- 2021Jun 11
A jury in the Superior Court of Muscogee County, Georgia, has ordered Pastor Lewis Clemons of Kingdom Awareness Ministries International in Columbus to pay $500,000 after he refused to apologize for allegedly sexually assaulting and raping his former congregant, Lequita Jackson.
According to The Christian Post, Clemons was given the option to publicly acknowledge and apologize to Jackson and his other alleged victims in place of a fine but refused and went to trial where he a jury handed him a $500,000 verdict on Wednesday.
Jackson's attorneys, Jeb Butler and Morgan Lyndall, told The Christian Post that their client was not looking to receive money from Clemons but simply wanted an apology. The lawyers sent Clemons a letter detailing this request, writing, "... To seriously discuss settling this case, you would have to be willing to make a video statement that: 1. acknowledged all of your sexual misconduct …; and 2. genuinely apologized for that sexual misconduct; and 3. acknowledged that you have seriously harmed many, many women who trusted you as their spiritual leader.
"Ms. Jackson would then watch the video. She would then decide, in her sole discretion, whether the video sufficiently met the requirements above. She would have sole control over the distribution of the video. She would be authorized to share the video publicly and with anyone that she chose."
Clemons refused this request, and the case went to trial, where several women spoke out about abuses by the pastor.
"Our client and several other victims told the truth about Lewis Clemons' sexual abuse and rape of themselves and others. Their testimony was detailed, impactful, true, and emotional," the attorneys told The Christian Post in a statement.
In a civil lawsuit in 2017, Jackson and another of Clemons' former congregants, Lakisha Smith, accused Clemons of leveraging his spiritual leadership to sexually abuse them.
Jackson, who is now 33 and married with two children, called Clemons a "child molester," alleging that she was just 15 years old when the pastor began to abuse her.
Jackson said it took her five years to open up to her husband about the trauma she endured from Clemons. "He was a sexual predator who needed to be stopped. I just kind of accepted it at that age," she said, according to The Christian Post.
During the trial, Butler and Lyndall argued that Clemons would "find a girl from a troubled background, gave them positions in his church so he could spend more one-on-one time with them, made increasingly sexual requests of them, justified his actions with scripture, asked them to 'stimulate his nipples,' gave them a 'body anointing' in which he had them strip down so that he could rub oil all over their bodies."
They added that as a part of the "body anointing," Clemons would lay on top of the undressed women. Jackson asserted that Clemons used Scripture to justify his actions, telling her that they were biblical.
Jackson, in a previous report, also claimed that she became pregnant two times as a result of the assaults. Clemons allegedly posed as her guardian and paid for her to abort both babies.
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Kayla Koslosky has been the Editor of ChristianHeadlines.com since 2018. She has B.A. degrees in English and History and previously wrote for and was the managing editor of the Yellow Jacket newspaper. She has written on her blog since 2012 and has also contributed to IBelieve.com and Crosswalk.com.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott plans to allocate funds for Texas to resume building a wall on the border between Texas and Mexico after the Biden Administration paused the federal project in January.
At the meeting in Del Rio, Abbott said he would “announce next week the plan for the state of Texas to begin building the border wall in the state of Texas.” Referencing an interview Lester Holt conducted with Vice President Kamala Harris in which she laughed when Holt pressed her on the issue of visiting the Southern border, Abbott explained, “The border crisis is no laughing matter. It’s not a tourism site for members of Congress to visit and then return to D.C. and do nothing.”
President Biden announced at the end of April that his administration would cancel all wall construction that was being built with redirected military funds. U.S. border agents arrested more than 100,000 people in April and another 180,034 in May, which was the highest number in 20 years.
Abbott told Laura Ingraham that Texas has allocated more than $1 billion for border security and that they will use some of that money to build a border wall. Abbott did not specify what materials would be used to build the wall, but Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz claimed that Abbott used the word “fence” multiple times in a meeting with local leaders.
Abbott told Ingraham that, “We have to build a border wall.” He continued, “I’ve been down here talking to the people in the Rio Grande Valley, and the way they are being overrun is reprehensible, it’s disastrous what the Biden administration has done.” He also condemned the Biden Administration for ending the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which forced migrants to file for asylum in Mexico before they crossed the U.S. border.
The Abbott Administration plans to work with local leaders to solve the problem. Saenz told CNN that the Governor asked local officials to send border security budgets to his office, which led him to the conclusion that the money for those budgets would be available from the state. The Governor has also created a task force to help the state develop ideas that would stop both undocumented immigrants and illegal contraband from crossing the border.
Abbott will face some familiar obstacles in the effort to build a border wall. While some of the land is federally or state-owned, much of it is private property. The Trump Administration ran into difficulties obtaining the privately-owned property when they were seeking to build a wall.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Alex Wong/Staff
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”
The Southern Baptist Convention is embroiled in a controversy over how national leaders have handled cases of sexual abuse reports in the denomination’s schools and churches. This issue, which some have been seeking to address for more than a decade, was highlighted after the resignation of Dr. Russell Moore as the President of the Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Moore had been under fire from some within the grassroots of the SBC for his open criticism of Donald Trump in 2016, as well as his efforts at racial reconciliation and caring for immigrants.
In a leaked email to a group of ERLC trustees from early 2020, Moore thanked them for standing with him after the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee formed a task force to investigate whether statements by the ERLC were affecting giving to the Cooperative Program, the SBC’s primary method for funding its missions and institutions. Moore knew that many would believe the reason for this investigation was his criticism of President Trump.
However, Moore said, “the presenting issue here is that, first and foremost, of sexual abuse.” Listing addressing racial reconciliation alongside his work on getting justice for the sexually abused, Moore explained that he has “been attacked with the most vicious guerilla tactics on such matters and have been told to be quiet about this by others.”
One issue that seemed to ruffle the feathers of some on the SBC Executive Committee was an event that the ERLC hosted called “Caring Well,” which focused on sexual abuse in the church. At the event. Moore moderated a conversation with Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast and attorney whose testimony was key in the investigation of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. In the interview, Denhollander, who has devoted her adult life to advocating for victims of sexual abuse, criticized the SBC Executive Committee for handling the case of a Baptist employee who was abused at one of the Convention’s Seminaries.
Denhollander referenced the case of Jennifer Lyell. (I would not ordinarily name a victim of abuse in this column, but Lyell chose to come forward about her abuse, and Denhollander used her name in a public venue to discuss what happened to her.)
In 2018, Lyell came forward to tell of the abuse she suffered as a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at the hands of a professor, Dr. David Sills. She spoke with Baptist Press, which is an arm of the SBC Executive Committee. After she had seen the article they wrote about her ordeal, Denhollander said BP changed the language so that it sounded like what Lyell was involved in was a consensual affair instead of abuse. She said that Lyell was cast aside as an adulteress rather than being cared for as a victim of abuse. Denhollander specifically mentioned that members of the Executive Committee were involved in Lyell’s mistreatment.
In a leaked letter to outgoing SBC President J.D. Greear, Moore described the atmosphere of intimidation that existed around the issue of sexual abuse. He referenced Greear’s attempts to have churches named in a Houston Chronicle article by Rob Downen investigated so they might be disfellowshipped from the SBC or to not allow their messengers to be seated at the Annual Meeting. He said a “work group” of the Executive Committee quickly “exonerated” the churches involved even though there were “credible allegations of negligence and mistreatment of sexual abuse survivors.” Moore also referenced a tense meeting between himself, Greear, Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd, then-Executive Committee Chairman Mike Stone, and Phillip Bethancourt, who was an ERLC employee at the time. He said that Stone, who is a candidate for SBC President at next week’s Annual Meeting, sought to delay forming a committee to investigate the churches even though he had quickly moved to assemble an investigation of the ERLC. In a video statement over the weekend, Stone disputed Moore’s charges, and Ronnie Floyd issued a statement through Baptist Press saying that he did not “have the same recollection of these occurrences as stated.”
With many accusing Moore of making up statements in his letter to Greear, Philip Bethancourt, who is now a pastor in College Station, Texas, released five audio clips from the meeting in Atlanta with Stone and Floyd as well as a meeting Floyd had with Moore to “debrief” after the Caring Well conference. In one clip, Floyd complained that Denhollander “came after” the Executive Committee, and in another clip, he said that he is “not worried” about what survivors might have to say because his main concern is to “preserve the base.” Bethancourt said that he and others in the room took the statement to mean “protect the money.” In a clip from the meeting in Atlanta, Stone portrays the and members of a Bylaws Workgroup as victims who feel like they have “been bullied.”
All of this comes as the Southern Baptist Convention prepares to meet for its first Annual Meeting in two years. Ronnie Parrott, the pastor of Christ Community Church in Huntersville, N.C., announced that he will bring a motion at the meeting which would begin the process of hiring an outside firm to investigate the allegations of the Executive Committee’s “mishandling sexual abuse cases, mistreatment of sexual abuse victims, a pattern of intimidation, and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives.” The motion, which Parrott co-authored with Tennessee pastor Grant Gaines, must receive a second from the floor. Then the SBC’s Committee on Order of Business would decide whether or not to bring the motion to the floor for discussion at this year’s meeting.
This year’s Annual Meeting will be a watershed moment for the SBC. Messengers will choose a new SBC President and will have the opportunity to decide whether the Convention will address the concerns of sexual abuse survivors.
If the SBC chooses the hard route of investigating the mishandling of abuse cases and the ease with which sexually abusive clergy can move from one church to another, the next few years will be filled with embarrassing revelations and difficult decisions. However, choosing this path will go a long way towards caring for the vulnerable who have suffered at the hands of abusers and will protect churches from future abuse. It will also help the SBC recover its public witness, which has suffered as the mishandling of abuse has come to light.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: Southern Baptist Convention Facebook
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”