Kirbyjon Caldwell, the former mega-church pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church, Houston, plead guilty and received six years in federal prison for wire fraud on January 13, 2021.
Caldwell graduated from Carleton College with a B.A. in Economics and an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of Business. He worked for a Bond company in Houston. He left the business world for ministry. Under his leadership, Windsor Village United Methodist Church grew from twenty-five families to over 18,000 members.
Caldwell was a successful author. He wrote The Gospel of Good Success: A Six-Step Program to Spiritual, Emotional, and Financial Success. Caldwell was a proponent of “Holistic Salvation.” The idea is that Salvation redeems every area of your life, including sin, physical sickness, emotional/psychological problems, and finances. The book offers hope for overcoming every situation in life, but the downside is that if you are sick, depressed, or broke, it’s your fault because you lack faith.
How did Caldwell end up in jail? He forgot the Bible verse, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other, you cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24) For whatever reason, Caldwell went off the rails and got involved in a shady investment scheme with Gregory Alan Smith, a Louisiana investment advisor.
Their shady scheme involved buying historic Chinese bonds. Many of these bonds were issued in the early 1900s. The bonds were defaulted on and repudiated by the Communist government of Mao Zedong. You can buy the bond certificates on eBay, and they are considered “Of historical value” only. Caldwell and Smith sold their investors on buying these bonds and promised huge returns on the investments. How huge? Some investors were promised a ten-fold return guaranteed within two weeks. The idea that these antique Chinese bonds would become valuable seems to be based upon an idea floating around in early 2020. The idea was that Donald Trump would somehow force China to repay these bonds through his get-tough trade war with China.
Most people know that anyone who promises such a large return in such a short time is conning you. However, as noted by the Federal Judge, Caldwell willingly used his pastoral standing to attract investors he victimized. Investors trusted Caldwell because he was the pastor of a mega-church. I’m sure his educational background and previous work experience as a bond trader added to his credibility.
Caldwell should stand as a warning to everyone, especially churches, that Pastors are human beings. Pastors are very fallible; pastors, despite their title, can take advantage of people.
Some of Caldwell’s church members have suggested he didn’t know what was going on. They place the blame at his partner’s feet. However, Caldwell is well educated in business and economics, and as a former bond trader, knows that no one can guarantee the kinds of profits he was promising in such a short time. Further, the money investors gave was not invested in buying these antique Chines bonds; Smith and Caldwell spent them for personal reasons. Caldwell paid off credit card debt, loans and paid for his living expenses. There is no way Caldwell didn’t know that spending investors’ money on personal expenditures wasn’t a fraud.
The question remains, is Caldwell a good pastor who went bad, or is he a grifter who got caught? In my opinion, he’s a good pastor who went bad. He has a good track record of good works. His Corinthian Pointe Project is an example of providing low-cost housing. However, it is a dangerous mix of church and business. Church-run businesses lead to legal problems later. Just ask Ernest Angley and Jim Bakker.
If Caldwell had been a lifetime grifter, he would have followed the prosperity gospel playbook. Promise non-specific and non-time-sensitive prosperity, “Just around the corner,” for a seed offering of cash. If the “investment” fails to yield a return, it’s due to the lack of faith on the investor’s part. True god-grifters know that by keeping it strictly spiritual, the Feds will not get involved.
Christians, be on the watch for when churches switch purposes. Churches are not businesses and shouldn’t be run like them. There’s a big difference between selling church t-shirts as a fundraiser and a church owning and operating a t-shirt business. The priorities are different. A church’s focus should always be to proclaim the Gospel and provide spiritual care and growth for their people. Making money is never the goal.
Thanks for reading! Please take a moment to like and share this post. Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already. You can watch my vlog at Rev’s Reels on YouTube. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Join me and a bunch of other former Fundagelicals at Open Door Ministries OC at the Westminster Mall. Yep, I left Fundamentalism. I took the fun and left them with the mental.