Black Out: the abridged story of Bishop JD Husband
Back in the old days, homosexuality was whispered about, but rarely spoken of openly. Case in point, the murky story of one of COGIC’s most prolific preachers, the late Bishop John D. Husband. A resident of Atlanta, he presided over one of the Church of God in Christ’s rising jurisdictions, Central Georgia.
Bishop Husband was consecrated during a time of great turmoil in the church and eventually elected to the church’s highest governing body, the General Board. Hushed up homosexual scandals were not just relegated to the pews, but the leadership was beset with them as well. The church held its collective breath in early 1991, when a scandal of epic proportions surfaced involving the bishop.
“He [Husband] seemed like a very fine person. He was involved, as I remember, in some scandalous situation. Apparently, he did not survive the reaction; so they must have put him down”, said a former COGIC Missions Department official who asked not to be named.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution , as well as the Memphis Commercial Appeal  reported in several successive articles that Bishop Husband had been accused of embezzling over half a million dollars of church money. Although the sex scandals were public knowledge, AJC reporters agreed not to print the initial stories of Husband’s homosexuality because of the young boys and men involved.
As one of the original members of the church’s presidium, Husbands was held in great esteem by some, but secretly despised by others. According to one Texas church “superintendent”, Bishop Husband’s homosexuality was no secret in the denomination. Yet, year after year he was a favorite speaker at the national Holy Convocation in Memphis, a polished and dynamic personality who could move the COGIC faithful with his preaching.
But why church leadership never dealt with his mounting homosexual displays is still a mystery. Or if he was disciplined, why was it ineffective? Rumors about Husband’s increasingly open homosexual proclivities began swirling madly like Texas tornadoes until the deafening roars reached the wary ears of Memphis 600 miles to the west. Even in Memphis, during church meetings, some that encountered him say his words and actions were very questionable.
A New York-based Pastor (who has since left the denomination) recalled a meeting with Husband: “Once in Memphis, I was with some friends at a restaurant and we happened to bump in to him about 2 am. He was always the only General Board member who hung out all hours of the night at the meetings, and now I know why. Anyway, he made a disparaging remark about [my Bishop]. I quickly defended my Bishop and let Bishop Husband know that I did not think that a Bishop would disrespect another Bishop like that. He gave a weak apology and offered to make it up later on if I called his hotel room. Needless to say, I never called and I never had a personal encounter with him. I have no idea how he was going to make it up, and I didn’t want to find out.” 
Husband’s own wife, who divorced him in the late seventies, allegedly reported him numerous times to the General Board in Memphis, complaining of his homosexual adultery and liaisons, but to no avail. The top presbytery refused to act. The failure of the board to act swiftly and decisively with their contemporary may have pushed him to even further into the double lifestyle.
Husband was no novice. He was voted in as one of the original General Board members of the church, a consequence of the intense infighting in the church after the death of it’s founder, C. H. Mason in 1961. Due to the internal conflicts sweeping across the church, Husband was one of six men appointed to Bishop in 1965 by the Executive Board . The behind the scenes struggles for loyalty and power was an attempt to leverage appointments made by Bishop Ozro T. Jones Sr.
What happens when a church goes to war — against itself?
On February 3, 1965, a meeting was convened at Pentecostal Temple in Memphis by the Executive Board to address the problem of church authority. At the center of the controversy was Bishop OT Jones, Sr. The Executive Board, a group of 11 Bishops, contended in a letter, that although Jones had been “recognized and honored” as Senior Bishop in 1962, the agreement was that his office would be worked out (discontinued) in April 1963.  Apparently, Jones did not see things that way. The EB went on to say that “Bishop Jones, has since 1962, usurped the power of the Executive Board and abrogated unto himself the authority to appoint Bishops, Overseers and other officials of the church.” Clearly, this was an angry group of men. They officially ordered Jones to “cease and desist.”
Later that year, on October 6, a larger group of clergy —the Board of Bishops—, asserted its muscle in Jones’ defense. They also convened in Memphis and issued a stinging document asserting that it was they, not the Executive Board, which possessed sole power to authenticate the authority of Bishop Jones in the church. The Board of Bishops strongly rebuked the EB, telling them that they would not recognize any “unauthorized acts, documents, credentials, decisions, appointments, meetings, financial obligations, agreements, “new” jurisdictions, and the like.” Tucked with that rebuke was a rejection of Bishop Husband’s earlier appointment (Husband, standing right side second from end, with COGIC General Board circa 1972). Both groups claimed that they were acting on the express authority of the deceased Bishop Mason. The conflict remained unresolved and escalated to frightening heights. On January 23, 1968, a weary OT Jones issued a church-wide letter again spelling out the conditions of his authority. Like Paul defending his apostolic authority to the Corinthians, Jones pointed out that he was the last of the first five Bishops appointed by CH Mason. He said that Mason specifically chose him to hold the current office with delegated power to “edit and codify and arrange the church’s Constitution, Doctrines, and rules of Order.” Jones’ lengthy letter issued several challenges to his opponents. He pointed out that every time he was brought to [civil] court, it had been either resolved or thrown out. The matter was indeed resolved, though not to everyone’s satisfaction, by the formation of the General Board in 1969, with Bishop JO Patterson, Sr. being elected as the first “Presiding Bishop.”
Personal and Painful
Although Husband (a favorite of J.O. Patterson, Sr) later became one of the oratorical stars of the church, he skipped serious scrutiny of his sexual lifestyle. That is, until the problems with money surfaced. After an investigation it was discovered Husband had stolen over $500,000 from illegal sales of local churches. A former member of Husband’s church stated that the embezzled money was a direct result of his attempt to cover up his homosexuality. Others strongly believed the money was used to pay for the medical bills of the male lover who passed the HIV virus on to the Bishop.
Elder Willie Davis, a member of his local church and a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Bishop, told the Journal Constitution “I don’t know if he’s used this money for his personal benefit, but its gone somewhere.”
The Atlanta saga was becoming more and more disturbing while Husband spun a wider web of sexual involvement with young men mostly within his jurisdiction. Gwen Fox, now getting up in age, knew firsthand the anguish of Husband’s sexual outreaches. Her son Toby (Tobias)  —whose birthday was the same as Husband— was molested by the bishop during the church’s Memphis meeting in 1981.  The anguish behind years of dealing with the situation caused Gwen to suffer three heart attacks and other personal losses including estrangement from the church she loved so much.
Toby, already a talented organist at age 15, was overjoyed that his mom had allowed him to accompany Bishop Husband to the meeting. Husband was given money to pay for a separate room for the boy, but when they both arrived in Memphis, Husband lied to the boy telling him that there were no rooms available. Further, he said that the two of them would have to share a room. Toby was now in the molester’s grip.
He recalled how the Bishop’s subtle sexual advances began much earlier than age 15. Husband’s predatory activities against young boys began long before he was appointed to Bishop. He was brought to Atlanta from Mississippi as a protégé of the late Bishop James Hinsley. A one-time mail carrier, Husband lived with the Hinsley family for some time. But trouble surfaced when neighbors complained to police that Husband was enticing and molesting young boys. A trap door in the back of a store he owned served as the portal to those unspeakable acts. Gwen Fox recalled that the late Bishop W.G. Shipman came to town and quietly bailed Husband out of jail after two arrests.
But in Memphis, Toby was trapped and cornered.
“When Toby returned home, his behavior began to change. He started having trouble at school and it got so bad that the teachers begin to call me and ask if something bad was going on at home,” Gwen Fox said. Toby, twenty one years later and now stricken with HIV and partial paralysis, remembered that Husband had gotten in bed with him and begin forcefully pressing his genitals against the boy. Shocked and bewildered, he jumped out of the bed and asked Husband what he was doing. He said Husband looked at him with a calm face and said, “I thought this was what you wanted.”
Tobias admitted that, at a later time, he willingly continued in a sexual relationship with Husband until his young adult years. “He was powerful and I wanted to be connected to that. I (eventually) felt comfortable around him and wanted his love. He gave me the attention I needed and wanted from a man. He always told me “you’re the best, you’re the best‟, said the talented songwriter and musician. Tobias wrote the popular gospel song “Shabach”. 
When Toby finally confessed to an aunt what had transpired in Memphis, Gwen Fox was told. She immediately began petitioning the church’s General Board on behalf of her son. She said she sent certified letters to each member and even hand delivered a letter to then presiding Bishop Louis H. Ford, who angrily refused to accept it even after Fox had waited two hours in line to see him. Fox, whose parents were well known COGIC pioneers in Georgia, got angry herself and threatened to begin contacting talk shows —notably Oprah Winfrey— if the church leaders would not hear her. In retaliation, several anonymous death threats were made against her life.
She vividly recalled the night at Husband’s Marietta church when several bishops from the church were there to investigate allegations of the financial wrongdoing. Because of the death threats and rumors of gun toting “saints”, undercover police were sprinkled throughout the building.
“It was one terrible, terrible night,” she said softly.
The meeting was about to end and not one Bishop had addressed the sexual allegations which affected so many. Refusing to be put off any longer, Fox and another woman whose son was also a victim stood up and asked when they (the Bishops) were going to deal with Husband’s problems. Although she was initially rebuffed, Fox was later told to come back into the church offices to relate her story to the quorum of Bishops and officials.
“Some of them were mean and arrogant, but others listened. Bishop O.T. Jones, Jr. cried when I told them my story. The President of the Marietta NAACP went with me because of the death threats that I had heard about. They (NAACP) even advised me to bring legal action against COGIC, but I didn’t want to go against what the scriptures said.”
Another Bishop from Texas, convinced the church was liable for Husband’s actions, also urged her to pursue litigation.
At a special meeting in Memphis in early 1991, Husband, through his attorney, submitted a formal letter admitting guilt to “all charges.” He was summarily stripped of all credentials and excommunicated from the church, the first time COGIC had done so with any bishop. Possibly sick of disease, Husband died in late 1991 of unpublicized causes. COGIC erased what part of his legacy and contributions to the church they could. His funeral, held at Rev. Timothy Fleming’s Mr. Carmel Baptist Church in Atlanta, was not attended by any of the COGIC General Board. Some say this was done for several reasons. One, besides the General Secretary, there were at least two other national officers who were following in Husband’s path. They felt more scandals could severely damage the already tarnished reputation of a church reeling from years of infighting. Secondly, perhaps the most tragic, blacking out Husband’s transgressions helped to ease the guilt on their souls.
Six months after the Husband’s guilty admission, the office of the Presiding Bishop LH Ford issued a letter to the general church declaring the matter over. There was no mention of Husband’s sins or crimes and no acknowledgement or apologies to Husband’s victims or their families.
23. Gayle White, “Bishop faces inquiry: Church of God in Christ looks for missing funds” Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 28 Jan 1991, D/01
24. Gayle White, “Pentecostal Group on a Roll, Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 6 Apr 1991, E/06
25. Tom Bailey, Jr., COGIC Probes Loan, Replaces GA Bishop”, The Commercial Appeal, 5 Feb 1991, B1
26. Unnamed Source, Personal Electronic Interview, 11 Nov 2001
27. The Executive Board members present at this meeting consisted of Bishops A.B. McEwen, J.S. Bailey, W.G. Shipman, Wyoming Wells, J. O. Patterson, Sr., C.E. Bennett, B. S. Lyle, John White, S. M. Crouch, E. E. Hamilton, and C. H. Brewer.
28. Elder EF Foster, personal correspondence, letter addressed to COGIC clergy from the Executive Board, Memphis, Feb 1965
30. The Official Message of the Board of Bishops of the COGIC, Norfolk, VA, 6 Oct 1965
31. Personal Interview with Gwendolyn Fox, Atlanta, 20 Feb 2002
32. Personal Interview with Tobias Fox, Atlanta, 9 May 2002
33 James Tobias Fox, who at age 15 was molested by COGIC General Board member JD Husband passed away June 4th, 2010 in Atlanta at age 43.