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Update: Bishop responds to sexual misconduct suit against pastor, church, conference Sam Hodges, Feb 8, 2012
By Sam Hodges Managing Editor
A young pastor in the United Methodist Church’s North Texas Conference has filed a lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct by the Rev. Tyrone Gordon, who recently resigned as pastor of St. Luke “Community” UMC in Dallas.
The suit was brought by Cameron Jerrod Greer, 26, currently serving as local pastor at Cockrell Hill UMC in Dallas. It says Mr. Gordon first touched him sexually in May 2003, when Mr. Greer was an 18-year-old audio-visual technician at St. Luke.
Mr. Greer’s suit alleges other incidents, and says Mr. Gordon used his position to coerce Mr. Greer and other young men at the church into unwanted sexual encounters.
The suit names St. Luke and the North Texas Conference as defendants, as well as Mr. Gordon. It says the church and conference failed in their fiduciary and supervisory duties by not protecting Mr. Greer from Mr. Gordon.
Mr. Greer, in a Feb. 6 interview, said he filed the suit reluctantly.
“I’m suing the conference that gave me my first pastorate,” he said. “So this is not something that’s easy for me.”
But he added that he finally concluded he had to sue to protect himself and others.
“The church sometimes, with its silence, ends up hurting people,” he said.
Bishop Earl Bledsoe of the North Texas Conference was on a long-planned church trip to Liberia but released a statement Feb. 7 which said in part: “We believe that there is no basis for a lawsuit against the North Texas Conference, and the conference intends to vigorously defend itself in court.”
Mr. Gordon couldn’t be reached, and St. Luke officials referred calls to the conference.
The suit, filed in the 101st District Court in Dallas, alleges that St. Luke leaders received sexual harassment reports about Mr. Gordon as early as 2006.
Though Mr. Greer is the only plaintiff, his attorney, Marilynn Mayse, said she is in touch with two other men from St. Luke who have similar complaints about Mr. Gordon. She said she has talked as well to alleged victims in Wichita, Kan., where Mr. Gordon was a pastor before coming to St. Luke in 2002.
Ms. Mayse said she herself is a longtime St. Luke member.
“This is a terrible thing I’ve had to do,” she said of the suit, “but he’s a predator. I believe these guys who’ve talked to me.”
Bishop Bledsoe announced in a Jan. 20 statement that Mr. Gordon had resigned from St. Luke and surrendered his UMC credentials, effective Feb. 15.
Mr. Gordon had been under investigation by the conference for allegations received from people in and outside of St. Luke, Bishop Bledsoe said then, though he did not offer specifics.
St. Luke is one of the largest predominately African American churches in the UMC, with about 5,000 members. Mr. Gordon succeeded the Rev. Zan Holmes, current pastor emeritus at St. Luke and well known across the denomination for his preaching and civil rights work.
Mr. Holmes is to be interim pastor at St. Luke until an appointment can be made this summer, Bishop Bledsoe said in the earlier statement.
Mr. Gordon came to St. Luke from Saint Mark UMC in Wichita, which grew rapidly in his 14 years there. He’s been board secretary of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, and Abingdon Press lists him as the author of its African American History Month Daily Devotions 2012.
His Abingdon bio notes that he and his wife have two daughters.
Mr. Greer’s lawsuit offers detailed description of alleged sexual harassment by Mr. Gordon. The May 2003 incident occurred in Mr. Gordon’s church office, between worship services, the suit says, and involved Mr. Gordon rubbing his groin against Mr. Greer’s back and buttocks.
The suit mentions four specific incidents of harassment by Mr. Gordon against Mr. Greer, the last in January 2010.
Mr. Greer, in the interview, briefly recounted each. He also noted that he grew up attending St. Luke, and was baptized and confirmed there.
“It was the village that nurtured me,” he said, adding that Mr. Holmes was an especially positive influence on his decision to become a pastor.
But Mr. Greer said that at age 18, working at St. Luke, he began to experience the harassment described in the suit. He said he told one staff pastor in 2004, but mostly kept quiet.
Mr. Greer said he lived away from Dallas for a few years, attending college and seminary; but returned and gained local pastor status.
He said he met with the Rev. Clara Reed, Dallas Metro District superintendent for the North Texas Conference, in November 2010 to talk about his church assignment, but that the conversation turned to Mr. Gordon. He said he confidentially shared the accounts of sexual harassment.
Mr. Greer said that he met with Dr. Reed again in September 2011. He made available to the Reporter the letter he signed on Sept. 20, 2011, officially laying out his allegations against Mr. Gordon to Dr. Reed and Bishop Bledsoe.
Mr. Greer said he met with Bishop Bledsoe in December 2011, again about Mr. Gordon. He said he retained Ms. Mayse in January of this year to help protect him against retaliation, after he began to hear from people who seemed to know that he had made allegations.
“People called me, talking about, ‘Cameron, why are you lying on the pastor?’” he said.
Mr. Greer said that on Sunday, Jan. 22, sheets of paper defaming him were placed on cars at Cockrell Hill UMC. He provided the Reporter a sheet that says, “Cameron Greer is a liar, a thief and a child molester who lives a double life! Ask someone from Seagoville UMC why he was removed as pastor.”
Mr. Greer also provided a Jan. 27 letter from Dr. Reed to Cockrell Hill UMC members, describing the incident as “heinous” and the assertions as “untruths, name calling and sordid suggestions.”
“Rev. Greer’s record is clear and he continues to be affirmed in his ministry by his former District Superintendent, myself as the current District Superintendent, and our Bishop,” she wrote.
Mr. Greer said the incident helped him decide to file suit, feeling he could protect himself and maybe help protect others by getting all the facts out.
“I believe the church has to be transparent,” he said.
Ms. Mayse said the decision to sue the conference owed in part to officials there not acting quicker.
“I would think they would have put [Mr. Gordon] on administrative leave and at least investigated and not left our congregation exposed,” she said.
The Book of Discipline, the UMC’s law book, does allow for a bishop, with the recommendation of the executive committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry, to suspend a pastor who is the subject of a complaint.
Bishop Bledsoe, in his Feb. 7 statement, said he had “attempted to resolve the complaints pursuant to our church law.”
Mr. Greer is finishing his study for a master of divinity degree at Perkins School of Theology, at Southern Methodist University, and currently is part of Perkins’ intern program. But he acknowledged that he doesn’t know what will happen now, given the suit.
“If I lose my church, if I don’t finish school, I just don’t,” he said.
The suit has made news in Wichita, where Mr. Gordon served on the school board.
Bishop Scott Jones of the Kansas Area said he first learned of the allegations in December, when cooperating with the “supervisory response” led by Bishop Bledsoe. He added that there were no pending complaints against Mr. Gordon from Kansas when Mr. Gordon surrendered credentials.
“The United Methodist Church has high moral standards for its clergy and we do not tolerate the kind of behavior being alleged here,” Bishop Jones said. “The charges are deeply disturbing to me. If they are true, they are things that should never have happened. If they are false, that is equally disturbing. We are praying for all of the persons involved.”