Awkward at best, scandalous at worst, the pastor of Detroit’s behemoth Greater Grace Temple, where the memorable eight-hour funeral for the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin was held Friday, has apologized for questionable behavior and comments.
At legend Aretha Franklin’s “home-going,” streamed live and omnipresent on TV and radio Ariana Grande’s performance was widely commented on for a perceived too-short dress and the appearance of ogling by dignitaries seated behind the pop superstar. But, it was Ellis’ close contact and alleged groping of the singer and comment deemed inappropriate and offensive to the Hispanic community, that raised eyebrows and ire.
At the Woodlawn Cemetery where Franklin was interred, Ellis talked to the Associated Press to explain himself.
Ellis is a highly respected community leader in Detroit. Indeed as one person who has a legitimate quarrel over an Ellis scandal herself said, she once “revered” him.
Ellis’ parish has 6,000 members. He has a long history as a respected and influential community leader and his influence and advocacy for the black community in Detroit has led him to partner with major multi-national and global corporations to implement community programs and camps, and build schools. He turned his church into a sprawling campus anchored by Greater Grace Temple, called the City of David, which is home to an apartment building for seniors, a golf course, park and provides hugely popular and vitally important programs for the community.
Ellis appeared as himself in a cable TV reality show about ministers. He has a radio ministry . And until very recently, it appears, was head of a two-million-member Pentecostal association. Ellis was accused in 2015 of embezzling a $120,000 inheritance from the granddaughter of former congregant.
Married to Crisette Ellis, “First Lady of Greater Grace Temple,” and with two adult children, there’s a lot to know about Bishop Charles Ellis:
1. Ellis Was Accused of Groping Grande With Stills From Video Showing Him Squeezing the Side of Her Breast
Ellis was seen gripping Grande’s waist and in video and stills, it appears Grande is trying to pull away and leans back. And at once point, even looks uncomfortably behind her toward someone. When the still image popped up on social media that showed Ellis with his hand squeezed on the side of the singer’s breast, there was swift condemnation.
“So lemme get this straight. Ariana Grande got “criticized” for her dress, got compared to a “Taco Bell” item AND got groped by a creepy looking pastor??? I’m disgusted and Aretha is LIVID.”
The AP reported that Grande did have an “awkward hug from one of the officiants at Franklin’s funeral.”
Ellis told the AP, “It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast. … I don’t know I guess I put my arm around her,” Ellis was quoted as saying. “Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar but again, I apologize.”
Ellis told the reporter he embraced all the performers during the funeral.
“I hug all the female artists and the male artists. Everybody that was up, I shook their hands and hugged them. That’s what we are all about in the church. We are all about love,” Ellis told the AP. “The last thing I want to do is to be a distraction to this day. This is all about Aretha Franklin.”
Saturday morning, Ellis posted news stories about his apology to Twitter.
2. Ellis’ Taco Bell Joke About Ariana Grande Was Seen as Inappropriate & Ethnically Insensitive
After Ariana Grande’s performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like ) A Natural Woman,” written by Carole King and made an iconic anthem when sung by Aretha Franklin, Ellis took Grande by the waist and led her to the podium and did not let go. Inexplicably, Ellis said that he did not know who she was and when he saw her name on the program, thought it was a fast food menu item.
Reaction to that remark by Ellis was one of surprise and some outrage. Some said his comment was more disrespectful than many charged her dress was. He said he had to “brush up” as his 28-year-old daughter reminded him he’s “old at 60 … when I saw Ariana Grande on the program I thought that was a new something at Taco Bell.”
Ellis told the AP he wanted to apologize to Grande, her fans and the Hispanic community.
“I personally and sincerely apologize to Ariana and to her fans and to the whole Hispanic community,” Ellis was quoted as saying. “When you’re doing a program for nine hours you try to keep it lively, you try to insert some jokes here and there.”
3. In 2015, Ellis Was Accused of Stealing an $120,000 Property Inheritance From a Dead Church Member’s Granddaughter
In 2015 it was reported Ellis was “accused of swindling the granddaughter of one of his deceased church members out of an inheritance.” The Shade Room was among the first to report, Ellis “allegedly persuaded the woman to reverse mortgage her home at some point and profited the funds.”
The woman, who was unnamed, provided an audio of the conference call she had with Ellis, his secretary and an attorney, in which Ellis’ secretary repeatedly interrupts and speaks over the granddaughter who remains very calm as she respectfully confronts Ellis.
“Together the three ensured that I never knew about the trust my grandmother created in 1997 and how she had an insurance policy that her trust was directed to use to pay off her debt (including the reverse mortgage she took out and gave to the church). So not only did she give the church the money from her reverse mortgage, after she died, the Good Bishop, worked with my aunt, and granny’s attorney to keep me from finding the trust and deed conveying the house to me. This was the most disheartening of it all.
I revered [Bishop Ellis] as a father figure since I was a little girl. I can’t believe he would do this to me. But I’m sure money is his only God. As long as he can live in a multi-million dollar house with an indoor swimming pool, he can care less about the generational wealth that my grandparents intended me to have via a $120K house.”
In the recording, after she attempts to repeatedly clarify that she now knows an irrevocable trust was concealed from her, one that left her the house, she tells Ellis, “The debt needs to be paid for…the bottom line …whoever needs to come up with that money …needs to come up with it …”
At the near end of the audio, Ellis stumbles and repeats that he’ll have lawyers look at her documents. The woman says, calmly: “Bishop it’s still clear there are obligations that need to be met. Are you willing to meet them?” He says he’ll do what lawyers tell him to do.
4. Ellis Appeared on the Oxygen Channel Reality Show ‘Preachers of Detroit’
In an article from Urban Faith in 2015 talking about the reality show from Oxygen, which was a follow-up to the ‘Preacher of L.A.’ original show, it’s admitted that while much of the episodic series may have been produced and lightly scripted, it was a an accurate depiction of a few key things; first, even preachers are flawed humans, and second, that the clergy in the black community is essential.
Ellis is portrayed as being a “peacekeeper” in one episode and there’s little scandal in the series related to Ellis. In the above clip he’s talking about the family stylist, which likely few of his congregants could afford, but otherwise in a number of clips viewed, Ellis portrays himself as even-tempered and easy-going if not fervent in his beliefs.
A commenter on the Urban Faith review said, “Nothing about this show is refreshing. Do we really need another reality show to tell us that these supposed men and women “of God” are “flawed”?? Human beings – no matter the background – are FLAWED. We do not need to be constantly reminded of this fact. Very few people expect men and women of God to be perfect, flawless individuals. Let’s stop perpetuating that lie so we can stop making excuses for people who willingly go on television to cause dissension and division all in the name of Jesus. Smh.”
5. Ellis, Now-Former President of Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Has Significantly & Positively Impacted the African-American Community in Detroit
Evidence of Ellis’ work for his community is voluminous.
Ellis was just until very recently president of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, which includes 7000 congregation and more than 2 million members. PAW has its roots in a street ministry begun in Los Angeles in 1906.
In Detroit, Ellis’ church brings professional athletes to kid’s camps, provides free back-to-school supplies, feed people at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and gives away thousands of winter coats and bicycles. Greater Grace Temple has scores of ministries, two charter schools a day care center, and housing for the elderly.
Much of what he’s been able to accomplish is based on partnering with companies and groups including Chase Bank, Pepsi Cola, Detroit national sports teams, General Mothers and the United Auto Workers union.
Ellis sits on scores of boards and has been honored with numerous awards for his community work.