Settlement reached in sexual-abuse lawsuit involving AME church in St. Louis
A female minister has settled a sexual abuse lawsuit involving a local African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Brenda Jones had sued Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Louis Circuit Court on Jan. 29, 2014. The suit named the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Fifth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which encompasses churches in Missouri, and Bishop Larry T. Kirkland, the presiding prelate of that district, as defendants.
Now, nearly a year later, that lawsuit has settled, although Jones’ case against Frederick McCullough, the former pastor of Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church who she claims sexually abused her, is still pending.
“I’m just glad that I had the courage to stand up,” Jones said. “This was the hardest thing I had to do in my life.”
In a news release, plaintiff lawyers said the case had settled for an undisclosed sum. The settlement also stipulated that Jones would be allowed to return to preaching.
Wayman AME Church will issue a public apology letter and conduct an internal review, according to the settlement.
The Fifth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church will provide training to ministers of at least eight hours annually on sexual harassment and misconduct prevention and on discipline policies.
The lawsuit was dismissed Tuesday.
Jones had been a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church since 1996, according to the lawsuit. About 2011, at about the same time McCullough was assigned pastor, Jones became a member of the congregation at Wayman AME Church.
The lawsuit alleges McCullough forced Jones to see a photo of his genitalia. McCullough also allegedly inappropriately touched Jones, grabbing her, attempting to kiss her and reaching under her skirt.
After Jones filed a written complaint to the church about the pastor, the lawsuit alleges that McCullough disparaged her from the pulpit, referring to her as a “Potiphar’s wife,” a biblical reference that implies Jones falsely accused McCullough because he rebuffed her attempts to seduce him.
Church officials found McCullough guilty of inappropriate behavior but contrary to church policies, he received only a six-month suspension, according to the suit.
McCullough now heads Restoration House Community Church in Hazelwood.
“Growing up I always thought the church was a safe place…. but as an adult and minister of God I found that to be different,” Jones said. “See, I discovered that some ministers take advantage of the position they hold.”
Jones said she plans to return to ministry at a local AME church other than Wayman.