After giving a radically partisan benediction at the Republican National Convention in July, Pastor Mark Burns has hit the campaign trail hard for presidential candidate Donald Trump. Now that he’s in the spotlight, however, he’s being confronted with several claims on his website that appear to be false.
Burns, a prominent leader of the increasingly popular “prosperity gospel” movement, says on his website that he received a Bachelor of Science degree from North Greenville University and served six years in the Army Reserve. He also says he was a member of a prestigious African American fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi.
But North Greenville University told CNN Burns only attended for one semester, and the fraternity says it has no record of Burns. He also never served in the Army Reserve, but he spent some time in the South Carolina National Guard.
The national registry, the member database, and no one knowing him.Even under his government name.What proves he IS? https://t.co/CkjaGLugkM
— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) July 22, 2016
In a tense interview with CNN anchor Victor Blackwell, Burns initially suggested hackers had posted the fabricated information, then tried to retroactively make the interview off-the-record, blamed the media and ultimately walked out of the interview, which was being conducted in his own church.
Burns released a statement explaining he had exaggerated his biography when he was a young pastor just starting out. However, he argued he was being unfairly targeted because he is a black Trump surrogate. “I do also want to set the record straight about why this attack is happening — because I am a black man supporting Donald Trump for President,” he said.
Burns may be under more scrutiny than he’s accustomed to now that he’s entered the political stage, but the world he comes from is also deeply controversial. The prosperity gospel movement that Burns leads has been likened to a pyramid scheme. Burns and other leaders of the movement preach that followers will become wealthy and successful through faith — namely, by donating to the church. Some of the most prominent ministries in this movement rake in millions of dollars with little-to-no accountability. Trump has long been a fan of this “get rich quick”-style faith.
Burns is fresh off another media firestorm over a cartoon he retweeted last week that depicted Hillary Clinton in blackface. He argued the offensive cartoon was meant to call attention to the plight of African Americans under Democratic leadership.
“Black people are Americans, and when Donald Trump talks about jobs, he’s talking to all Americans. When he talks about security, he’s talking to all Americans,” he said in a Periscope video.