Texas Church Hires Convicted Sex Offender as Senior Pastor

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In his sermon this past weekend, Pastor Claude Gilliland came clean about his past.

The newly installed pastor at the New Heart Family Worship Center in Cleburne, Texas delivered a somewhat unorthodox sermon last weekend. Pastor Claude Gilliland III, 54, testified that he and his wife had a “dark, dark past”: they were formerly into porn, drugs and alcohol, and he also confessed to being a convicted sex offender. He served four years in prison after a conviction for sexual assault of his ex-wife.

“The life I led was nothing but a juggle, and it was heartache after heartache after heartache,” Gilliland said to the congregation.

Apparently the exiting senior pastor and the recruitment committee knew of Gilliland’s past when they interviewed him during the previous summer. “We thought we’d let the congregation get to know him first, then tell them,” said Carl Roye, the founder and retiring former leader of the 85-member church.

Critics in the congregation say they would liked to have known the personal history of their newly elected pastor before they installed him, but others came to Gilliland’s defense on Sunday after the sermon. One congregation member remarked, “If we believe in the redemptive work of Christ, then this man is a miracle. A man with a past makes a great pastor, because he has been there.” Others, including the leadership team, said he’d asked God for forgiveness, and they take him at his word.

“I really think God sent him to this church,” said Roye to a local news outlet. “I really believe that.”

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  • Scott Dossett

    A wonderful opportunity to show God’s redemptive love, ruined by foolish leadership. From the information given, the way they went about hiring this pastor was nothing short of atrocious and shows how leadership in some churches will manipulate to push through their own agenda despite the facade that a church is congregationally led (assuming a congregational model here given that they “elected” him). I would never trust the leadership in that church again. In fact, I would probably have to fight the urge to lobby for their removal. Not only were they deceptive, but they robbed the congregation of an opportunity to put Christ’s redemptive love into practice for themselves. Compounding the problem, now the new pastor has to deal with the fallout *and* accusations of deception.

    • http://twitter.com/HaroldCameron1 Harold Cameron

      Very well stated! God bless you!

    • Tony

      You know something Scott I have been reading your tweets about Pastor Driscoll and now this, I might suggest you get down on your knees and ask God for forgiveness for your holier than thou attitude. I can only assume you do not believe in the cleansing blood or the total forgiveness of our loving God. You made many accusations about Mr. Driscoll and assume to be an authority on what is right and good. You talk about redemptive love; did you ever think that those who appointed the new pastor prayed on it and maybe this man asked that HE be the one to tell his story. It would appear that those TRUE Christians have read Ijohn 1:9. It seems you would appoint yourself judge and jury on many things, we all should pray that we all could be as perfect as you with so much knowledge. At my last reading there was only ONE who walked this earth that was that perfect. I think before you cast any stones you should maybe get the whole story. Thank God the congregation DID get the opportunity to put Christ’s redemptive love into practice in the true sense and kudos to the new pastor for the courage to stand in front of the congregation and kudos to the leaders for giving him the opportunity for he himself to tell his story unabashed. I know this seems very harsh and might appear unchristian like but I think you are maybe missing some things that might have transpired behind the scenes; like this man asking to out himself. Forgive me for being so curt and we as Christians should abound in love and forgiveness.

      • Scott Dossett

        >> “It seems you would appoint yourself judge and jury on many things,”

        Then I find myself in good company with the leaders of this particular church, Mark Driscoll and many others on this site. Those who make judgments should not get upset at criticism. I’m certainly not. However, unlike some others, despite the arrogance and irresponsibility of a leader’s actions, I have never (to my knowledge) seriously challenged the salvation or their belovedness in God. They remain TRUE Christians (Driscoll included!) even though may I think they are grievously and hideously wrong.

        >> At my last reading there was only ONE who walked this earth that was that perfect.

        Absolutely! I never said the leadership was unforgivable. However, they violated the trust of the people. In a congregational model, they were *accountable to reveal the truth about this leader to be voted on. They didn’t. Instead, they chose to deceive the congregation, believing they knew what was best for them. Unlike Moses, leaders in their capacity do not have God’s authority to make such decisions for people. It doesn’t matter what they believed or prayed about. They should have trusted God enough to move the hearts of the people rather than resorting to deception in such a gross way.

        They were wrong, and I would argue foolish (not that they were fools, but that their actions were foolish). They robbed the people of a chance to accept the pastor willingly and they brought the consequences of their actions down on the new pastor. Notice, I’m not judging the newly appointed pastor here, I’m judging the actions of the committee who appointed him. You are free to disagree, vehemently if you choose.

        • Tony

          It seems so contradictory when you use the word “judgemental” when it seem all your comments are just that. You give the appearance of a person who knows all and ends all without question and if I remember your first quote to Driscoll you DID question his knowledge and love for God and the bible, but it seems judgement al doesn’t apply to your statements. Maybe you interpret opinion or observation as judgement. Oh, and doesn’t the bible teach us to go to a brother with another to tell him of his wrong and if no response to bring him before the church? Is that judgemental? Sorry Scott nothing personal but I think WE ALL NEED to heed the word and not make it what we want to be. God Bless you Scott. I believe your sincere but not accurate. Your ASSUMING they chose to decieve without actually knowing that maybe that was God’s decision.Ps. 46:10 and Romans 8:28. once again I am a leader, a man of God and I believe God’s will will always be done as it is in heaven. I really mean it when I say God bless you and I assume you are my brother in Christ.

  • fireproof37

    It would have been wise for the church to know this before voting on the man…I would point the finger at both the pastor and the church for not running a background check. On the other hand 1 Corinthians 6 states plainly that Paul was writing and dealing with people that had similar pasts and told them they were both forgiven and commended to live differently for God’s glory! Thank God for grace, mercy, and repentance. May the church be able to recognize all three and apply them freely and abundantly!

    • Tony

      Point the finger? Thank God there was no background check back in the time of Moses and David or Jacob or the many God chose. A great example…the transition of Saul to Paul. We serve an awesome God.

  • fireproof37

    Disregard my last statement, I missed the “exiting pastor’s” comments…I agree with Scott–stupid decision by leadership.

  • Sheryce

    I’m sorry, but this is a really disturbing story to me. 1/5 women are raped. 85 member church…that means chances are there are women who have been raped in this church, and they weren’t even warned. What if one of them had been trusting and alone with him? Think of how she would feel after. How is that being fair or loving to those women? God heals alcoholics, but that doesn’t mean they should necessarily minister in a bar. God heals sex offenders, but that doesn’t mean they should minister in a place where they have power over people (specifically women) or where people ( specifically women) would be in a vulnerable position with them, which people are in regards to a Pastor. And they weren’t even warned.

    • MamaRea

      Sheryce, please do not be sorry. I am a survivor of sexual assault, and I appreciate your sensitivity. I suggest your argument is flawed. How would I feel? That I had just been with a pastor. You are assuming this man is a current threat, that his assault is a sign of a permanent personality flaw, and that all women must see him this way. Nothing suggests he has a pattern of mistreating women. Its reasonable to be concerned, but we do victims no favors by wrapping them in bubble wrap. They have not called a rapist to be their pastor, but a man whom God has redeemed.

      • Tony

        finally, a Christian who understands the redeeming blood of Christ. Thank you sister and i thank God for givivng you that insight and the grace to share that.

      • Tony

        Sheryce, I am so sorry for what might have hap;pened to you, if anything, but we can’t, as Christians put all peopple in a box like their always going to be the same all their lives. What about Gods redeeming Grace? do we just deny that and i believe the leadership did what God wanted them to do. How hard do you think it was for this man kknoing how his crime is viewed to stand in front of the whole congregation and bear his soul completely, did he expect forgiveness? acceptance? I believe so because I believe he was being obedient to God and he stood firm, 1st cor. 15:58 and may God give you the peace that surpasses all understanding. God bless you

  • Big Ben

    an overseer must be one who is above reproach.

    • alhatesreligion

      good luck finding one! all fall shory of glory including those behind the pulpit

  • Brett Davis

    Who was Paul before the ministry? Answer that question. Then look at this story through the redemptive work of the cross. Jesus didn’t use pharisee’.

  • Glenn

    My struggle isn’t with forgiveness my concern is how can a convicted sex offender be around kids? How can the leadership have a sex offender in the church and not tell the congregation? Is the church now deciding not to follow the laws of the land and put the flock at risk? Is the law different in Texas?

    • http://twitter.com/HaroldCameron1 Harold Cameron

      Glenn a very good point you make. Sex-offender laws do vary from state to state. Also, when he is sentenced the nature of his sexual offense is taken into consideration so it is possible that a sex offender who has sexually assaulted only adults might not be forbidden from being around children because his crime was not against a child or children. It all depends on the law as well as what the particular terms of his sentence. (And as I am not a lawyer I am not dispensing legal advice or opinion concerning this matter. I am merely stating my own opinion based on my work as an advocate).

    • Tony

      Does that same theory apply if there is a murderer, a thief, a bank robber, etc. or just a sex offender and where in the law does it state that if the leadership of a church doesn’t notify it’s congregation there’s a sex offender amongst them they break the law. When someone repents, accepts Christ as Lord and Saviour and is forgiven of all his sins are we to still to consider them the dregs of the world, or call him brother? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Might I suggest your struggle IS with forgiveness. Can you believe he repented? God bless you!

    • Jason

      Glenn, you are the only one in this comments section with an ounce of common sense. You are asking the right questions. Unfortunately, I don’t know the laws in Texas.

      To compare a convicted sex offender with a murderer, thief, bank robber, etc… as some of these commenters are doing… is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard come out of the minds and mouths of fellow Christians.

      Having grown up in church, I can honestly say that anyone who thinks hiring a convicted sex offender to any pastoral or other position of authority in a church is a sheltered fool who has never taken the time to examine the nature of such a horrible crime or the psychological mindset a person must have to commit the crim. It is unique in nature and so abhorrent that even the worst of level 4 prison inmates can not stomach to be in the same room with them.

      As a pastor, I teach Biblical forgiveness extends to everyone, including sex offenders. But to be a pastor means you must be trusted by everyone you meet. As such, a conviction of sexual assault is the one crime that absolutely disqualifies a man or woman from any pastoral, elder, or presbyter role.

      To be clear… forgiving another person does not require you trust or respect the person you have forgiven. Also, I find not one single example in scripture where God anointed a rapist as a pastor, priest, or presbyter.

  • ePHraimAg

    Amazing… Marvelous…. Humility can win The Day in Christs’ Redemption to astonish the most stuck-up called christian. Bonne courage !

  • Chief sinner

    Leadership should have been honest from the start. But it amazes me that evrybody who calls themselves Christians forget that Moses was a murderer but chosen by God after the fact, also King David according to Texas laws today would have been a murderer and sex offender for killing a man for his wife, but was a man after Gods own heart and chosen to be King of Israel, and Paul a murderer of Christians was called to be an Apostle. Do you think God can use people like that in positions of authority? Before you judge a man remember that our righteousness looks like filthy rags before God (Isa 64:6) I wonder what our sin looks like if our righteousness looks that bad? Because we have all sinned before God (Rom. 3:10-19).The world will judge this man but God has forgiven him and that means he this man is not a sex offender any more in Gods eyes.

    • http://twitter.com/HaroldCameron1 Harold Cameron

      YES! You are right! You definitely get it. God bless you!

  • alhatesreligion

    I agree with Scott’s comments. They should have been honest about his past and allowed the “body” to decide the end result. If this man is allowed to stay he will have to be highly accountable for his actions. I would however, form another group to interview him and ask why he did not suggest to the elders about be up front.I know there are no perfect pulpits anywhere but not to disclose his past was wrong.

    • MamaRea

      More accountable than anyone else? How many of the membership come to church ready to be accountable for every sin in their past, even in the past week? He went to jail; that’s pretty accountable.

  • droptherock

    Wow..the posts are more disturbing than the fact this guy is a pastor. Shows who really believes in 1 John 1:9. More of us should read David’s story…a guy who was adulterer and murderer and yet, in the final analysis, was called a man after God’s own heart.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JesusLover53 Alcedes Jones Sr.

    11Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.13Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.14But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. ROMANS 13:11-14 ,SEEM TO ME THE NEW PASTOR HAS DONE THIS ,AND I PRAY THAT HIS MEMBER HAS ALSO

    • Tony

      Amen and God bless you. Forgiveness abounds through Christ. I can only imagine what it took for this man to stand in front of a group of people to tell his story not knowing how he would be accepted…….or maybe he did.

  • http://twitter.com/HaroldCameron1 Harold Cameron

    Jesus stated ““Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7) referring to an adulterous woman that the religious elite of his day wanted to stone for her sin. Although I understand how some people felt that they should have been informed of his past before he was selected as their pastor they fell in love with him and accepted him for who they saw him as now and not as a man (pastor) with the “dark” sins he committed in his past. And we should not forget that Abraham and Sarah were liars, Moses was a murderer, King David an adulterer and willful murderer, and the Apostle Paul before he became an Apostle who turned the world upside down for Christ was none other than Saul of Tarsus, the most elite and powerful of religious Jews living in his day who consented to the martyrdom of Stephen for his faith as well as intensely persecuted the church. And whether we want to admit it or not we ALL have wickedly dark and sinful pasts, though individually different, which have been forgiven by Christ because we are his followers today. Nothing for nothing but if it were me I would never have shared the information he did about his past in a million years with the congregation for a number of reasons…one being a similar personal experience I had, though I am not a pastor, and my sharing what I did came back to haunt me in ways I would have never imagined. After all it is stated, “Christians are not perfect, only forgiven;” which is a phrase bad-behaving professing Christians like to throw out there when they KNOW they have said or done something terribly wrong hurting or offending others and they want to excuse and justify their sinful behavior rather than repent and turn from it. We ARE NOT perfect, and WE ARE all forgiven and it is because of that amazing fact that among all people in the world we should be the most loving and forgiving toward others. So God bless Pastor Gilliland because although it does seem he has strong support among many of the members of the church even after what he did, there will be others now who just will not be able to let what he did go, love him as their pastor and fully trust him..



  • http://FireSpeaks.Blogspot.com/ FireSpeaks

    I have heard of pastors being turned down because they were divorced, and this man get a position in spite of his criminal background. In the area where I live there are more pastors that admit to being ex-offender than I have ever seen. And they all are leaders of churches. But let just one of them be previously divorced…. and their ministry will never grow.

    I wonder why we have a God the will forgive, and use for the ministry , murders, and child molesters, crack-heads and prostitutes, rapist and drug dealers but not anyone that has been divorced.?

    I’m just confused why this is so. of there is the other option, that this is not God but man making the decision. Why is it that the board had to lie (through omission) to the congregation before telling them the truth? I’m sure that is the godly thing to do.

    I’m not against that man getting a position as pastor in a church, I know that God can use anyone, murder. sex offender, drug dealer, or divorcee.

  • MamaRea

    “If we believe in the redemptive work of Christ, then this man is a
    miracle. A man with a past makes a great pastor, because he has been
    there.” Says it all!

    What about Peter? Matthew? Sounds like this man and his wife were the one’s Jesus would’ve been eating with, walking with. I give thanks to God for both this pastor’s transformation and his transparency. Too often we “Christians’ care more about being respectable than redeemed. As long as the call committee did its due diligence checking this man’s background, there should not be an issue.

  • MamaRea

    Shame on ChurchLeaders for this sensationalistic title.

  • David C

    Pastor Gilliland, is a dying breed. Men that are willing to say the truth regardless of the cost. If we judge him, then we must judge our selfs first. Our trash become Our testimony! To God be the glory for the ministry of reconciliation.

  • Hersh, or is it Harsh

    I assume he confessed and repented… (before God), if that’s correct then for God’s sake MOVE ON… Allow him the opportunity for the redemptive work of the cross to work. Even if he was a child molester! If God forgave him remember you are called to do the same. Is it a challenge? Yep…welcome to Christianity it isn’t easy…so get over it or get out. The only thing sadder than a unforgiving Christian is a supposed “Mature” Christian that won’t forgive.

    People can change from bad to good and from good to bad…at any time. If sin is sin according to the Bible, then let God determine the consequences rather than unforgiving Christians. If Christians won’t allow a repented sinner pastor them then I think not only do they miss the boat, they are not even on the dock.

    Regarding the idea of “We thought we’d let the congregation get to know him first, then tell them,” I think it shows wisdom. People are all to quick to pass judge on one hand and then scream “Who are you to judge” on the other. Boy some so-called Christians are really messed up…

  • Tony

    I think before anyone comes to any conclusion on this matter go to God’s word first. There are many scriptures on forgiveness and love. [Matt. 18:21-27] Forgive me I don’t like using single verses in fear of losing context but think this applies to this situation. Pray and God bless you. None of us know the true story of why the leadership chose this path. As the controversy about president Obama, many have said if God didn’t want him in office he wouldn’t be there. Maybe we should view this the same way…….God is in control. Two things we can be absolutely sure of {1} There is a God {2} and we’re not Him. {: God bless you all.

  • http://twitter.com/Tazia40 tiana

    I believe that God forgive us so we can go into the world meaningh to other people and tell them how God can change people and bring them into the right path. This cannot be done if we hide ourself It is done by telling and letting the one who knew you and the ones who did not know you what God is and can do. My problems is can divorced men or women really remarry according to God words as mention in the bible not some logical eplaination according the present time but according to GOD’s word? I see in the bible that one can divorce and have to remain alone , and if one can’t then he or she would have to forgive and return to the first spouse. Please tell me with biblical references if I am wrong.

  • JAY