It was Halloween night at the 5,000-member Inspirational Bible Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Pastor Victor S. Couzens was wielding the “blood” of Jesus like a “weapon” against everything he believes is attacking him and his congregation.
Nattily dressed with well-coiffed dreadlocks, he exuded a self-assured confidence as he spoke in tongues while sauntering across the stage toward a sleek, cross-adorned pulpit that rose automatically from the ground.
“I plead the blood. I take the blood as our defense. I take the blood as our offense. I take the blood as our weapon. I take the blood as our shield. I take the blood as our response. I plead the blood of Christ over you,” he declared forcefully as his affirming followers joined him with hands raised in a din of prayers.
It was the ninth day of special prayer at Couzens’ church. On this night, he seemed confident he was covered under the blood of Jesus and forgiven of all his sins. No weapon formed against him would prosper while he is covered by the blood of Jesus.
It had also been nine days since Andrea Garrison, a 30-year-old New York City model, sparked calls for his resignation. Garrison announced on Facebook Live that Couzens had been involved in a long-term sexual relationship with her and several other women simultaneously, and she won’t stop speaking her truth until the church sits him down.
In recent months, Garrison said, she thought her relationship with the preacher was exclusive. He even led her to believe that she could become his wife. And Couzens kept her believing until one cold day in October, Garrison discovered he had proposed to another woman and didn’t bother to tell her.
Couzens initially denied Garrison’s claim in a now deleted Facebook post. She quickly responded, however, by releasing a trove of evidence of the relationship they had — racy emails, text messages, photos and checks allegedly showing the use of money from the church’s account.
Portions of this trove were also shared directly with The Christian Post.
“I didn’t take that kindly,” Garrison told CP in a recent interview about the preacher’s decision to brand her as a liar. “I approached him and said can you please take that (Facebook post) down. Don’t call me a liar because we both know that I can destroy you with what I have. Don’t do that. And he became arrogant, so I said, ‘OK. If that’s what you want to do.’ And so I made my [Facebook] Live and when I made my Live it just blew up from there.”
Now, after hearing from several other deceived women she says are too afraid to speak out publicly against Couzens, Garrison wants to use her voice as a wrecking ball against the culture of silence that has enabled rogue pastors like Couzens to exploit women in the black church without penalty. She is also pushing to mobilize other women who have also been mistreated to force churches that have tolerated their behavior to start renouncing their sin.
“I feel like, at this point, it’s no longer what he did to me, what he did to the other women. It’s no longer about that. It’s about the fact that the Church allows this. That the Church is OK with this. The Church is OK with sending threats to people who are just trying to expose something that’s bad happening,” Garrison said. “I’m tired of this type of stuff being swept under the rug and I’m tired of being hushed when all this could have been avoided with him just keeping it real.”
Prevalence of Misconduct
The Rev. Donald H. Matthews is an ordained minister who has taught at numerous universities and seminaries in the areas of black studies, religious ethics, sociology, and psychology. He has more than 40 years of experience in ministry.
In his 2012 book, Sexual Abuse of Power in the Black Church: Sexual Misconduct in the African American Churches, Matthews pointed to research suggesting that black females are likely to experience three times the amount of sexual abuse compared to their counterparts in white churches.
And the cultural secrecy with which the issue is treated, he explained, are among several reasons that have prevented black churches from properly addressing the issue.
“It is important to recognize the suffering of African Americans in this area and to try and remedy it as well. This cannot be done as long as the … taboo of discussing sexual matters continues in the African-American community and churches,” Matthews said.
“This kind of sexual abuse of power represents a deep betrayal and leaves a woundedness and pain that has long-lasting and lingering effects that may never be fully healed. The pastoral abuse of power does not only negatively affect the persons directly and intimately involved with the pastor in his misconduct, it also has a harmful effect on the entire church,” Matthews wrote.
Failed Attempt to Discipline
For now though, Garrison is one of few women who has come forward and publicly called out a black pastor over his sexual behavior. Meanwhile, Couzens has continued to lead his congregants in prayer and the blood of Jesus.
“Thank you Lord that all of our sins are under the blood … that where sin abounds grace much more abounds and all of our sins are under the blood,” he said on Halloween.
“That the sins of the people are under the blood. The sins of the priest are under the blood. The sins of the naysayers are under the blood. The sins of the yaysayers are under the blood. I command us to accept the blood of Jesus Christ,” he urged.
As chatter about Couzens’ lifestyle went viral in late October, Paul S. Morton, founding presiding bishop of The Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International, was forced to weigh in after Garrison begged him to do something.
“The only reason I truly, honestly believe that Paul Morton did something is because I called him out,” she said. “I posted a tweet and I said Paul Morton, the church has no faith in you. And I sent him a screen shot of people saying he won’t do anything.”
Morton responded with a public statement confirming that Couzens, a former key leader in his organization and a “spiritual son,” had indeed been involved with “multiple” women. He also noted in an earlier statement that Couzens repented and promised to step down as pastor of Inspirational Bible Church.
In a since deleted suicidal statement on Facebook shortly after Morton’s soft rebuke of his behavior, however, Couzens denied promising to step down. He also downplayed his multiple relationships. He later claimed the statement was the result of his account being hacked.
“People put words in my mouth. I never said I was resigning from anything. I never said I was stepping down from my church. I never said I have issues that I have to deal with and that I am guilty of anything. Yes! I have enjoyed female companionship. But no, it never was about sex or leading anyone on! If it was about sex, I could buy sex! They have Apps for that! But people print it and they write it and say I said it because that’s what they want me to do and say! And it makes them look big,” the deleted post said in part.
Even though Couzens blamed the suicidal statement on unconfirmed hacking, Morton removed the portion of his statement about Couzens being “sat down” from his duties as pastor and declined to explain why it was done when his office was contacted by CP.
Elders at Inspirational Bible Church have also refused to publicly address their pastor’s behavior even as he continues to speak with tongues, promising to defend the Gospel of truth and light.
In his prayer on Halloween night, Couzens, without specifically referencing Garrison’s campaign, said his church was under attack from evil forces and rallied his congregation to not respond like the world after Garrison reported to police that someone had tried to blackmail her into silence.
“I plead the blood over this ministry. I cover this house in the blood. No schism and no ism shall be able to separate or divide us. We are people of God. We live by grace. We live by mercy. We live by authenticity. We live by confession,” Couzens said. “We will not be conformed to this world, we will not respond like the world. We won’t fight like the world. We won’t act like the world.”
Threats and Bible Thuggery
Prior to that day, Garrison said Couzens and his supporters had been attacking her like a rabid pack of wolves. This reporter also received communication from random persons through email and social media tacitly suggesting the model’s voice was not worth hearing.
“His family started threatening me. Telling me they can have me disappear,” Garrison said of the first day she went public about her relationship with the 41-year-old pastor.
Couzens’ Christian mother, she said, also told her “die, b–ch, die” on social media while members of his congregation called her names like “Jezebel,” “harlot” and “whore.”
The New York City Police Department confirmed to CP that detectives were investigating an aggravated harassment complaint filed by Garrison. She alleged someone threatened to release explicit videos from her time with Couzens unless she recanted certain claims about her relationship with him.
Instead of making her back down, however, Garrison, a former ministry leader who was “sat down” in her father’s Cincinnati church for getting pregnant out of wedlock as a younger woman, said she is starting to believe that maybe her decision to come forward is the Lord’s work too.
“He’s threatening. He is a gun-carrying Bible thug,” she said of Couzens.
“I’m not scared of him. He can come to New York if he wants to. I carry a gun, too, and I got a license too. What’s up? I stand convicted on the fact that I know that I have not lied on him. He tried to quote Scripture that ‘God said don’t touch my anointed’ and you’re gonna lose everything,” she alleged of Couzens’ personal threats to her.
“I know what my personal relationship with God is. He’s not gonna let nothing happen to me ’cause I ain’t did nothing wrong. I have nothing to fear. If I was lying and I was making up stuff I would be scared out of my mind,” she said.
“As far as I’m concerned the church enabled his behavior. The church allowed him to continue to do what he’s done even after it has been brought to them time after time after time after time. I blame the church. I blame Inspirational Baptist and I blame Full Gospel for my pain as well, because they let him do it,” she said.
Something ‘Corrupt’ and ‘Manipulative’
While admitting he didn’t consider himself a paragon of virtue, internet personality and former pastor Larry Reid said he found the 41-year-old pastor’s behavior especially egregious and in need of intervention.
Reid first interviewed Garrison after she went public. With some help from the model, he subsequently spoke with seven other women, including married ones, who say they had sexual relationships with Couzens, a divorced father with several children.
He said he confirmed the sexual involvement of the women with the pastor separately and found that like Garrison, all of them were able to provide some evidence of their relationship with him.
During a recent broadcast, Reid, who pastored for more than 20 years, said the similarities between each of the stories provided by the women painted Couzens as a troubled man with a serious problem.
“It ain’t just you, a minister, and you flawed. It ain’t just you single … you got something wrong with you. And it’s been wrong with you so long to where it’s like a marriage. There ain’t no telling where it ends or you begin. Y’all just one thing,” Reid said, directing comments at Couzens.
“And so now, out of that wound, you have a way of being, a methodology and pathology and way of dealing with women particularly that is deceptive, corrupt, manipulative, and deceitful ’cause all of these women, you say you gon’ marry them. All eight.
“All of their stories line up. The same lines you used across the board. Similar lines. That let me know that you might not know something wrong. Somebody needs to tell you, this is not how you deal with people because it creates what you’re sitting in right now.”
How the Pastor Approached the Women
Garrison subscribes to a very liberal interpretation of Scripture concerning Christian sexual behavior.
“I don’t believe that if you have sex before marriage that you’re going to Hell and that you’re not a Christian. I don’t believe that if you have a drink that you’re going to Hell,” she told CP.
It is that interpretation of Scripture, she said, that allowed her to enter into a sexual relationship with Couzens. That, along with the help he gave her through sometimes tough situations. Couzens’ recently revealed behavior, however, went beyond the limit of what she considers morally acceptable.
“Once you start doing things that is morally wrong like having 30,000 women … and you don’t give me the opportunity to decide for myself about being in that type of situation, then that’s when I have a problem,” she said. “Then that’s when you’re going against what you preach because you’re preaching that it’s man and woman — not man and 10,000 women.”
And lately, after comparing notes with several of the preacher’s other lovers, she has come to understand that Couzens used the cover of his church to approach all of them.
“The scary part about it is there is a pattern. He’s choosing women that he met at his church and then reached out to most of us on Facebook after the fact using the little cards that they give out,” Garrison said.
“He met all of us in our early 20s. All of us had a traumatic childhood. None of our biological fathers are in our lives, a couple of us were pregnant when he met us. And then he ends up cutting us all off right before we hit 30. It’s a pattern,” she explained.
In her case, Garrison said Couzens was able to manipulate her because of her background as she accepted financial help and emotional support from him.
“I went into the foster care system at age 1. My biological family is very dysfunctional. My twin brother was murdered a couple years ago. I know what it’s like to be raped in a foster home. I know what it’s like to be abused in a foster home. I know what it’s like to be bounced around. I never had anybody consistent in my life in all honesty, and he was and he fed on that. He would throw that at me,” she said.
“He used the fact that he was the only consistent person in my life. And being in foster care, when you find somebody consistent, somebody that’s always there for you, you latch on to that person.
“He got me at the age of 20. I was fresh out of the system. I was lost, I was confused. I didn’t know who I was. And if you look at the histories of any of the other women, all of our backgrounds are similar. They may not have been in foster care but they didn’t have anybody consistent and he uses that. The moment you get out of line it’s the first thing he says to you.”
Couzens and many of his defenders have argued that the relationships between him, Garrison and the other women were consensual. With her newfound clarity, Garrison doesn’t completely agree.
“He says it was consensual? No! What was consensual was he and I’s relationship. Not me and him and 30 women and allegedly a few men here and there. I did not consent to that,” she said.
She argued that it was the belief that her relationship with the preacher was exclusive that also made her agree to have unprotected sex with him. His deception in this area signaled he did not care about her health, she said.
“The fact that after everything that has been brought to light you’re still gon’ lie, you need to get off the pulpit. Why are you in the pulpit? I should be in the pulpit. At least I ain’t lie. I told the truth,” she declared.
It was earlier this spring when CP first learned of several current high-profile black pastors who were alleged to have fathered one or more children with women who were not their wives.
Several of these allegations were investigated by CP through child paternity lawsuits, interviews with affected women and church administrations. Questions presented to church administration officials and in some cases sent directly to church leaders were met with silence.
Some women who alleged they were involved in these cases begged that they not be identified or included in this story for reasons including safety and privacy for their children. To respect those wishes, CP has decided to include only this response from one woman who asked that she not be named.
“Never was a mistress. I was misled and a decision I deeply regret….Suffered consequences for my choices….definitely don’t want to revisit the issue as people aren’t who they portray,” the woman ended.
In other publicly reported sexual misconduct cases such as one involving the Rev. O. Jermaine Simmons Sr., pastor of the popular Jacob Chapel Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Florida, victims declined elaborating beyond earlier news reports when contacted by CP.
“This January I had a glass of wine with a close friend on the anniversary of that stressful day, and decided to bury that time of my life,” Benjamin Stephens, who was cuckolded by Simmons, said in an email last month.
In January 2017, Stephens pulled a gun and forced Simmons, who is now his former pastor, to run for his life naked after he arrived at his home and found the preacher having sex with his then wife, Claynisha, in his daughter’s bed.
“I’d be digging up something that I already buried, and resurrecting new demons. No thanks. I’m in a good positive place right now,” he told CP.
Like Couzens, Simmons was never “sat down” for his misconduct.
Just days after the incident, he was recorded telling his very supportive church that it was better for him to remain committed to God’s work in the pulpit.
“If I stop preaching, if I stop doing what the Lord called me to do over this, it presupposes that I was qualified to do it in the first place. If I quit, if I walk away over this, it presupposes that I deserved to preach last Sunday when there was no scandal,” he said in justifying his decision to not step down.
When contacted recently to hear what steps the church had taken to ensure Simmons would not fall into sin with his parishioners again, his staff said he was preoccupied with funerals and other church business and he would not be available for any interviews for the rest of the year.
The Extreme Case That Forced Action
In 2014, Juan Demetrius McFarland, a preacher in Montgomery, Alabama, told his then congregation at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church that in 2003 he contracted HIV which developed into AIDS in 2008.
He confessed that he knowingly slept with church members inside the building without revealing his status, and also abused drugs and mishandled the congregation’s money.
Even after that confession, McFarland returned to the pulpit, appearing “full of the spirit” and supported by about 50 members of the congregation he pastored for 24 years.
McFarland refused to step down, even after deacons voted to have him removed. They were later forced to file a lawsuit to have him removed. The lawsuit alleged that McFarland changed the locks on the church and one of his supporters threatened to shoot them if they came back.
He was finally removed only after a judge ordered him to go.
Tracking Sexual Misconduct
To get a more comprehensive snapshot of how sexual misconduct is being handled in black churches, CP reached out to the six leading historically black denominations in America regarding policies concerning the handling of clergy sexual misconduct.
The denominations were also asked to say whether incidents of clergy sexual misconduct were being tracked and whether they could provide any data to support this.
Questions were sent to: The Church of God in Christ, National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc, National Baptist Convention of America, National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., and The African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Charles Moore, a deputy commissioner with COGIC, which has about 5.5 million members, said verified cases of sexual misconduct usually results in dismissal if it’s proven.
An allegation alone that isn’t substantiated by evidence of the misconduct, he said, would not be enough to get a pastor dismissed in COGIC.
All other questions were directed to the organization’s legal department.
Responding after more than a month, Uleses C. Henderson Jr., from COGIC’s Office of the General Counsel, said he forwarded questions from CP to the denomination’s management team and did not receive a response.
He did say, however, that the denomination treats sexual misconduct among leaders seriously and confirmed that a policy for handling misconduct exists.
“I can say that The Church of God in Christ takes these types of matters very seriously. Our organization has a sexual misconduct policy that has been in place for many years and it takes action against its clergy who have been proven to engage in such conduct,” Henderson said.
The Black Church’s Governance Problem
While Garrison’s campaign to mobilize women to push for change in black churches is a positive one, Valerie Cooper, associate professor of Religion and Society and Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School, says holding pastors accountable is often a difficult task due to, among other things, weak governance systems where usually, there is no one more powerful than the pastor.
“It is a problem across evangelicalism in particular that there is not always strong governance. So there might not be an independent board of elders, for example. The pastor might be part of a loosely affiliated almost sort of kinship network of other pastors, or other leaders might sit under an unofficial bishop or some other sort of overseer,” Cooper explained.
“It’s not corporate governance. It’s more like kinship governance. And so there may or may not be anyone in authority to be able to step into a situation that has gone wrong,” she said.
She noted that in denominations such as the Methodist church, usually the building belongs to the denomination. If the pastor gets “crazy,” one form of discipline the denomination can enforce is to take the building.
In many Baptist churches where there is congregational polity, discipline is harder to enforce when pastors go rogue.
“Baptist churches have congregational polity, which means that there is not a bishop. If, for example, a Methodist church goes crazy, the bishop can step in,” Cooper said.
Cooper explained that when Baptist leaders, for example, engage in misconduct, it’s usually very difficult to remove them unless they are under the authority of an independent elder board.
In the absence of an independent board or some other similar body in churches with congregational polity, Cooper agreed with Garrison that if justice is to be achieved, the congregation itself will have to act.
“In a Baptist context or in a Pentecostal context, because it is congregational polity, a committee in the congregation hired the pastor. So what has to happen is a committee or someone else in the congregation has to rise up within that congregation and say this pastor is gone. Now, no one in the whole congregation has as much power as the pastor does. So if you want to have this conversation you better do it before he steps up to preach,” she said.
“In the civil rights era, in white churches in the South, the best way to lose your job in a congregational polity church was to preach about civil rights. Then, enough people would get angry and remove you. So that’s the way to lose your job — if enough people in the congregation get angry and they remove you,” Cooper said.
Najuma Smith-Pollard, program manager of the University of Southern California’s Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement, agrees with Cooper that black churches need to employ better systems of governance and encourage more open dialogue on pastoral sexual misconduct to better address the issue.
“I think what we can do better as a black church is to work on some best practices to avoid sexual misconduct or the appearance of sexual misconduct,” Pollard said.
“I think that we can do better at sharing but also attaining resources … not just put policy in place but also systems, and then also dialogue,” she said.
Conflict of Interest, ‘Sloppy Theology of Forgiveness’
Pointing to how Simmons was able to remain in his job even after he was caught in the act of adultery by his parishioner, Cooper noted that his staff might also be reluctant to act against him because they are dependent on him for their jobs.
“In this particular Baptist church, if it’s like other similar black and white Baptist churches across the country, there is a very strong pastor with a charismatic preaching gift. That’s how, usually, he got the job. He won the job by out-preaching the other candidates.
“There is a board, maybe a deacon’s board, maybe an elder board that is for the most part appointed by him. So this board is reliant on him for their jobs,” she said.
“So of course this pastor, after this incident with the gun, the next Sunday he gets his wife, he does what a congressman caught cheating does. He has the prerequisite press conference (a church meeting in Simmons’ case) with his wife standing beside him. … Nothing is going to happen because there is no individual higher than that pastor because of the polity,” she said. “Who can step up and remove him? It has to well up from within the congregation.”
The problem with the congregation acting is that usually, there is no independent guidance available.
“There is no one really to guide the conversation on this and he’s not an impartial witness, is he,” she said of the compromised pastor. “He’s trying to hold on to his financial viability.”
Even in some of the most egregious cases of pastoral misconduct, Cooper explained that congregants caught in the aftermath of a scandal will find ways to justify support for their leader.
“I believe that if you go to that congregation today, there are people who would tell you all of the reasons why they believe the pastor is innocent. They will blame the woman. Some of them might blame the pastor’s wife, they will talk about an attack from the devil. There’s a martialing of theological justifications, unfortunately, for this kind of behavior. People will explain it,” she said.
The difficulty for these congregants, she said, is the ability to separate the transformative work that the pastor has done in their lives from the destructive behavior.
“They look at this situation and say, ‘now the pastor is in trouble, I need to show up for pastor like pastor showed up for me.’ And there has not been, unfortunately, I think there is a need for the development of a way to think about this theologically,” she said.
“There is a really great need for some thoughtful and theological attention to how individual Christians, our obligation, for when a crisis of this nature takes place. What is the Christian’s obligation to forgive? What is the leader’s obligation to repent?” asked Cooper.
“There has been some discussion about people stepping down and stepping out of the pulpit and invariably those decisions are made in the context of the economic pressure ‘I need a job.’
“So pastors get caught but they don’t step out of the pulpit. And that’s not just a black church experience; that’s across races and denominations and traditions, and the like. I think we need to just think seriously about how or if it’s possible for a pastor to be restored,” she added.
“We have, I think, a very sloppy theology of forgiveness — that ‘Oh, he said he was sorry, we forgive him.’ I think that the consensus that is emerging, and it’s not just a theological consensus but also a legal consensus, is that organizations have an obligation to protect the vulnerable from folks who have been proven to be abusers,” she explained.
“You have to put your theological forgiveness on one side and the obligations of your institution on another side. You might forgive them but that doesn’t mean that they get to go back to children’s church next week. They shouldn’t.”
The Culture Problem
In Sexual Abuse of Power in the Black Church: Sexual Misconduct in the African American Churches, Matthews agrees with Cooper’s assessment of the response to clergy sexual misconduct in black churches.
His research suggests sexual misconduct among leaders in black churches has become so normalized in the culture, congregants “will defend their pastor’s actions as long as some modicum of discretion is involved.”
“It seems that many black church persons are so accustomed to accepting the misconduct of their pastors that it’s now assented to as normal behavior. In effect, because their moral compass has never been set to understand the dynamics and damaging effects of pastoral sexual misconduct they have developed a kind of denial regarding their minister’s sexual misconduct,” he wrote. “I doubt whether most or even many black church persons have any idea of what it means for a pastor to engage in acts of abuse of power.”
“The typical black pastor commands and expects such love and devotion that it has almost become expected that he will abuse his power and be forgiven for it. This unwillingness to criticize the pastor is indicative of the blind trust and devotion that a community under crisis has given its spiritual leaders,” he continued.
“Ultimately, this devotion has also resulted in a lack of ability for churches to cooperate with each other as each church and its leader developed a social and sexual fiefdom of its own. Each church requires a single-minded devotion to their particular pastor and leader and is therefore willing to overlook the misconduct of its leaders and has a limited capacity to trust other churches and their leaders.”
Cooper agrees with Matthews that sensitivity in discussing questions of sex and sexuality also prevents the black church from honestly dealing with sexual misconduct among leaders.
“We (black women) were accused of being hypersexual. There was a period when a black woman could not bring a charge of rape and successfully prosecute a white assailant, for example. That was the Jim Crow era that wasn’t that long ago,” she said.
“So there is a kind of real sensitivity around these issues. Theologically, it’s expressed in a kind of holiness culture. Sociologically, it’s expressed in a concern for respectability and so there’s a real reticence to put those kinds of issues in the market place. There’s a real desire to keep things private.
“Now that desire for privacy is often at odds with a desire for justice. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and if the congregation is not willing to be honest about what happened, it becomes increasingly difficult to actually get justice for victims.”
Cooper also agreed that the kind of loyalty demanded by black church leaders, particularly those in evangelical churches, leaves their congregations open to abuse.
“The congregations are often tremendously loyal. This is not just about sexual assault and harassment, this is also true with regards to financial misdeeds. Unfortunately, financial misdeeds often go on for quite a while as there’s no one with authority in the congregation to be able to call the pastor to account,” she said.
“When the Roman Catholic Church addresses sexual misconduct there is an entire hierarchy that becomes involved. When mainline denominations deals with these types of accusations there is a hierarchy, there is a set approach to how the situation will be dealt with,” Cooper explained.
“But when the misconduct happens in the historically black denomination, there often is not the same systemic approach to redress,” she said.
“If you’re part of a wealthy denomination that has an on-call legal staff, then accusations get handled differently than if you’re a part of a denomination or organization that maybe it’s not even a denomination, maybe it’s a freestanding congregation, then the ways that specific allegations are handled are done differently,” she noted.
If the misconduct goes beyond the moral and involves criminal contact, such as relations with a minor, churches, not just black ones, are usually more likely to simply fire the accuser than seek to bring criminal charges.
“If it’s discovered that someone who was involved in the youth program was not handling youth appropriately, people are more likely to fire them than to charge them with anything,” she said.
Cooper noted that sometimes this culture allows individuals to go from congregation to congregation and repeat their crime.
She also noted that it can be difficult to get members of the African-American community to report crimes due to historical mistrust of the criminal justice system.
“There is often distrust of and discomfort with the criminal justice system. If you’re in a city where you’re concerned with the police shooting African-Americans then the way that you handle difficulties in your congregation you might have really strong reasons in wanting to avoid the police,” Cooper said.
She noted that there were also issues concerning the access that members of African-American congregations have to proper legal representation should they seek to hold churches accountable through civil lawsuits.
In her discussion of the culture of abuse among African-American pastors, Cooper asked “if there is a professional code of conduct for black church leaders, [and] where do they learn it?”
Matthews, in his book, suggested that the code of conduct came from their predecessors.
“The first time that I became aware of the abuse of pastoral authority and power was when I was a student in a theological seminary. I had several black male friends who were also pastors and who were also studying for the ministry,” he said.
“It seemed as though they were in competition to see how many women they could seduce. They emphasized the number of women they could attract and seemed to be infatuated by their own appearance and pastoral gifts of preaching and teaching,” he continued.
Matthews went on to detail a culture in which the future pastors began sleeping with each other’s wives as their own marriages fell apart. He highlighted instances in which the behavior continued even after the men were installed as pastors of their own churches.
“They were even able to quote scriptures that they said provided justification for their actions,” he wrote.
At least one other Christian leader, personally affected by pastoral sexual misconduct, spoke out recently.
Pierre Whitlow, a former worker in the ministry of controversial self-proclaimed prophet Brian Carn, revealed in a video posted to YouTube in June that Carn had an affair with his wife. Whitlow presented his wife in the video as Carn’s victim.
“It’s a sad day for the church. I was so very much manipulated in a very low time that we were experiencing by a man that we trusted. He baptized me,” Whitlow’s young wife, Keisha, said as he prompted her to “speak up” in the video.
“Words can’t describe the pain, the remorse that …,” she said before she was cut off by her husband who said, “we’ll come back to her.”
Should Wayward Pastors Be Restored to Pulpit?
A 2016 Lifeway Research study indicated that African-American pastors are more likely than other pastors to support remaining in the pulpit while being investigated for sexual misconduct.
They were also found to be more likely to recommend the least amount of time — three months to a year — away from the pulpit as discipline for a pastor who was proven to have had an affair.
While there are varying views on if or how quickly a pastor found guilty of sexual misconduct should be restored, Eric Geiger, vice president of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources, notes that the Bible’s guidance on sexual immorality among pastors is quite strict.
“The Apostle Paul does not advocate for a congregation to remove someone for lack of hospitality, but he does for sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5). The sins, while both deep violations of the character of God, have differing levels of consequences because they bring differing levels of reproach upon His church,” Geiger wrote last summer in Church Leaders.
He strongly advised against restoring pastors found guilty of sexual misconduct immediately. He suggested that there are strong arguments for not restoring them to leadership positions at all or restoring them after a period of deliberate repentance and counseling.
“Some leaders believe that restoration can and should occur when the restoration is done deliberately, when there is ample time to observe the sweet fruit of repentance, and when credibility can be restored through a season of learning and counseling. They preach 1 Timothy 3 and believe that blamelessness can be restored,” he wrote.
Timothy Rogers, 38, a popular Arkansas evangelist and singer who has performed widely on the black church circuit, told CP that while he believes unfaithful pastors should be disciplined, he doesn’t believe it should disqualify them from leadership.
“I have a lot of friends that pastor and some are single and some are married that go through different issues. They have had their share. So personally, I would feel super uncomfortable with giving a solid answer on this because I don’t want to seem like I have the answer to what should happen to that preacher,” Rogers said.
“Me personally, I’ve been preaching for at least 20 years, and I’ve run into all kinds of preachers. I think it should be dealt with, but as it relates to should they not lead anymore, should they not be a pastor anymore, I don’t want to say. I don’t really know,” he said when asked if unfaithful pastors should step down.
“I really couldn’t say that. I really wouldn’t know what to say because in my heart I think that the average pastor, you know even if he didn’t do it, has probably thought about it,” he added.
When pointed to the 2017 case in which Simmons returned to the pulpit days after he was caught sleeping with his parishioner, however, Rogers was a bit more nuanced in his response.
“It’s tragic. … I saw that particular incident. I don’t know that preacher … but I will say I think it’s appropriate when one is caught in a fault like that, I think it is befitting for one to kind of sit down and surround himself with some brothers who can actually help him mentally, spiritually, and all of that to get him back to where he needs to be. The Bible says if a brother is overtaken in a fault, ye that are spiritual, restore such a one in meekness, considering yourself lest ye also be tempted,” he said.
“So I think there’s a time to restore but also I think there is a time to kind of step back and examine, make sure you are healed spiritually, mentally and all of that kind of stuff. If it was me, you wouldn’t have to make me sit down. That’s something that I would want to do. I would want to feel loved. I wouldn’t want nobody to make me feel like I’m a monster. I wouldn’t want nobody to make me feel like I’m less of a man or no good,” he added.
He pointed out that the church should remember that many of God’s chosen vessels like David and Solomon struggled with sexual temptation and indulged but were still used by God.
“[David] was a man after God’s own heart and he took another man’s wife and had that man killed, and after that man was killed he married that woman. And they had a son named Solomon. Solomon wrote ‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not to thine own understanding but in all they ways acknowledge Him and He will direct thy path,'” Rogers said.
“Those writings came from a man who had 700 wives and 300 concubines … so these fellas are in our Book. And some of those people we quote every day of our lives but we really don’t know the dark side of their lives. We talk about people in Scripture but there is a lot of dark stuff in Scripture. God still managed to use those people in whatever capacity that they were used,” he said.
He explained that churches should ensure that whenever a sexual relationship between a pastor and his parishioner is brought to light, the church must minister to both the pastor and the parishioner.
“When we have issues like that, I think that we should give it special attention and we should make sure that the offender is dealt with and make sure that the offended is not pushed out without being helped also,” he said.
But some believe pastors should be held to a higher standard and that sexual sin should not be tolerated in the pulpit.
John MacArthur, a California pastor and author known for his internationally syndicated Christian teaching radio program Grace to You, argued in an op-ed that pastors who commit sexual sin should be disqualified from leadership.
“Gross sin among Christian leaders is a signal that something is seriously wrong with the church. But an even greater problem is the lowering of standards to accommodate a leader’s sin. That the church is so eager to bring these men back into leadership is a symptom of rottenness at the core,” he wrote. “Our pattern for ministry is the sinless Son of God. The church is to be like Him and her leaders are to be our models of Christlikeness.”
He then pointed to New Testament Scripture rebutting unseemly behavior among church leaders.
“We must recognize that leadership in the church cannot be regarded lightly. The foremost requirement of a church leader is that he be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2, 10; Titus 1:7). That is a difficult prerequisite, and not everyone can meet it,” he said.
“There are some sins that irreparably shatter a man’s reputation and disqualify him from a ministry of leadership forever. Even Paul, man of God that he was, said he feared such a possibility. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 he says, ‘I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.’
“When referring to his body, Paul obviously had sexual immorality in view. In 1 Corinthians 6:18 he describes it as a sin against one’s own body — sexual sin is in its own category. Certainly it disqualifies a man from church leadership since he permanently forfeits a blameless reputation as a one-woman man (Proverbs 6:33; 1 Timothy 3:2).”