TAMPA — Megachurch pastors Randy and Paula White stood before their congregation Thursday night and made the announcement that many in their flock feared had been coming for months.
They are divorcing.
“It is the most difficult decision that I have had to make in my entire life,” said the Rev. Randy White, 49. “I take full responsibility for a failed marriage -100 percent. I don’t blame Paula, and I don’t blame other parties. But as the man of the house, I take full responsibility for that.”
He praised his wife, calling her an exceptional woman and a great preacher and wife.
Standing by his side and appearing to fight back tears, the Rev. Paula White called the decision to divorce “one of the most painful of our lives.”
“But God always comes to you in the dark places of life,” White said, standing beside her husband in the pulpit.
White, 41, also offered a note of optimism.
“It’s not the end of the story for Randy or Paula or maybe even Randy and Paula,” she said.
The couple, who have both been married and divorced before, did not say what caused their breakup. They also did not detail if they had filed for divorce. They have grown children from previous relationships but none together.
Word about trouble in the couple’s marriage has circulated for months. The Whites’ disparate ministry paths have fueled much of the concern. Randy White, a bishop at Without Walls International Church, has been spending time in Malibu, Calif., in hopes of establishing a ministry on the West Coast. Paula White, the church’s senior pastor and a sought-after televangelist, keeps an apartment in New York City, where she recently opened a new ministry and self-help center in July.
The couple, arguably the most prominent evangelical partners in the state, said they made their announcement at Thursday night’s service to tell their church “family” before word of their separation appears in the local and national media.
The Whites’ split calls into question the future of the 22,000 member megachurch, which the couple founded as South Tampa Christian Center in 1991. During their announcement, which came just before the sermon, the Whites sought to put those concerns to rest.
Randy White said he would continue to lead Without Walls and would focus on being a “great pastor” and a “great dad.”
Paula White said she would also continue to preach at Without Walls when invited by her husband. She also said Paula White Ministries would continue to be based in Tampa.
Several hundred Without Walls members were in the audience for the announcement. As the Whites spoke, some people in the crowd cried. Others appeared stunned, noticeable by the audible gasps in the cavernous sanctuary.
Warming herself outside the church, one woman said “God knows best,” before being told by another member to avoid talking to the media. At least one Without Walls member said the church was hurting and lashed out at a reporter for being on site to witness the announcement.
The church broadcasts its services via the Internet at www.streamingfaith.com. But last night’s announcement was not aired. The video of the broadcast was interrupted without explanation and resumed after the announcement.
Inside the church, the preacher for the evening, the Rev. Tim Storey, sought to offer direction to a stunned congregation.
“How many of you feel sorrow tonight,” Storey asked the crowd.
Hands shot up around the sanctuary.
“We should. But God is still good.”
Sidebar: Without Walls International Church
Started as a storefront church in 1991 as South Tampa Christian Center.
Without Walls International Church in 1997 and moved into an old Canada Dry factory near Raymond James Stadium.
Has more than 22,000 members and more than 200 outreach ministries.
Predominantly African-American. But prides itself on being the “Vegetable Soup Church” with people from a variety of ethnic groups and socioeconomic backgrounds.
$39.9-million in 2006; $28-million in 2005. Figures represent combined income from Without Walls and Paula White
Source: Without Walls by Randy White; 2006 Independent Audit by Lewis, Birch & Ricardo, LLC