Most people were shocked to hear the recent allegations of four young men against Bishop Eddie Long, the senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Smyrna, GA. In their lawsuits, these young men alleged, among other things, that they had intimate but “consensual” sexual contact with Bishop Long. They made no allegations that they were under age, pursuant to Georgia law, when the alleged sexual contact occurred.
Only God, the young men, Bishop Long and several others know if the allegations are true. The rest of us should extend to the Bishop the presumption of innocence until one or more of these plaintiffs prove their case, or the Bishop admits his guilt. Even more important, we should extend our sincere prayers to the Bishop, his family, the New Birth family, and of course, and most especially, to the young men and their families regardless of the outcome.
As a criminal defense attorney and ordained minister, the reason I wrote this article is to forewarn fellow members of the Texas clergy about a Texas law that most may not know about. That is, here in Texas, ministers that have sex with a person they are advising spiritually can be charged with sexual assault (rape), which is a 2nd degree felony. In other words, if any of the acts alleged by those young men had occurred in Texas, Bishop Long would not just be facing civil suits; but could potentially be facing rape charges.
Let us look at the Texas penal code regarding ministers and sexual assault more closely. The Texas penal code provides that sexual assault occurs if a person intentionally or knowingly causes his sexual organ or mouth to contact another person’s or child’s sexual organ, anus or mouth without the other person’s consent. § 22.011(a) Texas Penal Code. Of course, a child can never consent and Texas law defines a child as a person under seventeen. § 22.011(c) Texas Penal Code.
It is the issue of consent that makes it criminal in Texas, under certain circumstances, for a minister to have sex with someone he is advising spiritually. Let me explain. Texas penal code provides that sexual contact between a minister and another person is without consent and thus a sexual assault if the minister:
- causes the other person to submit or participate;
- by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the minister; and
- the minister was acting in his professional character as a spiritual adviser. § 22.011(b)(10) Texas Penal Code.
Let me illustrate with a hypothetical how a minister can run afoul of this statute. Suppose, a woman schedules an appointment with her pastor because of personal issues she is experiencing. Her problems have her very distraught and emotionally shattered and vulnerable. After several counseling sessions, she becomes very much depended on the pastor emotionally. In fact, unless she can speak to the pastor weekly, she is suicidal. Sensing this vulnerability, the pastor makes sexual advances to the woman but initially she has enough will power to reject him. However, he tells her the Bible excuses a sexual relationship between them because she is single and he no longer loves his wife. Further, he says it will help her situation to have sex with him. Though confused and unsure, she reluctantly has sexual intercourse with her pastor. She tells herself, “my pastor is a Man of God, he is very knowledgeable about the Bible, and he would never mislead me.”
This could be a sexual assault under Texas law because all of the elements of § 22.011(b)(10) Texas Penal Code are met in that the woman did not consent but rather she submitted to the exploitation of the pastor due to her emotional dependency on him while he was providing her spiritual advice. If proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the minister could be sent to the penitentiary for a period of no less than two years and no more than twenty years.
Currently, Texas and Minnesota are the only states that have criminalized clergy sexual abuse, and by doing so, these states are sending a strong message to their ministers. That message is if you use your official position and influence as a minister to exploit vulnerable people sexually, it may not be a matter just between you, your spouse and civil courts. It may also involve the criminal justice and quite possibly the penal systems. That is sobering and quite serious.
My fellow ministers, we are all human and struggle with various things. We are no different in many ways from any other person. We fall like the rest. As my father used to say, we all get in our pants one leg at the time. However, if we are living double lives and using our ministries to entice vulnerable people into illicit sexual relationships, we run the risk of ruining our lives and going to prison for a long time.
One last point; in my view, the cause of much of the sexual immorality happening with ministers is directly linked to pornography. Never has there been a time where porn was so accessible. Satan has it everywhere but most damaging it is readily available in our bedrooms or offices vis-à-vis the Internet. At our fingertips is all the smut we want. We do not have to risk being seen at the local whorehouse or video or peep show stores. Sadly, this accessibility to porn has unleashed lust unlike any other time in human history, and ministers of all denominations are not immune.
Again, none of my comments is directed to Bishop Eddie Long. As a criminal defense attorney, I understand and appreciate the presumption of innocence more than most. I just had to share some insight about the cross-section of the Texas penal code and sexual deviancy amongst the clergy and what I believe is fueling much of it. Join me please in praying for, not judging, every preacher in this country who struggles with lust and immorality.