COGIC Inc lawyer responds to Memphis Pastor’s sex abuse arrest

With attention mounting,  the nation’s largest black pentecostal denomination has once again found itself over a barrel with the breaking case of yet another clergy sexual abuse case. The Memphis story is making national headlines including News One and The Christian Post.

After a Church of God in Christ pastor in Memphis was arrested for the sexual abuse of a teenage girl, a family member, the denomination’s chief lawyer issued a press statement. Is this a reversal of COGIC’s long standing policy no comment policy? Or is it a forced response due to Memphis religious leaders calling for the church to suspend the pastor?

In the past, COGIC Presiding Bishop Blake rarely if ever responded to clergy sexual abuse cases. But in 2007, when a case involving Pastor Sherman Allen of Ft Worth, TX picked up media steam due to COGIC inaction, Blake issued a statement saying, “The Church of God in Christ does not condone any inappropriate behavior from any of its representatives, and does not comment on pending litigation against the Church or its representatives until a case has been brought to trial and an official ruling has been made. Until then, Pastor Sherman Allen has been suspended from all national and local pastoral roles and activities within the Church of God in Christ. This is Church policy and we will honor this policy for the case against Allen.”

It appears that the only way COGIC will respond is if there is mounting media scrutiny.

michael-bryantMemphis’ ABC 24 affiliate said it began when detectives with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Sex Crimes unit contacted officers with the Fugitive Apprehension Team December 18th  in reference to 48-year-old Michael Bryant who was wanted on a warrant charge of Sexual Battery by an Authority Figure.  The investigation reveals that he had been sexually abusing a 16-year-old female for the past two years.

The victim said in the affidavit that she told her mother about the abuse a year ago. The victim said at that point Bryant admitted to the touching, but the case was not turned over to authorities because Pastor Bryant and the mother decided they would “pray that the Lord remove these thoughts from his head.”

Bryant, who is the Pastor at Hour of Restoration COGIC, was located inside the Delta Express gas station at Hickory Hill and Knight Arnold.  He is being held on $1 million bond.

Fox News carried a broader story about the fallout. Although Bryant has admitted guilt to Memphis law enforcement, COGIC officials said they have not decided if they will remove Bryant from the pulpit. But that met with backlash from other clergy leaders. Its puzzling as to why this church still stumbles and fumbles over enacting basic disciplinary standards with sexually abusive clergy.  But after four years and scores of known offenders, COGIC officials still respond like clueless novices.

Memphis resident and COGIC General Board Member, Bishop Brandon Porter is investigating one of his own pastors after the Pastor Michael Bryant was arrested Wednesday on charges of sexual battery by an authority figure. The CP story also identified Bryant as an elder at Greater Community Temple, pastored by Porter.

COGIC’s name and image in Memphis are at risk.

“COGIC and Memphis are as connected as wine and wafer in the city Christian community. COGIC was founded in the Bluff City and it one of the largest Christian denominations in the world. News that one of its pastors was arrested by a Shelby County Sheriff’s sex crimes task force for sexual battery of a teenaged family member stunned loyal supporters.”, said Greg Coy.

The Church’s new legal counsel emailed the following to FOX News 13:

U.Henderson

Uleses C. Henderson, Jr., COGIC General Counsel

“The Church of God in Christ does not condone and takes a strong stance against sexual misconduct, especially acts targeting minors. Therefore, we are very concerned about the allegations raised against Pastor Bryant.  Our local bishop is currently investigating the matter and once his fact finding is complete, the church will respond accordingly.  Sexual crimes against children are very serious offenses and we earnestly pray for all of the individuals involved and, in particular, the victim in this matter.” — Uleses C. Henderson, Jr., Office of the General Counsel

“Nobody is above the law,” said Rev. Ralph White, Memphis Ministerial Alliance. “This is a rare occasion, but it does happen and we need to look it closer.

“This is a wake up call for pastors to look at this and nurture our congregations.”

The affidavit presents a disturbing picture of a crime and allegations of inaction based on faith. It says the teenaged victim told her mother in 2012 about the abuse happening repeatedly in Bryant’s home. The document said says the girl’s mother decided not to call police. The teen’s mother and Rev. Bryant “decided they would pray to remove those thoughts from his head.” Other church members were allegedly aware of the abuse but did not report it.

More implications

“I think she may say that we her affirmative action, that she did not do anything,” said Caren Nichol, FOX13 News legal analyst. “She prayed but the law may not look at that as sufficient protection.”

Many Mid-South religious leaders told FOX13 News Bryant should either voluntarily resign or be removed as pastor of Hour of Restoration COGIC until this matter is resolved. Nichol said the investigation by the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office could be more damaging to COGIC. “It doesn’t matter where it occurred, it matters what they knew,” Nichol said. “If they had some actual knowledge that he some sort of inclination, then they are going to be in trouble.”

Previous Memphis COGIC sexual abuse cases:

2009 –  Dwayne Wilson a music minister at St. Mark COGIC was arrested for statutory rape of a 16 year old girl. [source]

2012 – Orlando Wallace an elder at Lakeview Community Temple was arrested and charged with aggravated statutory rape and sexual exploitation of a 15 year old girl. [source]

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