Hornbuckle Is Not the Only Bad Minister

By Bob Ray Sanders
Star-Telegram [Fort Worth TX]
August 25, 2006

If every preacher who had sex with a church member went to jail, there would be a lot of empty pulpits Sunday morning.

And the sad thing is that there are often people in the congregation who say or do nothing — and, if they do speak up, find themselves ignored.

The case of the Rev. Terry Hornbuckle, convicted this week in a Tarrant County court of sexually assaulting three women, has put the issue of ministerial misconduct front and center.

And now it turns out that Hornbuckle was confronted more than 12 years ago about his womanizing by a group of clergy, a former minister of his church said Thursday.

Demetruis Carrier, 43, a member of Hornbuckle's Agape Christian Fellowship in Arlington from 1990 to 1993, said he and three ministers from outside the church whom Hornbuckle respected spoke to Hornbuckle after Carrier and his wife had left the church and began to hear stories about the pastor.

"After we left, we came across a lot of females wanting to tell their stories," Carrier told me Thursday as he waited outside the courtroom while jurors deliberated Hornbuckle's punishment.

"I called him and told him we needed to meet," Carrier said.

Hornbuckle's wife was at the meeting, he said. The pastor denied wrongdoing, but Renee Hornbuckle said she would never forgive her husband, Carrier said.

Only one of the other ministers was strong enough that day to tell Hornbuckle he was wrong and should not be in the pulpit, Carrier said.

Another minister, he said, turned and asked him, "Demetruis, what's the purpose?"

And nothing more happened, apparently. That's the case all too often in churches.

While I'm in no way suggesting that most ministers are having illicit affairs with their congregants, I will say there is enough anecdotal evidence to declare that a whole lot of preachers need to be on the mourners' bench.

Too many "shepherds" have abused their flocks. And the offenses go beyond sexual improprieties, for there are numerous cases of other malfeasance in office, especially misappropriation of funds.

But for the moment, let's stick with the sex, even if it is consensual.

If we examine one of the statutes under which Hornbuckle was convicted, preachers engaged in such activity are not only sinning against God and, if they are married, violating their vows, they are breaking the law.

In 1995, the Texas Legislature amended the state penal code to expand the definition of "sexual assault" and more particularly to delineate further the term "without the consent of the other person."

According to the statute, 22.011, Section (b) (10), the "without consent" phrase applies in a number of circumstances, such as coercion of a victim by a public servant, a mental health services provider or another healthcare provider.

But one could also be a victim if "the actor is a clergyman who causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person's emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman's professional character as a spiritual adviser."

That spiritual adviser role carries a huge responsibility, and I know plenty of people who can bear witness to how some of those closed-door counseling sessions in the pastor's office turned into a come-on opportunity by a man taking advantage of a vulnerable woman, all in the name of "the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost."

This kind of thing goes on in all religions and in all denominations. My observations tell me that it is certainly prevalent in those non-hierarchical denominations or non-denominational churches where the ministers are basically self-ordained clergy and are often the organizers of the congregation.

As one who knows the black church well, having grown up in one, I can say that this problem is acute in many African-American congregations.

There are guys who can be a pimp one day and the Rev. Pimp the next; Mr. Con-Man on Saturday night and the Rev. Dr. Con-Man by Sunday morning. All they have to do is proclaim they are preachers, open a storefront in the name of God and invite people to the altar.

There is also a phenomenon among church members, predominantly women, who put as much faith in the man in the pulpit as they do in Jesus. The minister then becomes more than a preacher, and that added power gives him a sometimes dangerous dominance over a congregation that is frail, regardless of its size.

The male leaders in such congregations are, more often than not, handpicked puppets of the pastor. Rather than exercise their true roles as deacons, elders, trustees or whatever, they acquiesce to the preacher's demands, turn a blind eye and deaf ear to his misdeeds or become accessories to the crimes.

It is under such poor leadership that many church folk find out one day that large amounts of money are missing and, in some cases, that property they thought belonged to church is actually in the name of the preacher or his non-church-related corporation.

Sadly, a minister's sexual conquests or misuse of church funds is rarely a secret to many of his followers. People tend to know, or least suspect, and yet remain silent.

I can't tell you how often I've heard the phrase, "Yes, we know how he is, but honey, we'll just leave it in the hands of the Lord."

By the time they realize that the Lord has left it in their hands, the minister's sleight of hand has caused much more damage.

Also, in the case of sexual abuse, the female "victim" who finally complains is often accused — by other women in the church no less — of coming forward only because she realized she was not the only one with whom the pastor was messing around.

To some of you, all of this may sound overblown or, at best, an over-generalization.

But I guarantee you that many church members reading this know I'm telling the truth and are saying, "Amen, brother."

No institution is greater than the people who are part of it.

Therefore, a church can be only as good as its members and those who lead it.

I pray that one day soon more church members and leaders will truly begin to practice what they preach.

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7775


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