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Prominent Black SBC Pastor Settles Sexual-Assault Suit

The pastor of the largest predominantly black church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention has settled out of court a lawsuit accusing him of unwanted homosexual advances, according to televised reports.

A civil lawsuit filed in August accused the Rev. Joe Samuel Ratliff, pastor of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Brentwood Baptist Church in Houston, of restraining, groping and forcibly kissing another man at the church more than two years ago, according to news reports.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Houston television stations reported Friday that the lawsuit had been settled out of court. Details of the settlement were not disclosed.
 
A request for comment e-mailed to Brentwood Baptist’s Web site received no response.
 
Ratliff initially vowed to fight the lawsuit, which named both him and the church as defendants. Houston station Channel 11 KHOU broadcast incriminating audiotapes last week, which the alleged victim’s lawyer said were of phone calls between his client and the prominent pastor.
 
KPRC’s “News2Houston” said Ratliff’s sermon this past Sunday was about moving on. Ratliff has not spoken with the media, but other church spokesmen said the congregation is standing behind its minister of 23 years.
 
According to television news reports, the lawsuit alleged that Ratliff physically forced the 37-year-old plaintiff into a church office and tried to have sex on Feb. 10, 2001. Houston police said a sexual-assault complaint was filed two days after the alleged incident, but no criminal charges were filed, according to reports.
 
The alleged victim was not a member of the church, but claimed to have a personal and counseling relationship with Ratliff
 Ratliff was founding president of the African-American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1992. Baptist Press in February described his 15,000-member congregation as the SBC’s largest African-American church.
 In a feature profiling black SBC leaders, the denominational news service credited Ratliff with bringing together two groups of African-American ministers that had been meeting informally for several years. “With the fellowship of pastors we had the ability to raise the issues that couldn’t otherwise be raised–sort of a black caucus,” Ratliff said, according to the article.
 
Before 1992, “There was no representation, no African-American presence on the boards [of SBC entities],” the article quoted Ratliff as saying. “They were not nominated; they were not elected. And the literature of the Sunday School Board prior to a decade ago–all the faces in there were Anglo. The SBC was saying there was inclusion, but there was no visible inclusion. We were present but it was almost an invisible man kind of thing.”
 
While SBC leaders have worked to improve relations with blacks, most famously apologizing for racism in the denomination’s past in a resolution at the convention’s 150th anniversary in 1995, they strongly oppose homosexuality.
 
The SBC constitution excludes from membership churches “which act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”
 
Two SBC-related state conventions recently removed churches over the issue.
 
The Tennessee Baptist Convention executive board met in a called session in May to dissolve ties with Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville over reports that an associate pastor at the church is a lesbian.
 
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina recently severed ties with McGill Baptist Church in Concord after the congregation baptized two gay men.
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.