"That's not Christianity. We're definitely not a cult. We're free to come and go and do what we want." - Scott McGrath
Waikato Times/May 10, 2008, by Jeff Neems
Controversial claims surface about the extreme anti-gay stance of an ‘over the top’ former minister of Hamilton evangelical church The Potters House after he is stabbed to death in Perth.
The Hamilton leader of evangelical Christian church The Potter’s House-Christian Fellowship Ministries says the group has moderated its extreme anti-gay stance and is more open than it was during a controversial period through the mid-1990s.
The fundamentalist religious group has been the subject of claim and counter-claim this week following the death of its former Hamilton pastor Richard Watson. Mr Watson died on April 20 after he was stabbed twice at a 21st birthday party in Perth. A 35-year-old Ngaruawahia man is facing a wilful murder charge.
Mr Watson, who ministered for The Potter’s House in Hamilton for 14 years, caused controversy in 1996 when he screened anti-gay films at the church’s London St base. This week, his widow Louise told the Waikato Times her late husband had grown to regret his actions and teachings while with the church, which she described as a “cult” led by Australian-based clerics who brainwashed members.
Scott McGrath, the present pastor for The Potter’s House in Hamilton, said the group had softened its stance on homosexuality since Mr Watson’s time in charge, and would accept gay, lesbian and transgender parishioners. However, he said, under Biblical teachings, the church still viewed homosexuality as a sin but “we don’t go out to bash homosexuality, because there is no need to” and said the church would try to “save” any gay, lesbian or transgender members.
“I’d accept anybody into the church. We’re still very fundamental, we still go out and preach on the street and invite people to come to church. What we believe is that if the Bible says it, we should do it. I preach on sin.”
Describing Mr Watson as “a bit over the top” during his time leading the church in Hamilton, he said Mrs Watson’s claim that the church was a cult was “ridiculous”.
He dismissed assertions by a Times source that church members were not allowed to associate with family members and friends who were not involved in The Potter’s House.
“We would never ever teach that, because that would be pathetic,” said Mr McGrath. “That’s not Christianity. We’re definitely not a cult. We’re free to come and go and do what we want.”
Mr McGrath also disputed Mrs Watson’s claim no current members of the church had attended her late husband’s funeral service or expressed their condolences. A Potter’s House pastor from Rotorua had contacted the family to offer sympathy, as had a member of his own parish who contacted Lisa Watson, Mr Watson’s daughter. The church’s Australian leader, David Vicary, attended the funeral, he said.
He also disagreed with Mrs Watson’s claim “hundreds” of The Potter’s House couples left the church the same time as they did. Although he was reluctant to “slag a dead man”, Mr McGrath said many parishioners had left the church in the late 1990s due to Mr Watson’s teachings and actions.
“There were a whole lot of things that happened,” said Mr McGrath. “The church fell to bits, to tell you the truth.”
Mr Watson’s teachings had begun to contradict earlier messages he’d given, which saw many members depart, he said.
“The problem was he began to use his position to manipulate people.”
Australian-based leaders of the church had asked Mr Watson to “sort himself out”.
“He started to blame the church for how he was, always very abrupt and in your face, and very confrontational. Attacking homosexuals was his choice, not a fellowship choice,” said Mr McGrath, who believed Mr Watson’s strong personality had not changed since his departure from The Potter’s House.
Relationships in the church had been strained during Mr Watson’s ministry, he added.
Mr McGrath said he had chatted to Mr Watson’s daughter Lisa in a Perth shopping mall a few years ago, but had not had any recent contact with the Watson family.
Several attempts by the Times to speak to Mr Vicary, who is also based in Perth, have been unsuccessful. Mr McGrath said Mr Vicary had taken up his leadership role after Mr and Mrs Watson had left The Potter’s House.
Mrs Watson could also not be reached for comment.