Over the past three years Pastor Danny Barnes has found himself in the Traverse County jail several times for various scuffles with people in the small Minnesota town of Wheaton, near the South Dakota border. But his latest arrest is validating his worst nightmare: that, as one of handful of blacks in the town, the justice system is slanted against him — big time.
On Sept. 26 a white man in his 20s allegedly hurled racial slurs against Barnes in his church. According to Barnes’s wife, Dena, the pastor tried to calm the assailant, who used to attend the church, but that didn’t stop the man from physically assaulting Barnes.
“A fight ensued, 911 was called, both men went to jail,” said Dena. But what happened next ticked off many people, including some white residents of the town.
The attacker, identified only as “Allen” in a police report obtained by Minnesota Monitor, was released almost immediately on his own recognizance. Barnes, on the other hand, said he had to wait hours to see a judge before he was released.
“The biggest problem [in this town] is the police,” said Danny Barnes, “They don’t want me in this community. They don’t want my programs.”
A native of St. Paul, Barnes, 51, ministered in St. Cloud for years before he moved to Wheaton in 2004 to run his Pentecostal church, Thy Kingdom Come World Ministries. There he runs drug, alcohol and anger-management programs. He said he also works with people suspected of sex offenses.
By all accounts, his approach to treating people is controversial but fruitful. Stanley Gallagher is a native of Wheaton and has been the town’s physician for 30 years. He said the procedures used by Barnes are disapproved by almost everyone in the community.
But, he said he has “personally witnessed [Barnes] doing Christian deeds that far exceed any other minister or lay person in the city… I’ve seen alcoholics recovering from drinking binges in his living room, vomiting and sick, and he has had them there for two to three days… I don’t know anybody else in town who would do that.”
Since he moved into the area with his wife, who is half Native-American and half German, Barnes said his church has been vandalized several times. One time, someone scrawled “KKK rules” on the church’s billboard. His car was vandalized and, he said, racial epithets are almost routine.
In all cases, Barnes said, the police identified suspects but no one was ever charged.
Repeated calls to the Wheaton police chief, to the Traverse County sheriff and to the county attorney were not returned.
“This town needs the Gospel — the true unadulterated Gospel,” said Dena Barnes, who said they moved to Wheaton because God called them.
People acquainted with Barnes say the frequent harassment and the isolation he feels have taken a toll on him and prompted him to easily lose his temper. A few months ago, Barnes was charged with head-butting a police officer. That case is still pending, and the country attorney offered him a shocking plea deal: 10 years behind bars.
Barnes denies the charges.
“That officer was not injured — not even one bandage,” said Gallagher, the physician. Still, “sometimes [Barnes] has an explosive temper. He would consider roughening someone up if they don’t do the right thing.”
But Gallagher said the charges against Barnes were always disproportionate. Wheaton, which has a population of nearly 1,800, has fewer than half a dozen blacks, and some older whites “fear the unknown,” he said.
Wheaton has six other churches. Barnes says most of them don’t preach “the true word of God that repudiates racism.”
Interestingly, as other churches were losing congregants, Barnes’s church has been gaining. And though his programs might be controversial, people are trickling in for treatment.
And that discomforts other churches, said Gallagher. Drug abuse, alcohol and alleged sexual offenses — including incest — were considered taboo subjects until Barnes’s arrival.
“Most other churches were not addressing these issues,” said Barnes.
Whether there truly is an effort to drive him out of Wheaton or not, Barnes said that he intends to “either die there or in jail.”