Brooklyn bishop says pastors should be armed after robbery, won’t discuss fraud allegations

Bishop Lamor Whitehead lambasted media Friday for portraying him as a bling-toting huckster following a robbery during a livestreamed sermon.
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Bishop Lamor Whitehead, the flashy Canarsie pastor who was robbed of valuable jewelry during a livestreamed sermon this week, said at an “emergency” press conference on Friday, July 29 that the city, state, and federal governments should pass laws allowing faith leaders such as himself to carry firearms for protection during sermons.

“They need to pass a law, expeditiously, that pastors of houses of worship, and anyone under the ecclesiastical staff, need to be able to have permits for firearms,” Whitehead said. “If the teachers can have it, we should be able to have it. No matter if we have a record, it should be exempt.”

But Whitehead, the pastor at Leaders of Tomorrow International Churches on Remsen Avenue, would not address a bombshell report by The City on Thursday noting that he had been sued last year by a parishioner who claimed he swindled her out of her $90,000 life savings, and accused the media of manufacturing a narrative of him as a “bling-bling bishop” instead of a humble man of God because he is a Black man.

“The media, for some reason, you portray Black men as criminals,” Whitehead said. “My church can’t get no sympathy nor empathy.”

Whitehead, 44, was in the middle of giving a livestreamed sermon on July 24 when three armed men appeared to bust through the doors of his church and rob him at gunpoint. He said that the pilferers held guns to his head and against his 8-month-old daughter, and stole from him and his wife reams of expensive jewelry including rings, a watch, a bishop’s cross, and his “sacred collar.”

After they left, Whitehead said that he followed them outside, got in his car, and chased them along Avenue D but eventually lost sight of them. The NYPD says its investigation is ongoing, and on Wednesday the Department released new surveillance footage of the thieves entering the church.

Whitehead said that his wife, his baby, and his congregants have not stopped crying since the incident, feeling unsafe in their own parish, and he himself even shed tears during the press conference. He said the story’s going viral on social media has made the grieving process even more difficult due to the way he’s been portrayed.

The bishop’s penchant for flashy bling, expensive suits, and luxurious cars has had many commentators accuse him of being a con artist. He denied staging the robbery himself for an insurance payout, as many on social media have speculated, but the news he may have bilked a parishioner out of her life savings has only accelerated the narrative.

Bishop Whitehead weeps at a press conference in Canarsie on July 29.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

“Fendi, Louis, and Gucci, why can’t we wear that in church,” Whitehead said, referring to his taste in suits. “What’s wrong with that?”

Whitehead’s case also isn’t helped by the fact that he previously served five years in prison on identity theft and grand larceny charges, though on Friday he said that those charges had been bogus, cooked up by prosecutors whom he said had “withheld evidence” and “forged search warrants.” He was released in 2013 and later became ordained as a minister.

Whitehead also disputed the valuation of his jewelry of between $400,000 and $1 million, furnished to the media by the NYPD. But a police source said that when the department publicizes the value of stolen items, that value is reported to responding officers directly from the victim, in this case Whitehead, and then shared with media. As the investigation proceeds, the source said that detectives will attempt to gauge a truer value of the stolen items by requesting insurance information or appraisals.

Although he had promised to answer any of the press’ questions, the bishop declined to answer any inquiries on the fraud lawsuit, deferring to his attorneys. A message to his attorneys was not returned.

Whitehead, who ran an unsuccessful campaign last year for borough president, has long been close with Mayor Eric Adams, whom he considers a mentor. He said at the press conference that he had spoken with the mayor yesterday, who “just encouraged me to keep my head strong.” Hizzoner said at an unrelated press conference Friday that he would continue to mentor Whitehead and others going through tough times.

“Lamor and any other individual that I support, I continue to try to mentor,” said Adams. “As a Black man, I have an obligation to mentor other Black men that had negative encounters in their lives and other people in general. And that’s what I will continue to do.”

Adams spokesperson Fabien Levy said that while the mayor does not support clergy packing heat, he does support armed and trained security guarding places of worship, noting Hizzoner wrote an op-ed in 2018 on the topic following the antisemitic mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The governor’s office did not respond to to an inquiry seeking comment on Whitehead’s proposal to arm pastors.

A significant showing of NYPD officers were at the church providing security at the press conference, and Whitehead ⁠— whose father Arthur Miller was choked to death by NYPD officers when he was just a baby ⁠— said that he is in frequent contact with the captain at the 69th precinct, and that the NYPD would start providing security during his Sunday sermons.