A pastor’s colleagues at a Baptist church in Houston, Texas reported him to police the same day that he confessed to sexually abusing a child. Now, the former pastor has been convicted of the crime and sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Stephen Bratton, 46, was sentenced last Friday after being convicted in February of aggravated sexual assault of a child under the age 14, according to the Harris County District Attorney’s office. In 2019, Bratton admitted to molesting a young teen for about five years beginning when she was 13, the DA’s office stated Tuesday in a press release.
Before his arrest, Bratton was pastor of preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church in Houston, an archived staff listing from 2018 shows.
“Several other pastors came forward to tell authorities what was going on after this man confessed to them, and we applaud those people of conscience,” District Attorney Kim Ogg said in the release. “This man, who had risen to a position of authority in the church, turned a child into a victim and violated his community’s trust. The victim and his community deserved, and got, justice.”
Inmate records show he remains incarcerated in the Harris County Jail system.
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Bratton first told his wife about his crime May 15, 2019, and she contacted the other pastors at Grace Family Baptist, Erin Frye and Aaron Wright, to arrange a meeting with them, the Houston Chronicle reported. Bratton also contacted them after talking to his wife.
He told the pastors “that he had assaulted the teenage girl for several years with inappropriate touching that escalated to sexual intercourse,” according to the DA’s office.
After Bratton’s revelation, the pastors called the Harris County Sheriff’s Office the same day. A criminal investigation began the following day. The pastor of a Baptist church in neighboring Montgomery County, David Shiflet, was also apparently made aware of the confession, and told the Chronicle he called the Department of Family Protective Services.
Frye and Wright told the Grace Family Baptist congregation the next Sunday, four days after Bratton confessed, the Chronicle reported. He was excommunicated that day. Shiflet also told his congregation, where several people knew Bratton. The pastors told the Chronicle they’re not aware of any other victims.
The church’s elders also posted a public statement to the church website on June 16, 2019, shortly after Bratton’s arrest June 14.
The elders said in the statement that Bratton’s confession was the first time they’d heard about his ongoing sexual abuse. “This activity is wrong according to Biblical and civil law and the church condemns the behavior as abhorrent,” an archived version of the statement reads. “. . . The elders have called upon Stephen Bratton to accept the full responsibility for his actions and to place himself at the mercy of the criminal justice system.”
They also stated they had “deep grief for the victim” and were trying to protect her privacy.
Grace Family Baptist doesn’t have an apparent denominational affiliation, but it’s listed as a Reformed Baptist church on ReformedWiki.com. The Roys Report asked for comment from the pastors but hasn’t heard back.
Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.