Maryland State Sen. C. Anthony Muse says media reports of his church’s demise are greatly exaggerated when the church is just trying to reorganize its debts.

Muse, pastor of Ark of Safety Christian Church in Upper Marlboro, says the Washington Post and the weekly Gazette got it wrong about the state of his church. He says the church has done nothing that New York real estate magnate Donald Trump hasn’t done in filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

“We filed to pay our bills; not a Chapter 13 to walk away from our bills,” Muse said, noting that under Chapter 11, debts are reorganized but under Chapter 13, debt are seeking dismissal of what they owe. Muse said the church has taken out five interest-only loans. He said the church, just like many residents in Prince George’s County, were made to believe that one day the interest rate would come down and church would be able to pay down on its balance. However, Muse says, that hasn’t happened.

The crux of the problem is the foreclosure crisis that hit Prince George’s County in 2008 and 2009 attacked some churches as well as homeowners. Now a church that was once worth $13 million, according to Muse, is now only worth $7 million.

“We’re upside down in our property,” he said, indicating that they owe more than the church is worth. “The crisis hit and property values went down. That’s not our fault.”

The church’s board of trustees backs up Muse’s claims. In a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, it says that it was just wanted to stop wasting money.

“We, the congregation, take an active role in the day-to-day operations and finances of our church,” the letter said. “WE made the decision. We simply decided not to continue giving banks and creditors what would have amounted to more than $1 million dollars in interest payments, on interest-only loans, and throw away our members’ hard- earned money.”

Muse also contends that the Post and Gazette unfairly interjected his politics into the story. The Post story mentioned his support for casino gambling in 2010 and his opposition to it this year as well as his ill-fated U.S. Senate run. The Gazette also mentioned his failed Senate bid,

He believes both mentions were unnecessary because his politics have nothing to do with him being the bishop of the church.

“I am an employee of the church,” he said. “I work for the church, but there is a board that makes decisions. The congregation also makes decisions. We carry them out.”

Despite his claims, Muse remains a pretty powerful employee. According to court filings, Muse and his wife, NBC 4 anchor Pat Lawson Muse loaned $610,000 to the church–money that came from a second mortgage on the Muse home. Their loan to the church is among the church’s debts that total nearly $1.8 million.

As part of this process, the filings say, Muse and the board are seeking a consolidation of the five mortgages so that the church can get a reasonable interest rate and begin to pay down the mortgage.

“The only recourse we had was to file for reorganization and have a judge come in to lower these interest rates and get us into one loan,” Muse said.

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO