was sent.”
“When God gives you a region to minister, you do that,” he said.
For 2½ years, Barnes served in the church under the Pentecostal Church of God.
But Barnes was asked to surrender his license in June after “some church issues that we had,” Minnesota District Bishop Dean Clough said.
“We just came to a place that we couldn’t support it anymore, some of the things that were going on, being said and done,” he said.
When the church granted Barnes a license, the board knew he wasn’t “lily white,” Clough said. Still, board members weren’t aware of the extent of Barnes’ background, he said.
Clough said he “just gasped” when he learned Barnes was telling Wheaton residents about his criminal background.
“It’s one thing to have done. It’s another thing to remind the world of it,” Clough said.
Barnes said he knows the church was concerned about the amount of contact he’s had with law enforcement in Wheaton.
The Wheaton Police Department says it has 102 incident involvements for Barnes in its records, though it was not clear how many of those incidents involved Barnes as a suspect.
“I kept telling them (the church) law enforcement doesn’t want me or the work that I do in this region. That’s why I have problems,” he said.
Although Barnes and the church parted ways, they are still on good terms, Clough said, adding Barnes does have “some very, very good points about him.”
“He is the type of person that can talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime about any subject, and he always seems to come out on top,” Clough said.
After separating from the Pentecostal Church of God, Barnes started Thy Kingdom Come in the former American Legion in Wheaton.
He received a certificate of ordination on June 14 signed by Bishop Charles Messenger of Antioch Christian Center in St. Paul. Messenger did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Barnes and his ministry members are now in the process of renovating the American Legion and turning it into their new church.
Barnes says his ministry brings people into the community, adds diversity and offers an economic boost.
However, the community is apathetic when it comes to him, he said.
“I feel like if I were to be hanging from a tree, people would drive by and say, ‘That’s too bad,’ ” Barnes said.
Barnes says he’s been assaulted three or four times since moving to Wheaton.
His church has also been egged and sprayed with graffiti and his vehicle windows have been broken several times, he said.
In another incident, Barnes said billboard advertising of his church was vandalized two years ago in Browns Valley, another nearby Minnesota town. Printed in red spray paint were slurs like “Nigger die” and “KKK rules,” Barnes said.
“They (police) know who did it. They didn’t file any charges against them,” he said.
Browns Valley Police Chief Randy Huckeby said Barnes’ claims aren’t true.
“There was defacing. The sign was vandalized, but his allegations aren’t true,” Huckeby said.
Barnes told the officer covering the incident that Wheaton-area kids confessed, Huckeby said.
“He (Barnes) had worked out a settlement with them, and he did not want the investigation to continue,” Huckeby wrote in a letter dated Oct. 3.
Despite all of the incidents, Barnes says he isn’t leaving Wheaton because it’s “where God called me to be.”
“I can’t say I’m just going to leave Wheaton because I’ve come up against adversity,” Barnes said.
“All of the apostles and disciples and Christ himself were persecuted and ridiculed and assaulted. They didn’t leave. I gotta do what God sent me to do.”
Danny Barnes, speaking about what he calls a hate crime against him involving a Wheaton resident at his church: “The tolerance that this community has for hate crimes against ethnic groups. ... I’m in harm’s way.”
Wheaton’s response on whether it is targeting Barnes or his ministry: “Absolutely not. The Police Department simply responds to complaints by the public and investigates them as they come along” – Jamie Beyer, Wheaton city administrator and spokeswoman for the city
and police chief.
Readers can reach Forum reporters Teri Finneman at (701) 241-5560 and Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590
© Copyright 2007, The Forum Pastor with a past By Teri Finneman and Amy Dalrymple 20071007