CLEBURNE, Texas — You could say that Sunday’s sermon at the New Heart Family Worship Center in Cleburne was pretty unorthodox.
“Me and my ex-wife were in porn, we were in the booze and the drugs,” said New Heart’s Senior Pastor Claude Gilliland III, who thought it appropriate to offer those very personal revelations to the congregation.
He did so after he was publicly outed as a convicted sex offender, which some in the flock said came as a nasty surprise.
“The pain and heartache it brought to New Heart Church, I did not intend it to be this way,” Gilliland said.
The 54-year-old pastor said he served four years in prison after being convicted in 1993 for the sexual assault of his ex-wife. He still denies he did it, but he acknowledges he was no angel back then, either, and that the fast life caught up with him.
“The life I led was nothing but a juggle, and it was heartache after heartache after heartache," Gilliland said.
Critics complained they wish they had known the less-than-holy history of the clergyman before he was recently elected to his post in the church.
But on Sunday, supporters came to Gilliland’s defense,
“All of us have a past," said Rina Ramos. "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."
Ramos and others say the pastor’s past shouldn’t be cause for judgment, since he proudly proclaims that faith has turned his life around.
As friend Glenn Burlingham put it: “He has paid his debt to society. He has asked God for forgiveness, and it’s a stamp of approval from me."