The Dynamic Duo

Their flocks have multiplied despite past controversy. But can the Revs. Victor Curry and Richard Dunn preach politics?

Like other leaders who once faulted the duo for their militant rhetoric, Teele now showers them with hosannas. "I'm not going to fight Curry or Dunn," he says flatly, "because I believe God has anointed them to be leaders in the black community." Even the leaders of their former congregations who spoke ill of them in the media insist the preachers were unfairly slammed by the press.

Not that the reverends have earned universal praise. Although few dare to assail a minister A particularly a black minister A publicly, several of their colleagues contend that Dunn and Curry's nosedive was the result of reckless egotism. Had they not thrust themselves into the spotlight with flashy, self-aggrandizing tactics like the election-day boycott, their alleged transgressions would not have warranted headlines.

Indeed, the most stinging I-told-you-so's have been issued, not by white power brokers, but by older pastors who originally urged Dunn and Curry to tone down their act. "The agitation I saw tended to be more of a hype, an emotional masturbation thing," says Richard Marquess-Barry, pastor at Overtown's St. Agnes Episcopal Church. "I don't know what it was that pushed them out there, but I much prefer to work behind the scenes. You can't damn all these people that you eventually want to become a part of."

Nor can you display the kind of ambition Dunn and Curry did without inviting a power struggle. In Dunn's case, the rift ran along family lines. "What happened is that Richard was under a purpose," claims Jarius Dunn II, Drake's founding pastor and Dunn's grandfather. "When I took sick in 1989, he decided he wanted to be pastor of the church."

Dunn the elder claims that during his illness, his grandson stole tens of thousands of dollars in church funds, forged his name on checks, and, even more sinfully, "modernized the church with a lot of unbiblical practices."

Richard Dunn admits that he borrowed about $5000 over the course of a year to pay personal bills. "I got to the point where I'd gotten in the hole, man," he says. "My mistake was not getting approval from the trustees. But that isn't why I left the church. I left because my grandpa went after me."

"Richard stepped down because of the conflict between him and his granddad," confirms Arthur Fair, chair of Drake's trustee board. "But the church never wanted Richard to leave. We did everything we could to keep him because he brought Drake out in terms of membership and money. There was money missing from [church] accounts, but he told us he used it to keep the church kindergarten going and we accepted that. His grandpa, clearly, didn't."

In Curry's case, the dispute was more subtle. "There is always a tension between old and new, not only in terms of ideology but functionality," observes Billy Baskin, pastor of Carol City's New Way Fellowship Baptist Church and Curry's former father-in-law. "Young talent comes in and the old feels pushed aside. The new pastor wants to start projects and feels stymied if he doesn't get approval. Sometimes the bottom line is just power. Mount Carmel is an old, traditional church. Curry got a clean slate when he started New Birth."

Baskin knows from experience. Seventeen years ago he was a greenhorn preacher who stepped down from one church to start New Way, which has since grown into a 4800-member parish. He says those outside the black church community simply don't understand the rancor that such fissures engender: "It's like a family busting up."

Lloyd Major, a former pastor and current member of Dade's Community Relations Board, says black pastors run the risk of all quasi-mystical figures. "It's a pedestal mentality. The membership takes pride, sometimes an exorbitant amount, in providing the pastor everything. To the point that you wonder how much the pastor is a church leader as much as a symbol of what people are aspiring to be themselves. You can't imagine the passion stirred when a preacher leaves the church, or is told to leave." A 1987 Herald article relates, for instance, how at New Mt. Moriah A which later would become Dunn's new church A a controversial pastor inspired rival factions of the congregation to engage in a knife fight after one Sunday service.

Ultimately the downfall of Dunn and Curry was due as much to personal frailty as the weight of tradition. "Unfortunately, they went out of their way to inflame on the radio," Baskin says. "And if you use the media to broadcast your message and rattle cages, you better make sure your own house is in order. There were warnings given to them."

Dunn's ethical end-around with church funds is an obvious example. More disturbing to Baskin, however, was Curry's marital conduct. While he admits that as a father-in-law he may not be an objective source, Baskin believes Curry became so caught up in his success as preacher/activist that he ignored the homefront.

In 1988 Curry filed for divorce after six years of marriage to Cynthia Baskin. "I told him, 'God's not going to be pleased,'" recalls Baskin, who maintains a cordial relationship with Curry. "'How can you go out and build kingdoms if you're allowing the kingdom He cares about most to fall apart? You're leaving two young daughters without an active father. Think of what this will do to your career and your credibility.' I urged him to at least try marriage counseling. But he wouldn't hear it."

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