by Meredith Bennett-Smith
A newly elected senior pastor of the New Heart Family Worship Center in Texas came clean to his flock after it was revealed he was a convicted sex offender.
Claude Gilliland III spoke about his past life in an eye-opening address on Sunday, WFAA reports.
“Me and my ex-wife were in porn, we were in the booze and the drugs,” the 54-year-old pastor said, according to the station.
After going through the Texas Department of Public Safety records, the Cleburne Times-Review reported that Gilliland was convicted of sexual assault of a 35-year-old woman in 1993. He is required to register as a sex offender with the state of Texas.
Initially, the news didn’t sit well with some church members.
“I’m shocked,” Phyllis Kaylor told the Cleburne Times-Review. “It’s terrible. People aren’t going to come to our church knowing that.”
While news of the pastor’s past came as a surprise to many, CBS 11 reports that the church’s exiting leader knew about his successor’s history.
“He was going through a nasty divorce. His wife claimed he raped her,” Pastor Carl Roye told the outlet. “He said he never raped her and they patted him on the back and sent him to court.”
“I believe he’s a good man. I believe he’s a Godly man. He puts God first,” Roye added.
WFAA notes that some parishioners have since defended their new pastor.
“If we believe in the redemptive work of Christ, then this man is a miracle,” Rina Ramos said. “A man with a past makes a great pastor, because he has been there.”
Reached by the Times-Review, Cleburne Deputy Police Chief Amy Knoll said there was no legal reason why Gilliland could not continue on as pastor at New Heart. In addition, because his assault was against an adult, he can also still interact with children, the news outlet reports.
However, CBS noted the church’s youth pastor has resigned in the wake of the news.