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.”