|Matt Pitt at The Basement|
What is that dark story? Pitt's troubles with law enforcement began when he refused to do the bidding of conservative political/corporate forces who wanted to use his ministry (The Basement) for their own purposes, sources tell Legal Schnauzer. Those forces allegedly include former Governor Bob Riley and University of Alabama trustee Paul Bryant Jr. Our sources say Pitt never would have been prosecuted if he had allowed his ministry to be used for the political and financial interests of others. They also say Pitt has made enemies from his desire to build a ministry that reaches across racial boundaries.
Full disclosure: I know Matt Pitt, and I like him. We were in the Shelby County Jail together for a time, and while we were not able to talk a lot, I was around Pitt enough to come away with a favorable impression. I found him to be a person of good will, with a good heart, a keen intellect, deep knowledge of The Bible, and a genuine interest in reaching young people who often fall away from organized religion. I also witnessed Pitt preach to small groups in jail and came away convinced that he is a talented communicator, with a gift that could be used to move a broken, conflicted society forward.
Based on comments left at al.com, quite a few people in the Birmingham area hold animosity toward Pitt--for reasons I can't quite grasp. I can only attribute the ill will to possible jealousy or fear that The Basement will cut into membership figures at established churches. It also might be due to Pitt's efforts to build an inclusive ministry, one that reaches people of all colors, I've lived in Alabama long enough to know that the notion of races mixing in a religious environment makes many people uncomfortable.
Also, Alabamians have a long history of trying to bring down those who might try to separate the state from its ugly past. Is Matt Pitt the kind of person who might strike fear in those who cling to the Alabama of yesterday? I suspect the answer is yes. The Basement is billed as "the fastest growing youth movement in the country." And it reaches way beyond Alabama; I've seen pictures of Pitt preaching from coast to coast--in Colorado, Ohio, California, Texas, Missouri, New York, and many other states.
Matt Pitt could be the next major, positive religious figure on the American scene, but Jefferson County prosecutors persist in pursuing him for a felony that he almost certainly did not commit--one that carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison.
What led to Matt Pitt's legal problems? Our sources point to three key events:
(1) Political figures, apparently with ties to Riley and Bryant, encouraged Pitt to use The Basement to endorse a slate of white, conservative political candidates;
(2) Business figures encouraged Pitt to do the ministry's banking with Bryant Bank;
(3) Pitt and a few associates were invited to attend a University of Alabama football game and sit in Bryant's private box. During the game, a Bryant crony was heard to say, after looking out over the packed stadium, "Can you imagine this many people pay us to watch n-----s beat up on each other?"
Pitt rebuffed the first two entreaties and was so disgusted by No. 3 that he decided to have nothing to do with Paul Bryant Jr. or his bank.
Before long, Pitt was in trouble with the law because of an honorary sheriff's badge that he never asked for--Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale gave it to him.
Where does politics enter the picture? Bob Riley appointed Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls, who apparently made the decision to prosecute Pitt. Mike Hale's legal counsel is Rob Riley, Bob Riley's son. In fact, Rob Riley made an appearance at the Pitt trial on Tuesday. Jefferson County Tax Collector J.T. Smallwood played a significant role in Pitt receiving the honorary badge, and Smallwood reportedly has close ties to Bryant.
What about those oddities connected to the trial? We will address those in a post tomorrow morning.