Thousands are calling for an investigation into a Pentecostal church bishop in Iowa who married a teen in his church.
An outside clergyman accuses the bishop of “gross abuse of power” and years-long “grooming” of an underage congregant. And some of the teen’s family members and fellow church members also say they’re concerned she is a victim of clergy abuse.
Bishop Dwight Reed, 63, leads Christ Apostolic Temple in Des Moines, which he claims is the largest predominantly African American church in Iowa. Last year, on November 15, Reed married 19-year-old Jordan Goodlett, a longtime church member and a former student of the church’s affiliated school, JW Reed Academy.
The couple’s 43-year age difference has sparked concerns of clergy abuse. Her paternal grandfather, James Belcher, condemned the marriage in an April 6 interview.
“Her father sold his daughter out and pimped her out for his own self-gain,” Belcher said in the recording.
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A Texas clergyman who has looked into the claims against Reed also says Reed’s marriage is a “gross abuse of power.”
Demetrius Sinegal, a Texas clergyman who runs Safehouse Unmuzzled, has criticized Reed publicly since mid-March. Goodlett “grew up as a child under his pastoral care,” Sinegal said in an April 8 press release from the advocacy group for church abuse victims. “We reject the notion of independent consent on the part of a teenager who heretofore was in a fiduciary relationship between Pastor and child/teenage congregant.”
“Over 50 pastors, mental health workers, researchers, professors, and other community leaders have publicly given their name as standing in support and solidarity of our call for an investigation,” Sinegal told The Roys Report in an email.
Reed and his church are now suing Sinegal, alleging libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and seeking $1.5 million in damages.
Sinegal, who lives near Houston, told The Roys Report that he has not been formally served with the suit. He added he believes the court will consider it frivolous.
The church claims in the lawsuit that Reed’s leadership of the church does not extend to its affiliated school.
“Bishop Reed is not the dean of the school nor is he involved in the day to day operations,” the suit states.
Reed’s attorney Jim Quilty said in a statement to The Roys Report that Reed “has never been the dean of the school and that website reference was made in error.”
Christ Apostolic Temple and its attorney did not immediately reply to other inquiries.
Press conference sparks further conflict
The Texas minister says the lawsuit has not deterred him.
“Every statement I have made has been the result of belief based upon the basis of the testimony and evidence,” Sinegal said.
“This marriage tears at the very fiber of the social construct of the African American family. Children are taught to respect their grandparent contemporaries, not to marry them,” Sinegal said at the press conference.
According to information provided by Sinegal, he also filed a report with the Des Moines Police Department last Wednesday alleging Reed has harassed and made terroristic threats toward him.
On Monday, Christ Apostolic responded in a press release posted to Facebook, alleging Sinegal is advocating out of a “desire for financial gain.”
Reed’s church also questioned the legitimacy of Safehouse Unmuzzled, which was formed last year and is not listed as a tax-exempt entity in Texas.
Sinegal’s group noted in a Facebook post that it has spent over $7,400 on the Reed investigation thus far, including travel expenses, and has received only $30 in donations. Sinegal told The Roys Report that paperwork for the tax-exempt status is in process with Texas officials.
“For clarity, Safehouse #Unmuzzled does not give me the authority to advocate or cry out against gross clergy misconduct and predatory clergy sexual abuse,” Sinegal added. “That authority comes from scripture and God Himself.”
Other allegations leveled against Sinegal regard his congregation, The Kingdom Church in the Houston area. Sinegal, who has led that church for six years, said his involvement in victim advocacy is separate from his pastoral duties.
Both Reed and Sinegal are affiliated with the Pentecostal apostolic oneness tradition, which views the Godhead as indivisible, rather than three distinct persons as stated in orthodox Protestant doctrinal creeds. Many evangelicals consider oneness doctrine to be heresy.
Christ Apostolic Temple in Des Moines also serves as the flagship church of a small denominational fellowship with an unknown number of affiliated churches.
Reed has mentioned the controversy over his marriage several times at his church. In a March 20 sermon, he alluded to Iowa state law, which permits marriage without parental consent at age 18. “That’s my wife!” exclaimed Reed. “—And she grown! She didn’t need nobody to sign no paperwork for her.”
In an online discussion of the investigation, Sinegal compared Safehouse Unmuzzled’s work of victim advocacy to the ministry of biblical prophets.
“We see their voices and influence were used to lift the cries of oppressed and marginalized people,” said Sinegal. “God is interested in the safety and the equitable experiences of his people.
“What we see in the church today is great attempts by the powers that be within the church to muzzle, to suppress, and to minimize the voices of those who have experienced abuse and injustice at the hand of the powerful.”
This story has been updated regarding the removal of a social media post.
Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area with their two children.