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Bishop: I'll pay white people to attend my church

Bishop Fred Caldwell is offering to pay white people to attend his church in Shreveport, Louisiana. Criss Williams is one of the few white members.
Bishop Fred Caldwell is offering to pay white people to attend his church in Shreveport, Louisiana. Criss Williams is one of the few white members.

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(CNN) -- Bishop Fred Caldwell of the Greenwood Acres Full Gospel Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, has a pretty radical idea to diversify the largely black congregation of his church.

This month, Caldwell is going to pay white people to attend his sermons. It's five bucks for a Sunday service, 10 for a Thursday service. And the idea is already stirring up controversy.

CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien spoke with Bishop Caldwell from Shreveport on Friday morning. Joining him was one of the few white members of the church, Criss Williams.

O'BRIEN: Bishop Caldwell, let's begin with you. How is the attendance right now in the church, overall, black people and white people?

CALDWELL: Well, attendance overall at Greenwood Acres Full Gospel is great. We have very few white members, but overall it's a super great church.

O'BRIEN: How many white people are in your church?

CALDWELL: In attendance on a regular basis maybe about five or six.

O'BRIEN: Five or six people; and you have a couple thousand members, right?

CALDWELL: Well, five or six white people. Basically, predominantly 99.9 percent are black or African-American congregation. Only about five or six white people on a continuing basis.

O'BRIEN: So it sounds like you've got great numbers in the church as it is. It's obviously not a filling the seats kind of thing. Why would you want to pay white people to come into the church?

CALDWELL: Because this area basically is polarized and we need to mix it up. And so $5 is good fishing bait.

O'BRIEN: Criss, did you get paid $5 when you came to the church and do you think it's going to work?

WILLIAMS: No, I didn't get paid, not monetarily. I've received spiritual blessings ... that benefit my life in much more valuable ways to me. I think that it will work. They will come. I think that a lot of secular organizations and businesses already use incentives and promotions to draw people in to hear what they have to offer. Once they're there, then it's up to them to determine whether or not they want to receive what's offered.

And I think it's no different from that. In that light, God made everything. He made money. And for a bishop to utilize that resource to draw people to the kingdom of God is a wonderful thing.

O'BRIEN: Bishop Caldwell, we don't have a ton of time, but I've got two quick questions for you.

First, why is Thursday more valuable than Sunday?

CALDWELL: Well, Thursday is more valuable than Sunday simply because people are working and it might take a little bit more extra effort. And then on top of that, they'll probably get paid, $10 an hour is not bad. It's probably better than maybe McDonald's or Burger Kings would pay.

O'BRIEN: Finally, you've heard the criticisms, right? I mean at the top of the story here we played some tape. And there are some people who say truly there are a lot of people in your area who could use that money or you could take it and help out poor people who really need it, not paying off white people to come to church.

How do you answer that?

CALDWELL: I answer that, Judas Iscariot said the same thing to Jesus, that money should be taken and given to the poor. That argument is always out there. The people that are saying it I doubt very seriously if they're taking their weekly paycheck and giving it to the poor. So let's just cut to the chase. America needs to come together and the kingdom of God especially needs to look like the kingdom of God on Sunday morning and that's what we're striving to do.

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