HOUSTON (BP)–The longtime pastor of a prominent Houston church has been given a two-month paid leave of absence from the pulpit following allegations he sexually assaulted a 37-year-old man.
The action to suspend Brentwood Baptist Church pastor Joe Ratliff was taken Oct. 27 during a regularly scheduled business meeting. Some 5,000 people attend the church every Sunday morning.
During the next two months Ratliff will continue his administrative duties while other staff members provide ministerial leadership, according to a statement the church provided to Baptist Press. He will return to the pulpit Dec. 31.
“In making this decision, the church leadership turned to God in prayer and referred to scripture,” the statement read. “We must move on. Dr. Ratliff has recommitted himself to God and is working through this for the good of himself, his wife, the congregation and the community.
“We will not allow our faith to be destroyed. We will ensure that the business of Brentwood will continue as well as it has and continue to pray for our church family.”
According to KHOU-TV in Houston, Ratliff allegedly forced the man, Arnold Blake, into a church office where he groped and kissed him. Blake also claimed that Ratliff offered to pay for sex, KPRC-TV in Houston reported.
The man sued both Ratliff and the church, and the two sides have since settled out of court.
“[W]e felt it necessary to bring this matter to an end by settling out of court for the good of the church and the ministry,” the church statement read.
Blake’s attorney released an audiotape in September to Houston TV stations in which two men, allegedly Ratliff and Blake, can be heard engaging in a vulgarity-laced, sexually explicit discussion about homosexual desires.
Ratliff will undergo professional counseling, church spokesperson Jackie Preston told Baptist Press.
Ratliff was among the founders of the African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention and is coauthor of “Church Planting in the African-American Community.”
“Some would argue two months is not enough,” Preston acknowledged in telephone comments to Baptist Press, “but he will have ongoing counseling after that. … He stopped this bleeding so that God’s Kingdom wouldn’t be affected. He said in his sermons as we went through this, ‘It’s not about me, it’s not about you, but it’s about the church.’
“Many would argue, members included and visitors, ‘Did he do it?’ That shouldn’t even be the question because they’re focusing on the wrong thing. That’s his opinion and it’s apparently the opinion of a lot of the members. He had overwhelming support.”
But some church members were not satisfied after the Oct. 28 business meeting.
“As a Christian, I have to ask myself if a homosexual male can be the spiritual leader of my house,” church member Rudy Sutherland said, according to KTRK-TV. “And for me, the answer is absolutely not.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JOE RATLIFF.