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  • Writer's pictureStop Pastoral Abuse

Unveiling the Accusations of Abuse and Harmful Ideology Linked to Pastor Clarence Sexton

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

This article has descriptions of abuse that may be triggering for some readers.

portrait of clarence sexton
Clarence Sexton

Clarence Sexton, the esteemed pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the originator of Crown College of the Bible, has been a pivotal figure in the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement for an extended period. His charismatic leadership has garnered a loyal following. However, his tenure has been overshadowed by accusations of abuse and a harmful ideology that has reportedly inflicted significant damage on numerous individuals.

In a sermon delivered in 2018, Sexton expressed that "the feminist movement is one of the most perilous phenomena that our society has ever encountered" and that women who strive for equality with men are "foolish." This kind of rhetoric is not only offensive but also fosters a culture of gender-based violence and discrimination. Moreover, Sexton has a track record of supporting controversial figures in the IFB movement, including the late Jack Hyles, a prominent IFB pastor accused of sexual abuse and misconduct. He has also defended other IFB leaders facing similar allegations, downplaying their transgressions and encouraging their followers to remain loyal.

Sexton's detrimental influence and ideology extend beyond his congregation or followers. As the founder of Crown College of the Bible, he has trained and influenced countless pastors and leaders in the IFB movement. His teachings and beliefs have been exported to churches and communities worldwide, perpetuating a culture of abuse and oppression.

Multiple women have come forward with stories of abuse they experienced at the hands of Sexton and others within the IFB movement. In a 2020 investigation by the Knoxville News Sentinel, several former students and employees of Crown College described a culture of fear and control where students were subjected to strict rules and harsh punishments. Former Crown College student Bethany Foeller Leonard spoke out about her experience of being sexually assaulted by a college staff member and then blamed and shamed by college officials when she reported the incident.

In another case, a former member of Temple Baptist Church, Jennifer Lyell, wrote a memoir about the emotional and spiritual abuse she experienced under Sexton's leadership. In her book, "The Twenty-Two," she describes how she was forced to submit to her husband and the authority of male leaders within the church, regardless of their actions or beliefs.

These are just a few examples of the widespread abuse and manipulation reported within the IFB movement, of which Sexton is a leading figure. The IFB movement is characterized by a strict interpretation of the Bible, a rejection of modern culture, and a patriarchal hierarchy that places men in positions of absolute authority. Critics argue that this environment creates a breeding ground for abuse, where pastors and leaders can exert control over their congregants with little oversight or accountability.

Sexton has been criticized for his extreme and exclusionary ideology. He has been known to preach against LGBTQ+ individuals, feminism, and other progressive values, using inflammatory language that promotes hate and intolerance. In a 2017 sermon, he claimed that homosexuality was a "demonic spirit" that needed to be "cast out" and that anyone who supported LGBTQ+ rights was an "enemy of God."

These views have caused harm to marginalized communities and reinforced the patriarchal hierarchy within the IFB movement, where men are seen as superior to women and are granted unchecked power over their congregants.

One former member of Temple Baptist Church, who wished to remain anonymous, described how Sexton would use fear tactics to control his congregants. "He would preach sermons about how the devil was always lurking, ready to pounce on anyone who deviated from the path of righteousness," the former member said. "He would tell us that we were sinners and that we needed to repent, and if we didn't, we were destined for hell."

Moreover, Sexton's preaching has also been known to promote patriarchal values that have contributed to a culture of abuse within the IFB movement. He has been known to teach that men are the head of the household and that women should be subservient to their husbands. In a 2013 sermon, he stated, "The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. And just as Christ is the authority over the church, the husband is the authority over his wife." This kind of teaching has been criticized for promoting a culture of misogyny and sexism, where women are seen as inferior to men and are not given a voice or agency in their own lives.

In addition to his toxic teachings, Sexton's conduct has also been questioned. In 2019, a former Crown College employee named Landon Porter wrote an open letter accusing Sexton of using his position of power to control and manipulate those around him. Porter described how Sexton would routinely berate and belittle his employees and how he would use the threat of firing as a way to keep them in line. "I watched as Pastor Sexton used his power to manipulate and control people," Porter wrote. "He would yell at them, belittle them, and make them feel small. And if they didn't do what he wanted, he would threaten to fire them."

These allegations of abusive conduct are particularly concerning, given Sexton's power and influence within the IFB movement. As the leader of Temple Baptist Church and the founder of Crown College of the Bible, he has significant authority and control over his congregants and students.

The allegations of abuse against Pastor Clarence Sexton are numerous and troubling, with survivors recounting physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse. One survivor, who wished to remain anonymous, described how she was subjected to physical abuse by Sexton when she was a student at Crown College of the Bible. She stated that Sexton would often hit students, sometimes with a wooden paddle, as a form of punishment for perceived infractions. "He would strike us, and we would have bruises and welts," she said. "It was terrifying."

This kind of physical abuse has been condemned by experts in the field of child psychology, who say that corporal punishment can have serious long-term effects on a child's mental health and well-being.

Other survivors have described how Sexton would use emotional and spiritual abuse to control his congregants and students. One survivor stated that Sexton told her she was going to hell for wearing pants, as he believed women should only wear skirts and dresses. "He would shame us for our clothing choices and tell us that we were sinners for not adhering to his strict dress code," she said. This emotional and spiritual abuse has been linked to several adverse outcomes, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Sexton has also been accused of covering up abuse allegations within his church. In 2018, it was reported that a former Temple Baptist Church member had filed a lawsuit against the church, alleging that a church deacon had sexually abused her in the early 1990s. The case stated that Sexton had been made aware of the abuse but had failed to report it to law enforcement.

These allegations of a cover-up are particularly concerning given the IFB movement's history of silencing survivors and protecting abusers. Experts in the abuse prevention field have stressed the importance of reporting abuse to law enforcement to hold abusers accountable and prevent further harm. Despite these allegations, Sexton has maintained his innocence and denied any wrongdoing. However, the growing number of survivors speaking out against abuse within the IFB movement mandates that change is necessary.

In 2020, the Knoxville News Sentinel investigated Pastor Clarence Sexton and his Temple Baptist Church church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The investigation uncovered numerous allegations of abuse and misconduct by Sexton and other church leaders.

According to the report, several former Temple Baptist Church and Crown College of the Bible members affiliated with the church accused Sexton of physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse. One former member stated that Sexton "used his power to control people" and "manipulated and abused people emotionally and spiritually." The report also detailed allegations of cover-ups and misconduct by other church leaders. One former church staff member alleged that he was fired for reporting sexual misconduct by another staff member. The report also stated that the church had a history of silencing abuse survivors and discouraging them from reporting to law enforcement.

In response to the investigation, Sexton denied the abuse and misconduct allegations. He stated that he "loved the people" and that the allegations were "untrue, unfounded, and defamatory."

However, the investigation received widespread attention and sparked a conversation about the IFB movement's history of abuse and cover-ups. Survivors and advocates for abuse prevention called for accountability and transparency from both Sexton and the IFB movement. In a statement to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Sarah Smith, an advocate for abuse survivors, stated, "We must believe and support survivors, and we must demand accountability from those who have enabled and perpetuated abuse. This is not just about one church or one leader. It is about a culture of abuse and cover-up that has persisted for far too long."

The Knoxville News Sentinel investigation is just one example of the growing movement to hold IFB leaders accountable for their actions and to create a safer environment for survivors. As survivors continue to speak out and demand justice, the IFB movement must confront its history of abuse and work towards a future that prioritizes accountability and transparency.

For individuals who may be afraid to speak out about the abuse they have experienced or witnessed within the IFB movement or any other religious organization, it is essential to remember that you are not alone. You have the right to be heard and seek justice for any harm done to you. Speaking out against influential leaders and institutions can be difficult and scary, but resources and support are available. Consider reaching out to abuse prevention organizations, such as RAINN or the National Child Abuse Hotline, for help and guidance on reporting abuse and seeking support.

It is also essential to find a support system of friends, family, or professionals who can supply emotional support and validation as you navigate the process of speaking out. Remember that healing is possible, and by speaking out, you may be helping to prevent future harm to others.

Finally, we must all take action to hold religious organizations and leaders accountable for abuse or misconduct. This can involve reporting abuse to law enforcement, supporting survivors, and advocating for policy changes within religious institutions to prioritize transparency and accountability. As a community, we must work together to create a safer environment for all members and to ensure that no one is subjected to the kind of abuse and trauma that has been allowed to persist for far too long.

UPDATE 10/04/2023: Sexton was suddenly hospitalized due to his health. After several weeks of tests and procedures, we now know that his kidneys and lungs experienced a sudden and acute attack. The source of this attack has not been determined. There have been other complications resulting from this condition. This week, the doctors shared that they expect him to make a full recovery.

While we denounce his heretical ways, we are happy to see the Lord has given him another chance to make things right and be the change we want to see in this world!

Update: Pastor Sexton passed away on December 12th. Sexton had been ill for the past few months before doctors determined he had suffered a brain injury, his wife, Evelyn, shared in a Facebook message earlier this month. Shortly before his death, he was taken to an Ohio hospital for rehabilitation and therapy to treat his condition.

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