A New York City clergyman says that pastors should be allowed to carry guns after he and his wife were robbed at gunpoint during a livestreamed church service Sunday, when thieves reportedly stole more than $400,000 in jewelry.
Bishop Lamor Whitehead was delivering a sermon at the Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries church in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn when three armed men burst into the church around 11:15 a.m., NBC News reported.
The thieves “displayed firearms and demanded property” from the 44-year-old bishop and his wife, 38, police said.
“When I see them come into the sanctuary with their guns, I told everybody to get out, everybody just get out,” Whitehead said in an Instagram video posted after the robbery. “I didn’t know if they wanted to shoot the church up or if they were just coming for a robbery.”
Video of the assault was posted to social media and shared by local news outlets. In the video, Whitehead is in the middle of his sermon when the assailants enter the room. He can be heard saying, “all right, all right,” before putting his hands up and dropping to the floor.
A masked suspect is then seen approaching the pulpit, holding what appears to be a firearm behind his back. The suspect can be seen fleeing with the bishop’s jewelry.
Whitehead indicated he believes he was targeted in an interview with local news station WCBS-TV.
“I said, ‘All right, all right, all right,’ pretty much stating that I’m not going to do anything because I know you’re coming for me. You’re coming straight to me. I don’t want my parishioners hurt. I’ve got women and children there,” the bishop recounted.
“As I got down, one went to my wife and took all her jewelry and had the gun in front of my 8-month-old baby’s face. Took off my bishop’s ring, my wedding band, and took off my bishop’s chain, and then I had chains underneath my robe and he started tapping my neck to see if anything else. So that means they knew. They watched and they knew that I have other jewelry,” he said.
According to the bishop, there were about 100 congregants in the room who witnessed the robbery but cannot be seen on the livestream. They had dropped to the floor in silence while the suspects trained their firearms on church staff.
“They had guns on my deacon that was at the door,” Whitehead said.
“My church is traumatized. The women and children are still crying. Babies are still crying,” he said.
Police said that the suspects fled the scene in a white Mercedes. Whitehead told WCBS that the cops have the vehicle’s license plate and that witnesses saw the men change clothes outside.
“These men, they need to turn themselves in,” Whitehead said. “I forgive you and I’m praying for you, and I hope that God deliver you from the mindset of who you are at this time.”
An NYPD investigation into the robbery is ongoing, and Whitehead told WCBS that Mayor Eric Adams and top law enforcement officials have pledged their support to identify and apprehend the suspects.
“No one in this city should be the victim of armed robbery, let alone our faith leaders and congregants worshiping in a house of God. The NYPD is investigating this crime and will work tirelessly to bring the criminals involved to justice,” a spokesman for the mayor said in a statement.
The bishop criticized media coverage that referred to him as being “flashy” or calling him the “bling bling bishop” because of his expensive jewelry, saying headlines about his lifestyle made him a target for the robbers.
“It’s not about me being flashy. It’s about me purchasing what I want to purchase,” he said in his Instagram video. “If I worked hard for it, I can purchase what I want to purchase.”
Earlier this year, Whitehead received publicity after he helped turn in a suspect wanted in the fatal subway shooting of 48-year-old Daniel Enrequez, according to WCBS.
“I turned him in, but the media called me ‘the bling bling bishop.’ They had my Rolls-Royce car all over everywhere and I feel that that played a part in this,” Whitehead said.
He suggested that clergy members should be permitted to carry firearms to protect their congregations from armed assailants.
“I think all pastors should be able to get permits for pistols,” Whitehead said.
However, under a new law signed by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, Whitehead and other members of the clergy are not permitted to carry firearms in “sensitive places,” including houses of worship. The law was passed to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a century-old New York law that placed unconstitutional requirements on concealed-carry permit applicants.
“We believe that gun laws like those have made New York State safer,” Hochul said after signing the new law on July 1.